Author Archives: Betsy Alspach

About Betsy Alspach

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Mainly Maine

I have been lucky enough to go to Maine three times this year (so far).

In June we took a little anniversary trip to Rockland which is on the mid-coast. One of the many things I enjoy about Maine and really anywhere I go are the quirky things that we come across. In Rockland I saw this: jail topper thing Rockland

It looks like a place where gnomes might live.

In July three college friends and I spent a week at a lake house in Washington Maine to celebrate 42 years of friendship and turning 60. I still don’t know what turning 60 means for me. It sounds so old but I don’t feel any different so maybe it isn’t that big a deal. I don’t know! college friends lake in Washington

In August we spent time with our son on his property in Freedom Maine. Only 13 miles from Washington. An hour from Rockland.  I made some good potato salad with his first harvest.

kyle and potatoes

We visited our friend Emily who homesteads with her partner.emily in palermo

The weekend after Labor Day, this time in Searsport, I will be teaching workshops at the Maine College of Fiber. I will teach drop spindling, wool combing to prepare fiber for spinning, and chain plying which creates a 3 ply homespun yarn. I will do a demonstration of the hackle too.

drop spindle and pippi

Pippi trying really hard to learn to spin on a drop spindle

Drop spinning spindle Betsy Alspach

Drop spindle I made from toy wheel

Who wouldn’t love playing with tools that look like medieval torture instruments?

Alspach wool combing

Wool Combs



The wool hackle which is used to blend different fibers and colors

roving from hackle

alpaca and wool ready to spin after being removed from hackle

Betsy Alspach chain plyed yarn

Chain plyed homespun yarn

I’ve always said I’d move north before I’d move south. The snow and the cold don’t bother me because I know how to bundle up and keep warm and I guess I have thick blood or something. I am always happiest away from cooky cutter suburbia and cities. Maybe we’ll move to the coast of Maine one day. Maybe not. Who knows!  My fellow 60 year olds and I now say “We’re 60. We can do whatever we want!”


I Have Confidence

Songs are always going through my head, some welcome, some annoying. Right now  I have the song from The Sound of Music in which Maria sings about having confidence in many things. I remember seeing the movie as a young child and being entranced with it. We had the album from it- I still have it along with other albums I can’t seem to give up but never listen to and yes, we have a turntable- which I would listen to over and over. That Christmas my mother bought my grandparents an album of their recordings sung by them and I was crushed. I thought the actual family sang the songs that were in the musical. I guess I got over it in time. I recall also as a child seeing Maria at their lodge in VT when we ate lunch there. She was wearing the traditional clothing of Austria.

Right now I need confidence in good things. They help to counter concerns about self centered decisions being made at a national level. Not surprisingly the things that help me to relax and have confidence about the future are largely outside and in the form of plants and animals living out their lives unaffected by goings on. I have confidence in the peace and beauty of my healthy plants.

iris peony columbine june 2017

septic tank garden

Confidence that these tomato plants will grow and provide food for us at the end of summer and  give tastes from summer all winter long after I freeze and can their fruit.

tomato plant june 2017

Confidence that this elderberry bush that was so little last year will produce fruit this year:kyle plating elderberryItty bitty signs that fruit will be produced in center of plant

Confidence in the eggs that our chickens provide.eggs june 2017

Confidence that the puppies we help in a tiny tiny way to raise will someday be great companions for plucky disabled people.daisy puppy

Confidence that my friends from all areas of my life and I will be there for each other in times of happiness and tears. ( Because now the song from Fiddler on the Roof jumped into my head: “sunrise, sunset…”)becky and laura at her condo norway 2015 College friends in Norway in 2015 at Laura’s condo. This summer we will celebrate the big 60 at a house in Maine. We are wiser now and won’t leave our food for a minute in case a sea gull wants it…

These are a few of my favorite things 🙂 that give me confidence.


There has been a lot going on since last I wrote long ago. Spring is definitely here. Weeks ago our pear tree bloomed.

pear tree blossom

Before that we started being puppy sitters one weekend a month for the NEADS organization which trains service dogs.  They want them to spend weekends in a home so that they get experiences outside of the Early Learning Center where the youngest stay before being given to inmates to train during the week. This time we have a bigger guy and he and the chickens entertain each other. They show no fear of him and he is calm but I imagine if they were out running around and he was not on a leash that interaction might change out of excitement. They are dogs after all! We won’t be testing that idea with chickensI feel a little sad when we drop them off and wonder about them afterwards but our mindset is that we are doing this because we like being around dogs but don’t want one full time. We know that their higher purpose is to be a loving companion and helper for someone with a disability. As an OT and a person who would very much want a dog if I were disabled I feel purpose in having one each month. After all the training is complete including training with their soon to be owner they have graduations for the people and their dogs.  At orientation they told us that the prisoners are allowed to go and most end up crying. I feel tearful right now thinking about seeing these puppies we watch all grown up and leaving with their person with whom they will share such a special bond.

My high school and college friends and I are experiencing our big 60th birthdays which seems kind of bizarre. It is getting me to look back on life a bit. College friends and I will be renting a house on a lake in Maine in July and my high school friends and I will be gathering in NC in 2018. How does this happen?

We feel the same inside as we did then, and now.

Heather just gave me a treasure- her family’s heirloom spinning wheel! In high school for the seven of us each other’s families were our extended family and having this means so much. It is clear I am not much into hair style changes and so glad I don’t choose pants like those anymore. 🙂mag 7 young

In April we had a wonderful Easter with my niece who came from Atlanta to see a childhood friend of hers – we Burnhams are big into our long time friends- run the Boston Marathon. She wore Steve’s BMX racing jersey so her friend could easily see her.  marathon

She and Kyle got to hang out in Boston after he picked her up at the airport on Saturday. Then she got to meet the chickens. She thinks they live in a chicken resort and she isn’t that far off.cousins with chickens

I learned that we share a fear of snakes. We came upon a little one- they are all small and none are poisonous around here but that doesn’t matter, my view is that they could still slither back and forth over your feet if they wanted and they just might if you stick around   🙂  from which I ran and she screamed. She said it got our neighbor’s attention in the next yard but I didn’t look out of embarrassment. No time was taken to snap a picture of that creature before I left the scene. He has several friends around here who love our old stone walls as much as we do.

I have been doing a lot of spinning and fiber preparation teaching and the fall is crammed with more. fib prep zzFirst in September are three classes I am teaching at the Fiber College of Maine.  Again the 5 class Sheep to Shawl workshop at Assabet Valley Vocational High School’s adult ed program called Assabet After Dark, an overview of the Sheep to Shawl process at Weir River Farm in Hingham MA, then we are bus trip leaders to Rhinebeck for the Sheep and Wool festival. In November I will share a booth with my friend Dorothy at the New England Fiber Festival Nov. 5-6.  2 more workshops are pending. More on all of those as the time gets closer. Lots of excuses to dye. As if I need any. dyeing may 2017

Fiber, friends, family and animals (except those conniving snakes)- clearly I don’t need much more than that to be happy. Something that hasn’t changed over all these decades.

me with angel

A neighbor’s Shetland pony, Angel, one of her 3 ponies who I was lucky enough to be able to be around whenever I wanted.

Cozy Cozy Snow

Yesterday we had a beautiful day of snow.  I didn’t have to be anywhere, our neighbor across the street who helps us had his plow blade thing on his truck, the wood stove was going- so I thoughtsnow-jan-8-2017– let it snow! It did and we have 12″ of beautiful fluffy snow.

I never think much about January until the holidays are over. So now that I realize it is 2017 I decided that yesterday was a good day to organize my thinking about the various places we as Eagle Lake Fibers are teaching through April. Each place has its uniqueness and I enjoy thinking about uniqueness (run of the mill is so dull) so here are my impressions:

Jan. 14th we are teaching natural dyeing at the Northeast Organic Farming Association Winter Conference in Worcester MA. This is the 10th year we have taught a fiber spinning related workshop there. NOFA conferences are always a breath of fresh air for me. They are full of idealistic young people full of ideas about self reliance and sustainability and – ok, I will say it,  people with some gray hair who continue to believe in it despite decades of real life. I had no gray when I started teaching there 10 years ago.   🙂


Marigolds and onion skins for natural dyeing at NOFA.

January 21st shows life on a different plane when I go to the Cabot Bradley  Estate in Canton MA to give an overview of the Sheep to Shawl Process and then allow people to try their hands at carding and combing wool. This is an estate that was given to the Trustees of Reservations in the 1990’s by Mrs. Bradley, of Cabot lineage which anyone anywhere near Boston recognizes was sort of royalty, who had enjoyed having farming on the estate including sheep. The Trustees are working to have more events and workshops on the estate such as one our friend Jenny Hauf of Muddy River Herbals gave last fall about herbs she grows, mine on spinning wool and many others.  It is a beautiful oasis of 90 acres and a mansion not far from Boston.


Guard llama and sheep – little and to the right- at Bradley Estate Canton MA Sept 2016

Then on February 5th I am teaching a drop spindling workshop at Auntie Zaza’s Fiber Works in North Easton. Elizabeth has created such a cozy little shop and it has become a happy thriving fiber loving community.  I don’t know what I would have done without it when we moved here.


This student will not be present at the drop spindling workshop because she is now proficient with the drop spindle

Our scary fiber tools and some not so scary will be put into use on March 5th at The Fiber Loft in Harvard MA when we teach a class on carding and combing. The Fiber Loft fills a much needed void for the sale of spinning wheels, looms, hand cards and combs in this area. I bought two spinning wheels and my little rigid heddle loom there. Harvard is a beautiful little New England town with a great General Store where you can get coffee or have lunch.

tools fibers for Jan workshop

The drum carder which made these batts is my second favorite fiber processing tool. The combs on the left are the first.

Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School’s adult ed program Assabet After Dark has asked us to teach the Sheep to Shawl workshops we taught last fall again in the fall of 2017. Before that however we will be teaching intensive wool combing and carding classes in April. These classes teach students how to take clean, sometimes dyed, wool and get it ready to spin.


Rolags from blending fibers on the right using the blending board behind

These workshops start soon but for today I will enjoy watching the birds at the feeder and watching my cat Pippi watch the birds at the feeder. I will enjoy hearing children nearby sledding and screaming with fun. At least I think it is fun screaming, not screaming because our bold coyote is coming around and I sit here hearing them and doing nothing to scare it away.

Me with Boone

Me with Gulf Coast lamb Boone on Cape Cod

I bet you could spin coyote- but that doesn’t grab my interest right now. Ugh. Back to thinking about sweet little lambs!

Always New Experiences

I started spinning wool on a spinning wheel 20 years ago. I knew 3 spinners- the person who was spinning at a Heifer International Festival in Rutland MA who I didn’t previously know but whom I went up to and asked who could teach me, my teacher who was the person she directed me to, and me. There were so many exciting things to learn.

Both my individual spinning world and the international spinning world have expanded rapidly since then. But I still have so many new experiences with it and there are more skills to learn. It is all so much fun. It is a good hobby also in that when spinners meet for the first time there is a bond of kindred spirits because the rest of the world doesn’t understand us and we don’t care. 🙂

This fall gave me three new opportunities. As part of our fiber business, Eagle Lake Fibers, we were able to teach a five week hands on class covering all the steps that it takes to create yarn from sheep to shawl. We taught 8 eager learners at the adult education program called Assabet After Dark at Assabet Valley Regional Technical School in Marlborough MA. We have been asked to present it again next fall and will also do a two week workshop in April that focuses only on carding and combing. Some of our students this fall told us they will take that also and it will be fun to see them again.


Part of the fun is getting the chance to comb fiber on scary tools. Only this minute did I realize I can see half of my cat on the floor.

Then here at Auntie Zaza’s Fiberworks in North Easton three women asked if they could be taught the drop spindle. I have always preferred the spinning wheel to the drop spindle so teaching it at Assabet and in North Easton prompted me to tighten up those skills. I find myself kind of attached to my little drop spindle now. Who knew that could happen?

Another more unusual request came to the yarn shop this time in the form of a woman wanting her dear departed husky’s fur spun. I had never spun much dog but figured at this point I can figure out how to spin anything. Those skills were tested because the fibers were about an inch and a half long and full of guard hairs. Huskys, like many dogs and the more primitive sheep are dual coated with soft short warm fur against their skin and outer guard hairs that are longer, coarse and wiry to keep the rain, snow and cold away from their skin.

I washed it so no, it no longer smelled like a wet dog, and was able to keep at the spinning of it because I loved a dog, a sheltie, for 15 years.


Spirit our sweet sheltie and Growlbert our alpha cat whose motto seemed to be that what Growlbert wants Growlbert gets. They both came with those names which was good because we tend to be abysmal at naming our pets. They both lived to ripe old ages but not long enough for me.

After it was spun she asked if I would take it, and a skein someone else spun a few years  ago (who wisely spun only the longer fibers) and knit something that she could wear over her shoulders.  Having something made from his fur was very meaningful for her. I find that the veil between this world and the next seems thinner the older I grow and although our dog died 8 years ago I still feel her presence with me. As I do my grandparents. I don’t have an explanation of how I  feel this but I just know I do and that is comfort enough.


Husky scarf and detail of paw pattern.

So, after 20 years the opportunities to have new fresh spinning experiences keep finding me. There is never a lack of spinning and spinning related  things to do. I am so fortunate to have a passion in my life which gives me so much enjoyment. This picture of my fiber room that I took today belies my statements that I don’t like clutter or the chaos of too many things in my house. You won’t find either in most of the rooms. Except here. Chaos is just so much fun here. fiber-on-new-table-nov-2017



I’m Sorry

Yesterday and today a few lines from an old John Denver song have been going through my head. My brain seems to have selectively chosen a few lines because most of it doesn’t apply to our country on this day. The mournful tone and a few lines such as “I’m sorry things ain’t what they used to be” do for me right now.

I am sorry for our little girls because this country chose to elect a known misogynist and sexual predator. I am sorry for our little boys because he mocks those who are not healthy or 100% Caucasian. I am sorry for them in so many other ways because his hateful and not well thought out campaign promises have the power to change this country and world. We need to resist those intentions each in our own way. To paraphrase Michelle Obama, when someone goes lower, we must go higher.

He was elected by an America that I don’t know anymore. Those who voted for him and those who chose to vote for someone other than Hillary said it was ok that a person of this character and intent was elected. I understand voting on principle however the stakes were really big this time and I think the principle was to keep a person of this character out. I know there is a lot of disagreement about that. Others opinions don’t shape my outlook on life.

Be that as it may each of us of whatever political affiliation or none at all who are caring people now must figure out how to live our lives in ways that counter his proposals and views that he models about other human beings. The manner in which we do that is very individual and takes soul searching. It can be action in small ways or on a larger scale.

We must show our little boys and little girls that not everyone values hatefulness. Not everyone bullies and takes advantage of others whenever they can so that they feel better about themselves.

I am sorry. Yesterday felt like a day of mourning. Today for me feels like a day to gently begin to reflect on what we can do for our world, each other and especially our children to help them to develop kindness and a positive inner resourcefulness that will not be modeled by the leader of the free world.Working through grief over the loss of what we had is a slow process. But each of us who do not value mocking the disabled, mocking a mother about her stricken reaction in public because her son had died, and who do not want to purge those who do not look like us can figure out what to do in whatever way we feel fits us. That is how we will make America great again.

A Summer of Flowers, Fiber, Family and Friends Part 1

I knew I hadn’t written a post in a while but just saw that it was three months. I guess I can attribute that to our hot dry summer. Not much energy to do anything when there is humidity.  What I will remember of it though is that it has been full of family, friends, fiber and flowers.

Recently a friend took me to an iris auction. I never knew such things existed. I have some iris that were here when we moved in and she has given me more. Iris aren’t blooming now 🙂  so here are my spring pictures.

I am always interested in how things work and the commonalities of dynamics in different groups. For example, at the auction I learned that there are different types of iris i.e. Siberian,  Bearded, and that experts who create new iris within those areas are well known to the people who enjoy the flowers. Just as in our fiber pursuits we know different sheep breeds and their attributes and know of/have met many of the breeders whose fleeces we know of to be good quality. Just a different medium, that’s all. It was a lot of fun to watch the auction and to feel the good energy that one always feels around people following their passions. We need all of that kind of energy in this world that we can get.

I purchased 3 iris but then had to figure out where to put them. My iris beds are full already. I decided to put in a new bed by the shed. To be honest that means Steve digs it out. Then I decided to move into it the iris my friend gave me and some lillies also given to me a while back. I would usually never show anyone a picture of how a transplanted bed looks right after I create it because the poor plants are often in shock and don’t look their best. But I did here because as I was planting I decided to have fun adding in some meaningful ornaments.irsi-bed-with-ceramics

On the far upper left is a green/brown ceramic looking piece right against the green grass. It was once on the roof of the carriage house at the Harkness estate which is now a state park in my hometown of Waterford CT. We were there one day when I was hosting a family reunion and the roof was being replaced. A pile of them lay on the ground with a sign that we could take one. I love that place and am happy to have this remembrance. It goes in a garden wherever I am living. On the bottom left are brick pieces from an old woolen mill we lived near in Jefferson MA. Just lying on the ground where we would walk. The upper right has a broken flower pot from a couple years ago when I asked Steve to take off part of a side for fairy garden items that I put together for some young girls in the neighborhood. And hard to see but on the right  is my little fairy that I had elsewhere in the spring. In the middle at the top is a piece of pottery found on our property here. broken-pottery-in-yardWe have a house built in the 1830s and the previous owners left us things found here. I have found more through gardening and the chickens sometimes dig them up for me. I suspect that the area by our very old coop might have also been a place they dumped things before the trash pick up that we have now. A tiny archeology site.

In other gardening news, the herb spiral that my son put in for me is growing well. I  am adding rocks to it that I find along the way. I put in two from a beach in S. Thomaston Maine where we visited, Sarah Orne Jewett territory (if you haven’t read The Country of the Pointed Firs get it today if not sooner), one from my son’s place in Freedom Maine and one from my cousin’s house in NY which is the home he grew up in and full of memories for me.


The first one on the left and the last three wete recently brought here

Mother Nature is always entertaining no matter what the season. The other day I was watering the basil and took a close look at a bumblebee on a flower. So cute to see it put its whole head in the flower. I let it and the mint and oregano go to flower at this time of year since the pollinators love them so.


Mother Nature also sends hints. The other day while I was cleaning up the herb spiral I found this:


Fall leaf means fall is coming

I have frozen tomatoes for winter spaghetti sauce and am picking dead marigold heads from here and anywhere else I am allowed to use as a natural dye in October at a workshop we are teaching. Herbs have been dried and a fall beet row planted.

Now if it would just cool off and actually feel like autumn, my favorite season, and rain some, all would be well. It’s pretty good even so.