Silver Dollar Pancakes

It's Sunday morning and per usual, my kids want pancakes. As Americans, breakfast is typically a massive carb fest. This is especially true with kids. So shifting to a gluten and sugar free lifestyle was challenging in the breakfast department. 

My kids were used to eating cereal and frozen waffles etc. for breakfast. They still do that now but it's gluten free alternatives. I get some wheat free frozen waffles from Trader Joes they really like but as with all processed foods, even gluten free processed foods have stuff in them I'm not thrilled about.

I mostly follow Dr. Davis' Wheat Belly cookbook recipes with some stuff from Dr. Perlmutter's Grain Brain book thrown in as well.

This recipe is for Silver Dollar Pancakes and it's in the new Wheat Belly 30 Minute or Less Cookbook which my wonderful mother sent me this week. I've made a few adjustments to it for lack of certain ingredients in my cupboard but they turned out just fine.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup of almond flour or meal (I get mine from Trader Joe's)

1/4 cup of coconut flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)

1 teaspoon of baking soda

Sweetener equivalent to 1 tablespoon of sugar (I use liquid stevia but you can use Xylitol as well, neither of which will jack up your blood sugar)

1/4 cup finally chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 eggs

1/2 cup no sugar added applesauce (I didn't have any on hand so I used my pear butter I canned in the fall)

5 tablespoons of water

2 tablespoons of a healthy fat; olive oil, coconut oil (melted), butter (I used walnut oil in my version since the cakes had chopped walnuts in them already)

pinch of salt (this is not part of his recipe but I tend to like salt to balance the sweetness of fruit in these recipes)

In a medium sized bowl, combine the first 6 ingredients and whisk together. I sometimes will run the flours through a sifter to make things a little lighter and fluffier.

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In a smaller bowl combine the eggs, applesauce water and fat and whisk together. 

Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and then mis to just combined. Let it sit for a few minutes to incorporate while you heat a pan on low. I find that if I cook these on medium heat they burn before they cook through. So use low heat and be patient. Grease your pan. I use spray coconut oil but whatever works for you.

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Cook for two minutes on each side. These are VERY delicate so flip carefully. 

They are so yummy they honestly do not need anything on them but my kids did use some maple syrup.

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Enjoy!

The Importance of Supporting Local

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure to spend the day at Black Diamond Alpacas Ranch. The day was set up as a one day knitting retreat with Kira K. who is not only a talented designer and teacher but just a damn cool human being. 

The day began early under a leaden sky which dumped and drizzled rain. I drove an hour and a half from my home near SFO out to Brentwood, CA. Rolling, unusually green (from all the rain we've had this winter) hills with giant wind turbines, wind farms as they are called, greeted me after I left the interstate. It was almost surreal and a little creepy honestly. The wind turbines are so enormous, they gave me the feeling the earth was being invaded by aliens.

 It's hard to get an idea of scale here but these things are MONSTROUS! Average height is 328 feet!

It's hard to get an idea of scale here but these things are MONSTROUS! Average height is 328 feet!

The long rural roads through farmland took me further and further away from the hectic pace of the Bay Area. I was in heaven. I could smell soil, manure and green things and it made me supremely happy. No matter how much I grow in my small backyard garden, I just can't escape the fact that I live in a town with neighbors right on top of me and loads of concrete everywhere.

I pulled into the ranch and climbed out. The farmhouse is lovely. Light and airy with a huge porch which provides shelter from rain (like on this day) and protection from the upper 90s to 100 degree heat of the summer. 

We spent the morning snacking on goodies, drinking tea and coffee, learning a great slip stitch pattern from Kira, fondling and purchasing beautiful alpaca yarn, playing with the resident kitties and meeting the owners of the ranch. 

After lunch we went out to see the girls. There are about 50 males and 50 females on the ranch. They are kept separate because in order to sell a cria you need to know exactly who the daddy is. All animals are microchipped so they know who is who. 

The ranch owners, Donna and Mike love their alpacas and know each of their names. It was interesting to talk to them about the current market. There's not that much demand right now for alpaca so they do not want to breed any. Additionally, it's getting so expensive to produce the yarn that it's almost cheaper to buy it from Peru! But they don't want to do that. Donna and Mike shear their alpacas in the spring, send the fleeces to a Northern California mill to spin it. Then they dye it themselves on the ranch. It's a local product! 

Mike talked about their experiences at Stitches West as vendors and how there is so much price gouging to get more customers. But that hurts local businesses. It's not sustainable. One of the great things about the resurgence in popularity of knitting, crochet and spinning is that people are more and more willing to pay for their yarn, especially high quality locally produced yarn. Sure it costs more, but that cost is not lining the pockets of the ranchers, it's barely covering costs. 

We, as fiber folks, can help. Whenever you can, please purchase yarn from small producers like Black Diamond Alpaca. We have the power to help grow this segment of the yarn market and that is good for both us and the ranchers. The ranches thrive and we get beautiful, high quality unique yarns. It's a win-win! 

Do you have a favorite small business you like to purchase yarn from?

My Lyme Journey

I am currently being treated for chronic Lyme Disease. Most likely I've had it for over 20 years. I was an archaeologist and spent time in the field among these bad boys from 1988 to 2001. There were many times where I found ticks embedded on me many days after returning from the field. 

In the summer of 1995, a week after I'd returned from the field, I found a tick deeply embedded in one of my toes. I didn't think much of it. Back then we didn't really hear about Lyme and I was living in Florida, not a place it was even discussed. I removed the tick and flushed it and didn't give it another thought. But that summer, I developed a number of "conditions" that I now believe to have been the first expressions of Lyme. I developed a chronic, system yeast infection that multiple rounds of antibiotics and treatments could not fix. I developed my first auto-immune disease, Raynaud's Disease, which was extreme, even living in Florida! I had continual flu like symptoms and terrible muscle pain. I was only 25 and did not have health insurance but I was a graduate student. I used the campus health care and antibiotics were their only answer, in addition to, "You need to see a psychologist." I did do the later because I had also developed a debilitating anxiety disorder.

I was also living with a terribly abusive boyfriend who himself had a drug and alcohol problem. There is a lot of research showing links between traumatic events and the weakening of the immune system, allowing things like viruses and bacteria to thrive. 

A year later I got out of that situation and moved back home with my wonderful parents. I had put myself on a very strict eating plan, back then called a candida diet. It really did improve my health a great deal. I went on with my life, just feeling like constant pain and headaches, nausea and IBS were just part of my life, just things I had to live with. 

Fast forward to May of 2014. I'd been sick, much sicker than ever before and chronically, for years. I had been on a grain free, soy free, diet for over a year and while that had eased symptoms a bit, I was not finding the dramatic improvements in health that most people, even my parents, had experience. I went back to my doctor and again she didn't have much to suggest. I requested a thyroid panel which she agreed to. We discovered that I was hypothyroid so she reluctantly prescribed medication. But I felt that one month of that medication was not the "silver bullet". After much searching and many other "specialists" endocrinologists, etc. I found my current doctor, a functional medicine doctor. 

She does not take insurance and so it was a source of stress for me but my loving husband was adamant. I'd been sick for so long, missed so many family adventures, given up so much of my life to my illness, that we'd do whatever it took to pay for the health care. 

My new doctor ran a million tests that revealed not only did I have the auto-immune disease Hashimotos Thyroiditis, but I also had dysbiosis of the gut, a mutation of the genes necessary for methylation, very low iron, etc. We began addressing it with a lot of supplements and more dietary changes. It took many months but I finally started to feel better! I dropped 18 pounds and had more energy and less fatigue. Things were going great until late October when the symptoms started to return again. I couldn't figure it out. I hadn't changed anything. In fact I was still eating my super restricted auto-immune diet. As the fall and winter wore on I felt worse and worse. The migraines started again. I average 7 a month and they range from very painful to debilitating. They last on average 18 hours. My body cannot absorb iron. I'm extremely anemic. I have heart palpitations. Severe stiffness in the neck and shoulders. I'm always cold. Nausea is chronic and my gut is a mess. I only have energy enough to walk for exercise. More than that and I get sicker. I have pain that literally travels from joint to joint around my body. I have a high rheumatoid factor without actually having RA. In other words ,my body is full of inflammation. For years I have noticed that I always feel worse in the fall and winter. That's when my symptoms peak.


My doctor ran more tests and said, once we address all the auto-immune stuff, and we have, then we need to look at infectious disease. She said my symptoms are all classic chronic Lyme. So we've started treatment and are awaiting the final test results for all the co-infections that can go along with Lyme. I've learned a LOT about this incredibly hard to kill organism and how advanced it is. I have hope though. It is possible to get better. I'm working on it with many therapies and a great doctor. Meanwhile I have to try to keep being mom, and wife and writer, and designer, etc. because even though there are times when I have to take to my bed for the pain, I have to keep going. 

If you or someone you  know is suffering many seemingly unrelated symptoms and can't get better, I suggest finding a Lyme Literate doctor and seeing if that is your problem. The CDC says there are more cases of Lyme diagnosed in the US every year that all forms of breast cancer, invasive and not. It is in every state, most countries, and there is evidence that Borrelia burgdorferi is showing up in other tick species now, not just the deer tick. Protect yourselves when out hiking and check real well when you come in. As much as 30% of people do not ever get a bull eye rash. I didn't. That is not a diagnostic marker. Many public health departments will test the tick for you to see if it contains Borrelia. It's worth the trip to find out. 
 

 Borrelia burgdorferi

Borrelia burgdorferi


I hope this story can save someone from suffering as I have for over 20 years. I have faith that I will recover. But I'm prepared for it to be a long, bumpy road.

Continuing Education

I am a perpetual student. I love to learn. I was the kid who enjoyed school and although sometimes I procrastinated, I usually got my stuff done on time. I was not what you would call an overachiever however. I recall telling my doctoral advisor that I fully admitted to doing just enough to get by with good grades. He said, "Well that's refreshing. Just think what you could do if you actually applied yourself?"

 Me and a fellow doctoral student in an excavation unit at the Blue Creek Site in Northern Belize, Central America.

Me and a fellow doctoral student in an excavation unit at the Blue Creek Site in Northern Belize, Central America.

I started studying anthropology on my own when I was 11. It was pre-internet, 1981 and I had to get all my info from the public library. My folks were great about taking me there all the time. I would check out as many books as allowed and then come home and type notes from the books, on our PC. Remember those 5 1/4 floppys? I had a LOT of them dedicated to notes from books. 

When I was in high school I had some access to the community college library and that opened my world even more. 

I studied anthropology and archaeology in college and earned a B.A. and an M.A. and then went on to work on my PhD, which I never finished by the way. I've been ABD (All But Dissertation) since about 2002 and that status will not change.

Since then however, I have "gone back to school" in various ways to learn lots of new things that kind link back to anthropology and archaeology as they are things that, in general, are ancient arts. 

When my children were toddlers, I got accepted into a program to become a Master Gardener for our county. I had been gardening on my own for years but learning all the real science of it, all about disease, how to diagnose and treat, more about composting and propagating, etc. was really fun and as part of my commitment to being a Master Gardener, I did a lot of community outreach and education. 

 My boys picking peas in our kitchen garden, 2011.

My boys picking peas in our kitchen garden, 2011.

About three years ago I got very interested in learning how to spin. Not bikes in a gym, but fiber on a spindle. My friend Dru, told me about her spinning class on Craftsy.com. I signed up and took it and a new door opened up for me. Now I was not just spinning fiber but dyeing it as well, starting with using plants which I grew in my garden. (see the connection here?)

 Supported spindle and Navajo spindle (with the cop of fiber).

Supported spindle and Navajo spindle (with the cop of fiber).

 Woad (plant and powdered dyestuff).

Woad (plant and powdered dyestuff).

From there I learned to knit and then I was truly addicted. I took every class I could get my hands on about knitting. Every technique I could learn, I attempted, with varying degrees of success but I did it! Just this month I've taken a class on slip stitch knitting with Faina Goberstein, a class on entrelac knitting and a class on intarsia. 

In January of this year I took a multi week companion class with the author of The Modern Natural Dyer, Kristine Vejar at her lovely studio/shop A Verb for Keeping Warm in Berkeley. 

I started designing seriously only a few months ago and already have gotten four designs accepted with publications this year. 

The point of all of this is not to toot my own horn. The point is that I never want to stop learning. I believe it's what keeps my mind growing and active. I feel like I've only just touched the tip of the iceberg in all this fiber business and I have so very much still to learn. That excites me. It's the same way I feel when I've found a great new series of books and I'm just starting number 1. 

Countless studies have shown that continuing to learn, keeping the mind not only active but challenged, keeps people mentally healthy and contributes to longevity. There are even some studies suggesting continuing education can stave off dementia. 

To be idle is a short road to death and to be diligent is a way of life; foolish people are idle, wise people are diligent.
— Buddha

What do you feel about continuing education? Are there things you study on your own, topics you like to read about, things you are obsessed with learning more about? Do you believe it's important to always be learning; to always be the student?

 

Favorite Knitting Reads #4

This book is just plain fun. It's Knitting Ephemera by Carol J. Sulcoski. 

As it says on the cover page, this book is full of articles, snippets, fun facts, etc. about knitting. For example, although there are patron saints for just about everything under the sun, there is no patron saint of knitting! 

Did you know that the Scottish queen of the fairies, was said to steal the unfinished spinning and knitting projects of women at Yule (modern day Christmas)? Or that there is a whole selection of sports team names that are associated with fiber such as: The St. Louis Rams, The Boston Red Sox, The Dizzy Llamas, and the Blue Mountain State College Goats?

Within these pages you can amuse and delight yourself with all things knitting; historical, mythical, practical and cultural. 

It's a great little book, a quick read and perfect for the coffee table. 

Favorite Knitting Reads #3

While not technically a knitting book, this is definitely fiber related. In fact, it's all about how fiber becomes yarn with which to knit. 

Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont, is one of the first fiber related books I ever bought. I learned how to spin on a spindle about a year before I learned how to knit. This book was such a beautiful teacher for me. 

The author learned to spin at the age of five in the Peruvian highland town of Chinchero and offers such wonderful imagery about her experiences growing up spinning. 

While this book has plenty of technique for you, there is also so much more information presented in a very fun to read almost literary format. Learn all about the history of spindles and the science behind them as well as the birth of the wheel all while the author helps you decide which spindle is right for you. 

Learn the basic techniques of spinning on both drop and supported spindles, trouble shooting and even plying, again with beautiful photos and written word imagery to guide you through. Spin a few skeins of your own yarn, then try it out on one of the projects included. 

I return to this book time and again for refreshers as well as inspiration. 

Do you spin? Have you read this book?

Favorite Knitting Reads #2

Today's book one is an example of my favorite kind of knitting books; it combines history and culture, with knitting! It's Lithuanian Knitting: Continuing Traditions by Donna Druchunas and June L. Hall. 

There is so much to love about this book. It speaks to my anthropologist side in teaching me all about Lithuania, its people and history. Another chapter is devoted to the sheep and the fleece to wool process in Lithuania. Then we are treated to a tour through many villages looking at knitters and their folk art in each of the locales. You can see not only the similarities across the culture, but also the things that act almost as dialects of knitting in each region. 

The book concludes with knitting techniques specific to Lithuania as well as 27 beautiful designs for mittens, gloves, socks and wrist warmers. 

From a technical perspective, I can't wait to try some of these patterns. From a student of history perspective, I have thoroughly enjoyed the rich history presented here. 

You can learn more about this book and all of Donna's classes and books over at her website, https://sheeptoshawl.com/

Do you have a favorite knitting book you'd like to share?


Favorite Knitting Reads #1

If there's one thing I love doing as much as writing, designing and knitting, it's reading. I love getting lost in a good book, or even better, a series of books. My favorite genres are pretty specific: historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, and history. But I also like reading knitting books. While it is true that many knitting books are project heavy and literature light, there are a number of excellent knitting books to provide plenty for you to sink your reading teeth into. 

So I thought I'd use the next few posts to highlight some of my favorite knitting books. I hope to hear your thoughts as well.

Today's offering is Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood. 

Let me start by saying that I'm not usually a big fan of short stories or memoir. But I thoroughly enjoyed the pieces in this book. There are 27 short story/memoir gems in this book, by authors such as Elizabeth Berg, John Dufresne, Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, and Anita Shreve to name just a few.

These stories illustrate just how "interwoven" knitting is in our culture. There are stories of sadness, stories of joy, stories of triumph and of disaster, stories of hope and of loss. Through these stories we begin to understand why so many writers are also knitters. 

Knitting is a form of creation, just as writing is. In knitting, we struggle with stitches and patterns just as we struggle with passages in our writing. We rip out, we edit, we even stick that sweater we attempted on a shelf somewhere along with the first 50 pages of that novel we've been working on, letting them both see the light of day sometimes when the mood strikes.

Knitting Yarns, reveals that knitting is a metaphor for writing. It's a metaphor for life.

Morning Constitutional

Here I am referring to the original use of this phrase, "a morning walk". 

The New Oxford English Dictionary defines "constitutional" as 

noun (dated): a walk, typically one taken regularly to maintain or restore good health.

I used to be a runner. I didn't start running until I was 39 and at that time I started because I was joining friends in my first ever marathon training program. I had never run more than 1/2 a mile by choice at that point.

Quickly in the program I got up to 5 miles and then 7 and then 8 and during this time I developed severe shin splints. At least that's what I thought they were. Turns out, after an 11 mile limping run, I had actually gone from shin splints to fractured tibia. Apparently I have a high tolerance for pain. 

I took a few months to recuperate and continued over the next three years to run and be plagued by injuries. But I did enjoy it. I went on to run several half marathons in San Francisco as well as a number of smaller 6K and 10 K races. 

Two years ago I developed severe swelling and fluid on my knee. Later we learned this was from my auto-immune disease and potentially also Lyme disease. 

So I became a walker. 

I ADORE walking. At first I struggled with how much TIME it took to cover the same ground as I used to do (3-4 miles) in the mornings before taking the kids to school. But once I got used to it, and discovered audiobooks, it changed my life.

I walk the kids to school most mornings (just under a mile one way) and then I continue walking for another 30 to 45 minutes up and down hills, taking photos, listening to great stories, greeting dogs and saying, "Good Morning!" to passing walkers and runners. Some days my disease makes me too tired to get out there and I hate those days. Walking makes me feel good, even if sometimes I'm feeling shaky and weak while I'm doing it. It gets my blood moving. I gives me fresh air and quality alone time. I get a LOT of books read on my walks. Since the end of August, I've re-read (by listening) the entire 8 books of the Outlander series, all six books of The Mortal Instruments Series, the first four books of The Lost Kingdom Series, and the most recent book, Lamentation, by one of my favorite authors C.J. Sansom. 

Walking also allows me something that running did not. The ability to go slow enough to stop and literally smell the roses. I take lots of photos on my walks and they often become the inspirations for dye projects and knitting designs. 

My husband and I met in a Buddhist meditation group. Each Tuesday night we met as a group and sat for two twenty minute sessions with a five minutes walking meditation in the middle to stretch our legs. Walking mediation can be a powerful thing, especially if done barefoot in the forest or field. Feeling the connection with the earth and the energy moving up from the earth and down from the body is a beautiful thing.

Try it sometime yourself. Find a field or forest path where you feel safe going barefoot. Remove shoes and socks and allow your feet to really feel everything under them, each blade of grass, each leaf, every speck of soil and mud. Feel grounded and steady.

Begin to take very slow, measured steps, focusing on what you are feeling, not just in your feet but all around you. Continue in your slow, measured pace and stay in the moment. Try not to let your thoughts wonder. Just stay with your present experience. At some point you will feel it's time to stop. I usually like to take a few minutes to sit and reflect before I don my socks and shoes and head back. Connecting with nature and the earth this way is really powerful and it's a great way to recharge your batteries. 

Do you have a favorite practice in the morning? What can you not live without doing every morning?  

Spring 2016 Mood Board

I'm currently designing items for a few publications which are of course planning for fall and winter at this point, that's the normal editorial cycle. But it is Spring soon and I wanted to present a fun mood board "slide show" to maybe inspire some of your own designing. Many of these are photos taken by me and some are incorporating Pantone's colors of 2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity (effectively light pink and baby blue). 

I live in Northern California in the SF Bay Area so my spring arrives much sooner than many in the country. But our climate here supports a different type of flora than that of the northeast where I used to live. So my spring mood board is a little different from what it might be if I were still living east. 

I'm designing patterns and dyeing fibers and fabrics with these colors and the ideas of fresh, wet with dew, bright and blooming, light and still a bit chilly in mind. 

I'd love to hear what ideas you have for projects you are planning this spring!

This is Hashimoto's

I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. While this is not usually something I would talk about on a blog which focuses mostly on the fiber arts, this disease affects my ability to practice these arts quite often. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease which attacks the thyroid gland and causes all kinds of havoc within the body. Inflammation is a big obstacle folks with this disease grapple with. I have times where, for no known reason, my left wrist swells painfully and I can't move it, for upwards of a week or more. I have to wear a brace on it just to keep it immobile. This makes it very hard to knit, spin, type, wash my hair, etc. 

For nearly a year I have been on a very restricted diet which excludes diary, all grains, all legumes, sugar, alcohol, nuts, seeds, soy, and all nightshades (eggplant, tomato, pepper, potatoes). I can eat lean protein, veggies and fruits. 

I am not saying all of this to garner pity. In fact, I really love my diet. It's easy and I really don't miss all those other foods, mostly because they made me so very sick but also, I've become accustomed to not having them. I also deal pretty well with the inflammation and the chronic headaches, heart palpitations and my newest symptom, vertigo. This disease does test me, and it definitely tests my husband and children, but it is part of my life and it isn't going anywhere. 

I've written this post to highlight my personal struggle but everyone has a personal struggle. It's not what we are burdened with that defines us, it's how we manage that burden. Knitting, designing, spinning, working with natural dyes, and writing, are things that bring me joy and help me to see how fortunate I am to have days, maybe even weeks at a time, where my disease takes a back seat and I can really shine. 

Like other things in my life, this disease has presented me with struggles but it has also presented me with gifts: perseverance, faith, trust, and hope. 

Five Steps to Jump Start Your Creative Process

We all have the capacity to be creative. Sometimes the flow of the creative juices is on full blast and other times the well is dry, not a drop to spare. It is in the dry times when we may feel we've lost our mojo, are no longer capable of creating, or were never good at it to begin with. The self doubt creeps in. Even more damaging, inertia sets in.  

I have found over the years that my creative tap is most fluid during my favorite seasons, Spring and Fall. I love winter too but the months of January and February are typically difficult for me in terms of motivation and ideas. The same thing happens during the July and August period. 

A little down time is always good. It's always important to recharge your battery and refill the well of ideas. But if that downtime lingers too long, then it threatens to become the norm.

To that end, I've come up with five steps which I take to break through that inertia, to open the tap again to creative projects, in my case, writing and designing. 

Step 1: The Walk

 Trail in Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco.

Trail in Glen Canyon Park, San Francisco.

Walking is a daily thing for me unless I'm ill or the weather is very bad. However, my daily walks always include listening to an audio book. I get a lot of reading done this way. I cover generally 3 to sometimes 4 miles a day this way. However,  that kind of walking is not the kind of walking I'm talking about here. The Walk is a walk with no music, no audio books, and it's solo. This kind of walk is aimed at opening your mind to the world around you. I try to choose a relatively flat area to do this kind of walk but feel free to hike elevation if that sings to you. There are a few things you should bring with you on your walk: water, and a means to record. This can be either pen and paper or colored pencils, or a camera, or both. Your walk need not be long; at least 20 minutes would be great as it can take time to settle into a comfortable pace and start to relax.

Start the walk by noticing everything around you. What does the air smell like? Do you hear anything? Are there birds singing? Are there squirrels rustling around in the bush? What colors do you see? As you continue your walk, stop when you feel the urge and write down, draw or photograph what you see. Maybe you are in the mood to think big and look at landscape. Maybe you are feeling the microcosm and want to draw or photograph a ladybug larvae as it is settling in for its transformation. 

This walk can be done as many times as you need to open up your well spring again. It is a form of active meditation and like any form of meditation, it will require practice. So be gentle with yourself.

Step 2: The Analysis

After your walk, find some time to sit with your results. Look over your drawings, writings or photos. Is there a common theme? Is there a particular color you were drawn to? Is there a something in your work you feel drawn to dive into deeper? Spend some time writing or drawing your thoughts. In this phase I like to take a cup of tea and sit, depending on the weather, either in my favorite knitting chair, or outside in my garden. Give yourself at least 15 minutes to sit with this material you've gathered on your walk. 

 My garden oasis.

My garden oasis.

Step 3: Digestion

This part is very important so don't be tempted to skip it. In this step, you are taking the time to really let your experience soak in. It's a meditation of sorts. You can get as formal or as informal as you like. If you feel the need to sit on a zafu cushion or feel the need to lie down in bed, it's all okay. Just so long as you can keep yourself focused and not drift off to sleep! This is a meditation, not a nap. 

Get comfortable somewhere you won't be bothered, close your eyes, take three deep breaths and then think about your walk and the analysis you've already done. If you discovered a theme from your journey, what is that theme and how can you see your creative process using it?

For example, when I take my walk, I photograph things I see in nature which give me ideas for knitting projects and the yarns and colors I'll use. If I was drawn to something enough to photograph it and nature put the colors together, then they'll look great in a knitted project. 

 Bark of a Eucalyptus tree taken after the rain.

Bark of a Eucalyptus tree taken after the rain.

Spend at least 15 minutes really digesting your data. Let images come and go in your mind's eye regarding things you can create with what you've collected. When you feel ready, open your eyes and write down or draw anything that gets you closer to a new project.

Sometimes I don't get close enough in my meditation phase to really flesh anything out. When that happens I nearly always awake around 3 am with many ideas. I guess I'm on a delayed gratification system sometimes.

Step 4: The Swatch

In knitting, we swatch in order to be sure of gauge but we can also use the swatch to help discover the best yarn, colors and size needles to use in our project. 

When we write or draw we "swatch" as well. It's just done a bit differently. A swatch is, a test run, a mini-playground or a mini-laboratory, however you'd like to think of it. 

 Circular swatch for a sock design.

Circular swatch for a sock design.

Take some time to "swatch" your new project idea. Sometimes I need to knit up five or six or even more swatches till I find the right mix of yarn, color and needle size to give me what I've drawn in my project sketch. 

When I write, I use freewriting and writing prompts to help me "swatch" my way towards a new project. Often, new blog posts come from my freewriting exercises. 

Step 5: Execute

It's one thing to have a great idea, or a series of great ideas. But unless you execute the ideas or projects, they'll simply remain ideas. So push yourself those last few feet and execute your project idea. Maybe you'll get partway through and realize it's not working the way you'd hoped. That's okay! Just re-evaluate and then get back on the horse so to speak. The creative process is about practice. It's about doing and scratching and trying again.

 The author hiking at Purissma Creek.

The author hiking at Purissma Creek.

The very nature of executing your ideas is creative. When I have sketched out a new design and I have swatched and chosen the yarn and needles I want, I still need to actually make the thing before I feel completed. Many times I've realized during the process of knitting the project that I want to go back to the drawing board and change things up a bit. But now that my creative tap is open again, those changes usually come fairly easy. If not, there's always another walk.

So don't linger in the limbo of a creative drought. Put on your walking shoes and step out your door. I'd be willing to bet that your mojo will be back before you know it.



Light of Peace: A Meditation

My heart, like many others, has been heavy as of late. The violence humans are perpetrating on each other and other sentient beings has made me soul sick. This morning I decided I had to do something to both protect myself and spread a little bit of healing. So I sat. The meditation which follows here came into me organically. I did not create it, it manifested. I invite you to practice this meditation today. See what it does for you. 

Light Of Peace Meditation

Sit comfortably. For you that may be cross legged on the floor, or on a cushion, or it may mean sitting in a chair. However you choose to be, find a position in which your spine is long and open and you can imagine energy flowing throughout your body, no knots or kinks to block it's path.

Close your eyes and inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. Take as many deep cleansing breaths as you feel called to.

When you are settled, turn your palms up. Begin to feel and see in your mind's eye, white light coming into your body through your upturned palms. This light may come from straight above. It may come in like fog from all around you. It may rise up from the earth and settle into your palms. It will be unique and organic for you. 

Let that light fill every cell in your body. Begin letting it radiate up your forearms, your upper arms, your shoulders. Let it fill your neck and shoulders. Let it rise up into your head. Feel the light push down into your abdomen, filling your lungs and organs. Feel it seep into your pelvis and down your legs. Feel it swirl around inside your joints and out your toes. 

Let this light chase away all dark spots inside of you. It may take time so be patient. You need not rush this. If you feel any dark spots return or try to hide, send the light there. 

When your body is filled completely with this white light, feel the peace and positive, joyful energy thrumming through you. Let that sit within you. Feel it. Remember it. Hold it.

When you are ready, imagine your crown chakra slowly opening. The 1000 petal lotus gently opens at the top of your head. When it is open, allow some of your light to radiate outward. You are still collecting light through your hands and your body is still filled with light. As this new shared light pours out of you, you are not emptying yourself, you are simply sharing the bounty.

Imagine that light reaching all the people you love. Imagine that light reaching and filling them to the top. Imagine that light reaching all the people you feel estranged from. Imagine that light filling them with peace. Imagine that light reaching someone who is about to make a dangerous choice, a choice that could hurt others. See the light filling that person. See truth and realization on their face. See them change their path. See them embrace joy instead of violence. 

Let your healing light of peace fall on every animal, every sentient being. Send them love and joy. Imagine the light covering the earth as a soft blanket of snow, creating a bubble of peace.

When you are ready, slowly close your crown chakra. Continue to fill your body with light and make sure there are no dark spots which have grown within you. Chase them away. When you are ready, close your palms and bring them together in prayer at your heart center. Take a few deep breaths here. Keep the light inside of you. Keep a little ball of light in your palms and place them over your heart, one hand on top of the other. Imagine that ball of light moving into your heart to make an even brighter place. 

Open your eyes. Try to keep this light within you. Refill it when you need to. Share it when you need to. 

Imagine if we all did this every day. What change might we affect? The power of prayer directed to those who do not know they are being prayed for is well documented. What might we do for ourselves, those we love and those who really need peace if we practice this?

Thoughts on Year End Planning

Well, my class The Eternal Thread has wrapped up for the fall. I hope everyone enjoyed it. I know I did. I learned more and added more into the class and that in the end will improve the book. I've been designing and test knitting for the book for months. It's all a new thing for me. It's challenging and it's nice to be challenged. 

We are moving into winter, the season of sleep and dormancy. I however, have always been revitalized by fall and winter. I seem to be at my most productive at that time. So I'm taking advantage of it this year. I'm working with my mentor Donna Druchunas in her year end course. We are building a path to our goals for 2016. I love this type of planning. It sets me up for success and doing it now, means I can move through the holidays knowing I'm going to emerge on the other side with a plan in place. 

One of the discussions that always comes up around year end planning is what methods people use to record their plans. We live in a digital world and most of us use something in that plane to track our lives and projects. There's Evernote and other software like it. I've tried it but honestly it's just too much effort and work. I tend to work best with pen and paper. Where my husband likes to make grocery lists in an app, I would rather just jot the items down on a piece of scratch paper. We do share a google calendar because without that we'd never keep track of who is going where and who is taking which child to which event etc. 

But for planning for my business, paper is much more enjoyable for me. So this year it's going to be a paper planner. My problem is I have yet to find one I actually like. I have come to realize it's less about the structure of the planner, i.e. what types of lines and boxes it provides, and more about the aesthetic quality of it. I'm a writer, designer and knitter. I want my planner to be beautiful, to have images and colors that I find beautiful and personal. So I guess I'm just going to have to make my own. I'm not a graphic artist, so I'm still tumbling around ideas about how I'd like to make this happen. But I know I'm going to come up with something I really want to use everyday and feel excited about working with.

How do you keep track of projects and to dos? Do you plan for a whole year, just a month ahead, or just for today? What does year end planning mean to you? What does it do for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Autumn Squash Soup

Although I'm on a really restrictive diet I CAN have winter squashes and I love them. This soup is my go to all through the fall and winter. It's really easy to make and very versatile. Although this soup recipe is AIP compliant (Auto-Immune Protocol), you can feel free to substitute anything you like. For example, if you don't like coconut milk you can use cream instead. Although I gotta tell you that coconut milk is a great combo with winter squash. 

You can also use just plain water or veggie broth in place of the chicken broth. I will tell you that using just plain water will really affect the flavor profile, making it not as full and rich. I make my own broth all the time so I always have some on hand. You can use store bought if you like but please read the labels. Some manufacturers put some nasty stuff in those things.

I have used Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha and Pumpkin to make this soup and they all have worked well and tasted great. I am a fly by the seat of my pants type cook, except when I'm baking, then I'm precise. So you'll see the recipe here is pretty loose. Some of you will hate that but I promise you, this one is tough to destroy so just give it a go and I bet you'll like your results.

Autumn Squash Soup

Ingredients

1 medium sized winter squash (3-4 pounds)

Coconut Oil

1/4 onion chopped

2 cloves garlic chopped

2 cups chicken broth (or enough to cover the squash once it's in the pot)

Sea Salt

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

1/2 cup Coconut Milk (from the can)

1. Preheat Oven to 400. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Save them to roast later if you like. Rub the cut sides with coconut oil. Place cut side up on a cookie sheet and bake for 35-50 minutes. The timing will depend on the size of your squash. Just poke it with a fork and if it's soft, it's done.

2. Remove from oven when soft and set aside to cool. In the meantime, add a tablespoon of coconut oil to a stock pot. Sautee the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and sautee until fragrant. 

3. Scoop out the squash from the shell and add to the pot. Cover with chicken broth. Add a dash of salt (I literally grab a big pinch from my salt box and toss it in). Bring to a boil.

4. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

5. Add cinnamon, nutmeg (I grate mine fresh but that's your call), and coconut milk. 

6. Using an immersion blender or your stand up blender (BE CAREFUL), puree the soup. 

7. Serve topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and creme fresh if you like. 

Options:

You can add in a peeled and diced pear prior to bringing the mixture to a boil. It adds a really nice fall flavor. Alternatively, you can add an apple. But the apple will need to be cooked longer. In that case I'd suggest sauteeing it with the onion.

A Day in my World

Now that the kids are back in school I'm really enjoying the schedule I've set for myself. The majority of my time is spent working on the book; writing, not as much as I should be, designing, test knitting, ripping out and testings again. It's all very rewarding. I have a pretty rigorous timeline laid out for myself so I'm working with the wonderful Donna Druchunas to keep me on track. 

The remainder of my time is spent doing homework with and helping my children as well as a fair number of hours devoted to the PTA Council and 17th District. Unfortunately for my long suffering husband, he gets precious little of my time.

I'm very grateful that this year, I'm actually well enough to do all these things. You may not be aware but I have two autoimmune diseases. The one that has primarily kept me very ill is Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. I've been working with a Functional Medicine Doctor since May and she's the first person in nearly three years of illness who has actually helped me. 

So I'm grateful. Grateful that I have the energy to get out of bed in the morning, the industry to actually cook meals and care for my family, and the drive to get something meaningful accomplished in my life. 

Minecraft for knitters

The other night I was reading to my children at bedtime. We are in the middle of a Minecraft novel. This has been their favorite game for nearly three years. For two years running I've made Halloween costumes for them in the Minecraft theme. There have been two birthday parties with the Minecraft theme. It's something they really love. It's a building game, an open ended world of possibilities. There are many monsters and features on the landscape, items and characters. 

Somehow as I was reading I went on auto-pilot. I still read every word but my brain was elsewhere. I'd  been struggling with a sock design for my book and was still turning it over in my mind when suddenly, a whole new set of designs thrust themselves forward. I stopped mid-sentence and told the boys all about it. Minecraft themed knitted items. They were instantly excited, not really a great thing when you are trying to settle them for bedtime but anyhoo... We batted around a ton of ideas. Now let it be said this is not a radical idea. There are loads of Minecraft themed knitted items on Etsy and elsewhere. I looked them up. But the ideas the boys and I came up with are really interesting. Not just your average hat and scarf kind of thing. I'm really excited to start working on these designs. I just have to remind myself that my priority is actually the book and the designs that go in THAT first. 

So stay tuned, if you or someone you know is a Minecraft fan, I'm going to have some fun patterns to offer up soon!

Wooly Goodness

This past weekend my husband and I cleaned out the garage. And I mean CLEANED OUT. We took everything off every shelf. Pulled out all the shelves, vacuumed, swept, wiped down the shelves and put them back. Sorted through all the boxes of stuff and made piles for donation and trash then reloaded the shelves. The place looks amazing and for the first time in probably 8 years it's spider free :)

But I had the chance to go through my wool stash. I have multiple shrink sealed bags of beautiful unwashed, unprocessed wool. I'd made the purchases well over a year plus ago and have been intending to wash and spin it all but of course time got the better of me and it hasn't happened. The good news is there are no moths because the fiber is all in vacuum sealed bags. So it's still in great shape. There are two whole fleeces, one Rambouillet and one Navajo-Churro. Then there are many bags of lovely long locks, some super springy and curly and some more mellow. The colors are beautiful, even in their dirty state. I can't wait to see what they will look like all cleaned up.

So my next step, and this is what's been preventing me from washing all this wool, is to build a good drying screen. I do not currently have a screen big enough to handle even a moderate amount of wool. I have an easy mental image of the light weight screen I'm going to build. Just need to figure out dimensions and go get the materials. Reminds me of building screens for sifting when I was an archaeologist. Only these screens need not hold a lot of weight or be shaken back and forth. 

Do you process your own spinning fibers? If so, what's your method of choice? How do you dry your fibers after they are washed?