Our Water is Clean!

9:21 AM Posted In , Edit This 0 Comments »
We got our test results Wednesday afternoon and our water is clean! Looks like the ceramic filter is going to do the trick. We will test it again in another few weeks just to be sure that it wasn't just the process of shocking the system that cleaned things up. Maybe I can get some dyeing done today.

March TIF challenge

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Sharon's theme for the month of March is ironically pertinent to my current living situation! Here's what she wrote for the challenge: "Do you ever notice the little things, the small moments, the details in life? This month's challenge is to do just that, pay attention to the tiny details. Sometimes the small things become emblematic for something larger."

Boy, Have I been paying attention to the tiny details! Details like, what is living in my water? And these small things really are emblematic of something larger. Our tiny neighborhood is currently suffering the consequences of American Agricultural choices. We are dealing with the fallout of an enormous industry that most people don't even pause to think about. I mean, what's so dangerous about a bunch of cows? Milk is supposed to be good for you, right? How many people actually know where their milk comes from, what conditions the cows exist under, where their waste goes and how they are fed? For most people the answers to those questions are: Milk comes from from cows raised in a CAFO. The cows are crammed in a barn all day, every day of their lives. Their waste goes onto the ground in the form of liquid manure, which can be smelled for dozens of miles in every direction when it is stirred or spread and from there it may possibly go into the local aquifer and fresh water rivers, lakes and streams. The cows are fed special dairy cow feed and lots of drugs which may include dead cows, antibiotics, Bovine Growth Hormone, genetically modified grains and/or mystery compounds from China.

Details, details, details. Did you know that the milk and eggs from CAFO raised cows and hens are higher in bad cholesterol and lower in nutrition and Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids than milk and eggs from grass fed, free ranging animals? Man. It's time to go buy a cow.

I feel that this is a good illustration of how small details, added together can become something worth a great deal of consideration.

For my challenge entry this month, I chose to make a beaded bead - a small object filled with tiny details. I anticipated making a whole series of them and even had a kit put together so that I could work on my beads anywhere my water disaster happened to take me. Needless to say, keeping the family fed and clean and entertained at other people's houses all month long really made it difficult to keep up with my project. I got one bead done. Here are the colors I used:

I used size 11 rose gold AB beads and metallic gold beads to form the main bead shape and then embellished with some Myuki size 15 taupe, gunmetal and metallic green AB beads. The pattern is a modification of Wonder Beads as taught by Sue Jackson and Wendy Hubick of Hummingbeads in the April 2001 issue of Bead and Button magazine. If you like the idea of beaded beads, Beadwork put out a teeny book of Beaded Beads in 2003. I got mine through a special offer for Beading daily subscribers, you may also be able to get it through Amazon, I know I've seen it there. The book has lots of different styles of beaded beads, many of which I wanted to try this month. Guess they will have to go on my growing to do list!

Poop Soup Update

4:34 PM Posted In , Edit This 2 Comments »

It has been three weeks since our water became unsuitable for consumption, cooking , bathing and washing. The only thing we have been able to do with our water is use it to flush the toilet! I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to have a potty training toddler in a house with toxic water for 3 weeks. (This is a photo of the water that was coming out of our tap. Believe it or not, it smells worse than it looks! Our initial water test showed positive for eColi and coliform.) My kitchen is full of laundry, empty water bottles and dirty dishes. It has been a very frustrating month! At least 5 other families on our street have been affected by this particular event. The wells affected range in depth from 40 -200 feet deep. The DEC and Public Health sent some investigators/engineers out to assess the situation. The engineers agree that the liquid manure is somehow getting into the aquifer here but they cannot determine the point of contamination and therefore can't assign responsibility for the contamination to any one person or event. (Rolling my eyes.) Our neighborhood is pushing for more studies. The farmer is co-operating with investigations but refuses to accept any blame as he has been spreading in compliance with his CAFO regs. He is working with the Health Department engineers to review his CAFO regulations to try and prevent a similar contamination from happening.

While I was very angry at the beginning of this ordeal, I have cooled off quite a bit. Lots of people have told me that our neighborhood should seek a class-action or civil lawsuit but I do not think that is a true solution. (Neither do I think that any of us can afford to seek legal action - we are a very low income neighborhood in a very depressed county. Most of the homes on our street that have been affected by this event value at under $80,000. Nor would it be good for our tax base to start putting legal pressures on these large agri-businesses.) This farmer did not write the laws that require large farms to lagoon their manure and he probably does not have time or money to seek out other disposal or processing solutions. Our country at large needs to re-think our approach to agriculture and small farming communities like ours need to be part of the large picture as new regulations are being made. We also need more funding for green energy & fertilizer, including grants (not loans) for equipment for alternative processing of manure. (Like methane power plants and drying beds for manure)

It did quickly become obvious that there are no laws in place the protect a rural homeowner's water supply. No one but me is responsible for cleaning up the water in my well. In fact, there aren't even any funds available at our local Public Health Dept. or from our town government to help defray the cost of monthly water testing that DOH recommends. They say that lack of these monthly testing records is the main reason that they cannot assign responsibility for the contamination. If we all had a few years' worth of water quality records certified by the state, proving clean water up until the day of the big, sloppy thaw, they would have better evidence that manure spread on that particular field under the right conditions can lead directly to contamination of the aquifer here. Home testing kits and anecdotal evidence based on individual observations (no one has been sick, no one's water was stinky, etc....) does not cut it as far as the DEC and DOH are concerned. That does burn me. None of our neighbors can afford an extra 45 bucks a month for the coliform/eColi and Nitrate testing they want us all to do. But our wells are contaminated and we all have to spend hundreds of dollars trying to make them safe again without any support from the government agencies that our tax dollars go to support..

So, having discovered a complete lack of financial support from the public service sector, I did a great deal of research about filtration systems, including calling a local water quality company, to find out what our options were. NYS has only certified chlorination and UV light systems for use in public facilities or where food is prepared for sale, therefore those are the only systems that they can recommend to homeowners. Both are expensive and involve using lots of chemicals and electricity. (The UV system is only guaranteed to work if the water is filtered and softened before it passes through the UV unit.) They are both quite pricey and involve substantial upkeep costs and labor - lugging bags of chemicals and salt down the cellar stairs, changing out huge charcoal canisters. We received quotes ranging from $1,500 to $7,000 for these types of systems. Ozone was recommended by a friend who works in a water treatment plant and we looked into that but it was also pricey and required electricity. We ended up choosing a ceramic filter manufactured by Doulton that is supposed to remove all dangerous beasties in your water. It is basically the same technology used by campers and outdoorsmen who need to get clean water from a stream or a swampy area. We purchased a pre-filter to remove sediment before our water goes through the ceramic candles. We got everything from a company called Pure-Earth who seemed to have the most options at the most affordable prices. They shipped everything very quickly and my husband worked all weekend getting everything installed. We took our first showers at home in 3 weeks during the wee hours of Easter morning! We'll be dropping off a sample for testing to make sure that everything is clean and good for drinking tomorrow. If it works, we will have solved our problem for about $350.00 with an upkeep cost of approximately $250-300 annually.

Photographing Earrings

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I promised a fellow Etsy seller that I would produce a short tutorial on how I photograph earrings for my Etsy shop this weekend. I'm a little behind in getting it done but here it is. This technique probably won't work for other jewelry items and some may not like the results but I am pleased with them and have gotten positive responses from people who have seen them.

First, you need to set up a space for photography. You need lots of light but you don't want to take photos outside because direct sun can be too harsh, causing too much contrast and dazzle. A light colored and/or well lit background is also essential as any item will get lost in a dark background. I set up a large piece of white or cream paper or poster-board on my studio table with a white or pale colored paper laying in front of it. My studio has 3 large windows but I also I use my swing arm lamp and my reading lamp for additional light that is positionable. This is the basic set up.

I like to have a colored or patterned background in some of my photos. I feel like having an interesting background for the initial photo draws a viewer's eye a little better. The trick is to make sure that the background does not overpower the earrings. I have a selection of specialty papers in patterns and textures that I experiment with as I'm photographing things. I've also tried fabric as a background but have found that it makes for a confusing image - are you shopping for fabric or for earrings? Patterned paper is more 2 dimensional and thus less confusing.

I like to photograph my earrings so that I have some photos with them hanging and some with them lying flat. This allows me to demonstrate the dangling or draping qualities of the earrings and the complete earring, including the ear hook design.

For a dangle station, I use a paintbrush and two fancy glass objects to suspend the brush between. I hang the earrings from the paintbrush and start photographing with several different backgrounds. (Do this when your three year old is asleep. When I took these photos, my little guy was in the studio helping mommy and every time he touched the table, the earrings began to swing - that's why these photos are a little fuzzy!) I shine one directional light on the earrings and one on the background. This eliminates shadows on the background. I set my camera on macro or super macro and get right in close to the earrings. This allows for incredible detail in the earrings and causes the background to soften a bit.

I try several different backgrounds. As you can see, the first background I chose was a bad match for these chalcedony earrings. They disappear against it because the colors are too similar. Plus, I forgot to turn on the reading lamp to shine on the background so I have harsh shadows behind the dangles.

The second background is better.

The dark green is perfect.

If you want to get a shot of both earrings, one in sharp focus and the other a bit softer either in the background or foreground, you need to set the camera at super macro and get as close to the earrings as possible with the hanging rod (paintbrush) angling away from you so that one earring is closer to you than its mate. Place the focus box on the earring you want to have in focus and take your photo.

Then I move on to photos of the earrings lying flat. I use directional lights for these as well, so that I can control where the shadows lie and what part of the jewelry to illuminate. I take at least one photo of the earrings on white or cream colored paper so that potential buyers can examine the product without any distractions. Throwing a quarter in there helps people gain a visual understanding of the size. I also like to photograph each pair on a pretty background. We are so accustomed to seeing jewelry as it is presented on the front pages of jewelry making magazines that I think buyers expect to see this sort of setting - it establishes a sense of familiarity and comfort. This photo shows that the background that did not work for dangling the earrings actually looks nice as the pretty background for photographing the earrings lying flat.

Once the photos are all done, I upload them to my computer and make necessary correction to color, exposure and cropping. I always crop first as this eliminates unnecessary dark and bright areas that would affect brightness adjustments. I always photograph at the highest quality available on my camera and then adjust the file size down after adjustments are made so that the photos load faster for viewers.

I hope that this wordy post is useful for someone. I have read lots of articles about photographing jewelry and have felt so intimidated by the recommendations of professionals, including the expensive accessories that are recommended. Maybe someday I will be able to afford a professional camera man for my jewelry, but in the meantime, I'll just continue with trial and error to find what works for me.

A note about copycats - I hope other beginners are able to use this information to improve their photos. So many people help, support and encourage me as I grow as an artist that I enjoy having something to share with others. Having said that, I also hope that I won't see photos of other sellers' items on Etsy that look like my exact product , photographed exactly the same way as mine. That would be rude and I would report it. Instead, use your imaginations and make your work your own!

My Round Robin Fabric

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When I checked in at the Complex Cloth forum this morning, I saw new photos of the fabric I sent out in the Round Robin. Boy, has my little bit of fabric grown up! Here are pictures of the 5th layer: So far the fabric has been dyed, discharged, overdyed and screen printed. It is so fascinating to see how each layer of processing interacts with the previous layers to create something unexpected.

Poop Soup, anyone?

8:19 AM Edit This 1 Comment »

Well, it is March and everyone in my house is feeling better after the last round with viral infections. I swear I coughed so much last week that I actually lost weight. My abs are still tight!

Today we are dealing with another problem. Our local CAFO spread manure in the field behind our property on Monday. We had a lot of snow up there and things warmed up pretty fast Monday evening and Tuesday. Well, Tuesday morning I got up, used the potty, washed my hands and smelled - you guessed it - poop soup in my water! The stuff coming out of my tap was brown, stank and left an oily residue on my hands. I used Purel (gel hand sanitizer that we generally only use for camping) but my hands still stank at 3:00 that afternoon. We had the DEC and the Dept. of Health out here this week and are waiting to find out what happened and whether or not the farmer was in compliance with his CAFO agreement. After doing some research, I suspect that even if he was within his general CAFO regs that he did not follow winter spreading guidelines which require CAFOs to consider precipitation and temperature forecasts, slope of the land and proximity to running water when manure is spread in winter.

Regardless of whether the farmer was right or wrong, I can't shower, wash dishes, do laundry, bathe my kids, cook, dye, paint, brush my teeth or even water the dog with what is in my well right now. Talk about being totally out of commission. AARGH! Luckily, we live close to some very supportive friends and family so we are getting fed and bathed and my friend, Chelise, even brought us a big chunk of her water storage. We have about 30 recycled juice bottles filled with water lined up under the kitchen window and are reserching to determine what kind of water filtering system we will need to put in to prevent this type of disaster in the future. So much for that tax return I was getting all excited about. Looks like our Spring educational trip will end up being a lesson in installing filtration systems.

If you are wondering what a CAFO is and how I feel about living near one, you should read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver is my favorite living novelist and she also happens to be a scientist. Her book is about American foodways and how our habits are endangering our long term well being. Also, you should look at these photos to see what was spread on the field and was slipping down our yard and into the St. Regis River on Tuesday afternoon. BTW - in case anyone gets hot headed about my daughters investigative reporter photography - she didn't have to leave our property to get the photos.
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