Monday, February 28, 2011

Crafting for Democracy

As you're all aware, Madison, Wisconsin is the epicenter of a huge U.S. political battle. It consumes those of us who live here. Everyone wants to talk about it - whether to commiserate or to dissect the minutia of all the political wranglings. Frankly, it's exhausting.

This was the scene on Saturday: 


I've coined three terms: "rally fatigue", "rally stress", and "rally anxiety." I'm thinking about trademarking them... (j/k)  Over the course of the last two weeks, I've bounced between these three states of being - none of which are particularly pleasant. Then, on Friday night (2/25), I got to add "rally inspiration" to my list of terms.

You see, Friday night was the first meeting of the Knit-In/Craft-In for Democracy. As we all know, I can't resist an opportunity to knit in public with a group so, of course, I went. One report counted 92 people in attendance on the 2nd floor of the north wing of the Capitol. Most were knitting but some were crocheting, or spinning, or sewing. On person had set up a make-shift craft "table" with bits of paper, glue, pipe cleaners, and such - like you'd see in elementary school art rooms. It was awesome.


photo courtesy of Carrie Ouradnik
photo courtesy of Thea Dingo


photo courtesy of Carrie Ouradnik
People chatted and laughed. They talked about their knitting and about the rally. There was an air of camaraderie and of doing something "important" - even though we were just doing what we'd probably be doing at home, in front of the t.v. The "event" lasted until about 9:30p.m., at which time many protesters were bunking down for the night so it was the right time to leave. We dispersed as we'd arrived, with hugs and words of gratefulness and support.

From that first, three-hour gathering, the Knit-In/Craft-In has expanded. People convened again on Sunday February 27 starting at noon and are encouraged to keep coming every day, starting at noon, until the end of the "siege."

Carrie, a friend from my knitting group, (aka CraftyPuppyLover on Ravelry) provides this account of the end of the day:
"They were supposed to close down the capitol and start arresting people that didn’t leave at 4. So a few of us stuck around, and were planning on peacefully leaving once we were personally told to by an officer...and that never happened! My VERY unofficial guess is that there were about 200+ people that stayed behind, and the officers all just stayed calm. (edit: I have seen this number as high as 600, it's probably in the middle somewhere)


At around 7pm we got the word that there would be no arrests and that everyone was free to stay the night! Kelda Roys was SUPER AWESOME and escorted me upstairs once we figured no one was going to be arrested. She was also the person that was escorting others around to make sure that we could all get things like water, gatorade, and pizza into the capitol to feed the protesters.


I left around 7:45, I felt like I was there long enough to have my “body counted” and so that people could stay the night. The last thing I heard was that they were going to let in more food and eventually move everyone down to the ground floor so that the 1st floor could be cleaned, and that no one would be forced to leave."
I think that, when it's all said and done, the thing that inspired me was the peacefulness of it all. Throughout this ordeal, there's been no violence - even though there's been horrible anger. And we crafters are not known for being too unruly so we fit perfectly into this non-violent protest. Ghandi would be proud. Let's hope it stays this way.

One last note: as I was leaving on Friday night, there was a documentary filmmaker shooting video of the knitters. Here's the video she produced:


Peace,

- Alex

Friday, February 25, 2011

When Crafts Attack!

When one thinks of crafting, one generally associates it with hush-voiced grandmas sitting around a quilting table or knitting up something cozy while rocking in a chair. There might be a unicorn or a double rainbow in this visualization because, you know, crafts are sweet like that.

UNTIL CRAFTS ATTACK!

This week, I learned all about attack crafts when my recent project drew blood.

Yes...you heard me... it drew real red, stain-y blood. Bast*rd.

Here's the photographic evidence:

It's blurry but you can clearly see the damage. And, if you look carefully, I think you can even see the offending craft tool sitting on the table.

You thought that we were just a couple of namby-pamby crafters writing this blog. Now you see us for the death-defying warriors that we are.

How could this horrible tragedy happen, you ask?  Thank you for asking!...

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about about FiberTrends Felted Clogs - my favorite pattern to knit because it's so easy and satisfying. I was in the process of making a pair for a friend's birthday when I decided that I wanted to, somehow, personalize these slippers because, you know, homemade isn't personal enough.

Beginner's Guide to Needle FeltingOne craft technique that I've been dying to try is called "needle felting." I've seen incredible work done with this technique and, while I hold no illusion that I'll ever be THAT good, I do like to try new things. So, off I went to the local hobby shop to buy some inexpensive roving (wool that's been dyed but not spun) and felting needles.

For the uninitiated,
  • Felt is a non-woven cloth that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing woollen fibres. While some types of felt are very soft, some are tough enough to form construction materials. Felt can be made into any shape or size. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needle_felting
  • Needle felting is the interlocking and compacting of wool fibers by using pointed, barbed felting needles either by hand or machines.
Needle felting is often used to create 3-D crafts, like toys and decorative items. It can also be used to add decoration to other things - like, say, felted slippers.

So, I finished the slippers. (see how plain they are...)

Boring and in need of decoration
Then I set out my new tools.

New and dangerous equipment
For drawing my design on the slippers. This worked better in theory.

POINTY
I'd like you to take note of how POINTY these needles are. And, what you can't see without a magnifying glass, is that the pointy ends of these suckers are BARBED.

If you remember from my tutorial above, the way this works is that you POKE THE NEEDLE in and out of the roving, over and over again, until it binds the wool fibers together.

Are you getting a picture of the danger involved in this activity?

I decided to go with the simplest design I could think of since this was new to me and I was using dangerous equipment. Tiny red hearts on the heels of the clogs would add a bit of color and a sweet sentiment to my friend's gift.

Poke, poke, poke, STAB! Ouch! #$^%@#&^%!!

Poke, poke, poke, STAB! Ouch! #$^%@#&^%!!

In case you missed it before.
Eventually, I finished my first needle felting attempt and, frankly, I'm pretty proud of myself. I think the hearts are cute and they actually appear to be done correctly. Of course, my thumb may never recover...

All I can tell you is that my friend better appreciate the suffering that went into making these things.

- Alex, Craft Martyr

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Giving Is Fun!

A couple Friday's ago Alex told you that we were on our way to our latest charity crafting afternoon. It was a wonderful (and productive) time and I finally have some images to share with you from our day.

Three of us worked on the Take-Along Quilt from the book Craft Hope by Jade Sims. This project is really fun to sew, but unfortunately the 4-hour window of time that we had to work on this project was not enough to complete our quilts. Being the "business people" that we are, we did try to proactively set some "efficiencies" in place to try to shave some time off the process. We centralized the cutting of the panels and the backing by having a non-sewer work the rotary cutter table and had another non-sewer pressing seams and smoothing wrinkles in fabric. While this did save us some time, sadly, not enough. I think that we are all about 3/4 of the way done with the quilts and when we reunite in April for another afternoon, we will all finish and maybe even be able to spend some time on a small project with the rest of the time.

We centralized cutting operations for a 19.45% increase in efficiency.
Seaming my Dr. Seuss quilt.
Erin figuring out her design.
Alex lining up her layers.
We had a no-sew fleece blanket project and the seaming of a patchwork knitted afghan going on at this table. We have also decided that we would love to line the back of the finished afghan with some flannel for extra warmth. Maybe we can squeeze that in next time too.
Then we had the knitting contingency. Baby hats for newborns and scarves for the homeless were the projects for the day over here. We heard a lot of laughter (and a few tears) from this table, I might have to join this group one of our next afternoons!

Love the knitters!
 Great times, great projects, and great people. I love our charity crafting group!

–Cassandra

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feeding the Revolution

You may have gleaned, if you read us regularly, that Cassandra and I are from Madison, WI - currently a hotbed of protesters, counter-protesters, and spotlight seekers (I'm looking at you, Jesse Jackson.) Our usually low-key, small city is in a state of relative chaos, with tens of thousands of people descending on our capitol building every day for the last week.


I say "relative chaos" because, really, the week has been pretty peaceful and civil. The chaos comes from having to feed all these people. Fortunately, our capitol is in the middle of downtown on a square littered with amazing restaurants. Each of the eight streets leading away from the square also have restaurants on them with State Street (our "high" street) being the most rich with choice. From pizza to Tibetan food, you can pretty much find anything you want within a 1/2 mile walk.

Regardless of the tempting food choices, the die-hard protesters and, I suppose, some of the counter-protesters are loathe to leave the immediate area of the building. Hell, some are loathe to leave the building entirely - sleeping on air mattresses and make-shift bedrolls. What to do with them? Can't really leave them to starve...

Free Brats for Union Supporters
Cooking brats for the protesters
I don't remember what day it was - protests started in earnest on Tuesday so maybe it was Wednesday - somebody showed up and started handing out bratwurst (the official wurst of the great state of Wisconsin.) Then there were cookies, and pizza, and more brats. Individuals and organizations took it upon themselves to support democracy by feeding the revolution.

Then, on Friday, Ian's Pizza, a popular local pizzeria that specializes in odd pizza combos (its best-seller is a Mac-n-Cheese Pizza and it is exactly what you think) announced that it was closing its State Street location to normal business so it could focus exclusively on fulfilling the hundreds of donated pizza orders called in FROM AROUND THE WORLD. I swear to god, you can't make this stuff up.
Mac-n-Cheese Pizza from Ian's

Somehow, and I'm guessing it was via social media, Ian's phone number* got out to the world and people started ordering pizzas to be delivered to the capitol. Ian's remained closed for regular business on Saturday as well - continuing to fulfill the steady stream of orders.

I heard online that Ian's had taken orders from over 30 states and 5 countries - but their website doesn't say one way or the other. Today, a read a tweet that reported a pizza order called in from Egypt.

It's important to note that Ian's - or, for that matter, any of the food suppliers - doesn't discriminate in regards to who they'll feed. If you're hungry and you're participating in this amazing show of democracy in action, you, too, can have a slice. Or a cookie. In Wisconsin, we're nice like that.

Viva la revolucion-ary food!

- Alex

*If you would like to contact Ian's and help feed democracy in action, please call 608-257-9248 or visit http://www.ianspizza.com/

UPDATE: Ian's Pizza has a Facebook page with a bunch of info on how to contact them as well as great photos - including a couple of the chalkboard where they've been trying to keep track of where all the calls are coming from. http://on.fb.me/gr5yO9

Friday, February 18, 2011

100 Years Too Late

Last week Google did another "theme" day on their search engine. This time it was an amazing, interactive, nod to Jules Verne. If you didn't have a chance to see it, it looked like this:

I cannot boast to have spent my childhood tucked away in the library, reading Jules Verne novels. However, I have always been a huge fan of Disney's version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I loved the creepiness, the fantasy, and most of all... the aesthetic. My taste has always leaned toward the Victorian (if I'm being honest with myself though, I think I'm just a big fan of anything that is too ornate and/or French). Just look at these gorgeous book covers:


What makes the Jules Verne aesthetic truly unique is the introduction of technology. The meshing of the highly decorative and the technology of Victorians (sprockets, levers, etc.) create a look that is both lush and progressive. One of the issues I have with modern design (big square buildings that look like glass cubes, rooms without nooks... you see where I'm going) is that it seems to not have a artisan's touch anywhere. I want to look in a corner and see a charming detail or appreciate the texture of a drapery next to the texture of a plaster wall. I feel more comfortable with the idea of a learned person being surrounded by books and curios from around the world, instead of a computer and a smart-phone. *sigh*  I missed my time I guess. Of course, I could always get hip and just go full-blown Steampunk..


I do try to interject as much of this aesthetic into my home as possible. In the last few years (because of the new little people in my house) I haven't been able to devote as much time to refining my decor as I used to. But, that is going to change soon. It's time to get back at it. The vibe of my home is really important to me, and it has been neglected at the altar of practicality for way too long. My walls need artwork, corners need detailing, and antique fairs need attending.

So, I wait with bated breath for Spring to get here so I can open the windows and let the fresh air (and ideas) in! Hopefully I'll have some thoughts to share with you on this subject very soon.

–Cassandra

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Mistakes of My Past

Somewhere around 2001 Cassandra and I decided we wanted to learn to knit. I think she had some childhood experience. I had none.We found a local yarn shop that taught beginner classes and we signed up to make a felted tote bag.

Not my actual tote - but the same pattern

This is how little experience I had... I had no idea what the heck felting was. I soon learned that it was the modern equivalent of boiling wool - and I knew about boiled wool, having grown up in a wicked cold climate.

The instructor was very clear about why we were doing this particular pattern:
  • Projects destined for felting have to be made very large (because they shrink - a lot) so you tend to use larger needles which are easier for new knitting hands to handle.
  • Felting hides a million ills. You can make lots mistakes in your knitting and they'll just disappear once you've felted your piece.
I still have my tote bag and often use it as a knitting bag.

My second class was felted slippers, which I've talked about previously. I still wear my original pair all winter long.

FiberTrends awesome Felted Clogs

Starting with felted projects has pros and cons. The pros are obvious - your piece can be less than perfectly knit and it still looks great in the end. This allows you to confidently knit and not worry about a dropped stitch here or there. The con (for me, anyway) was that I became addicted to the freedom to make mistakes. I didn't want to do non-felted projects because I was afraid that my finished project would look bad.

I eventually got over the fear and I knit a bunch of non-felted, smaller projects. In time, my stitches became more even and I learned the little tricks to correct problems along the way. Although, I'll embarrassingly admit that I  only just learned how to pick up a dropped stitch and weave it back into my work - ten years into my knitting.

The best book I've found for general guidance on these issues is called The Knitter's Companion. Good illustrations and simple instructions will get you through most any "mistake" in your work. It also contains instructions for casting on, binding off, increasing, decreasing, various stitch types, and much more. There's even a little needle gauge included in the back. I can't tell you how many times I've referred to this book over the last ten years.

My most common mistakes include dropping stitches, mis-counting, forgetting to do an increase or a decrease (which throws off your stitch count), or losing my place in my pattern. Most of these are easily fixed by becoming a habitual "counter."

Counting stitches, and re-counting stitches, is the best way I've found to ensure that I'm in the right place in my pattern and not missing or adding stitches. I have become an obsessive counter - much to the annoyance of people around me when I'm knitting in public. But, it's worth the side-long glances to know that I haven't totally screwed up a row. In my knitting life, there has been enough "un-knitting" and ripping out of projects in order to correct a mistake that's 10 rows back. I hate re-doing work so I'd rather be the crazy woman in the corner, counting stitches, than the crazy woman tearing her hair out because she has to rip out a couple of days worth of work.

It's important to recognize when it's appropriate to simply adjust your pattern to correct an earlier mistake versus when it's worth ripping the work out and making the correction at the point of the mistake. I often find that no one but me will see the flaw so I eschew perfectionism and accept my piece as being "good enough." 

Recently, a friend's nine-year-old daughter started knitting. My friend doesn't knit so Miss P and I have bonded over our shared love of yarn. The reason I bring this up is because little Miss P is a FEARLESS knitter. In a short forty-eight hours, she was knitting up a storm and, if she happened to drop a stitch while she was working, she'd just pick it up and put it back on her needle. I was aghast and impressed. In my first forty-eight hours, I was obsessing over every stitch and if, god-forbid, I dropped a stitch my entire project came to a screeching halt. We should all strive to have the fearlessness of children, don't you think?

Sally forth and make mistakes. This is how we learn.

- Alex

    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Making Lemons into Lemonade


    Yesterday afternoon I had every intention of writing a post about our fabulous crafting for charity day we held last Friday. And then I realized that this past weekend I left my camera at my Mom's house (2-1/2 hours away). Wa..wa..waaaaa. We had taken lots of pictures to share with you here. There were newborn caps being knitted, no-sew blankets tied up, portable quilts being sewn and the seaming was completed on a knitted blanket for the homeless. It was a productive (and fun) day. And as soon as my mom mails me my camera back I will share the details with you dear readers.

    So, on to plan B.

    As much as I enjoy writing on this blog, I also enjoy reading the crafty blogs of others. I would like to share with you some of my favorites:

    Soulemama
    I stumbled upon this blog about a year ago. Amanda Soule is the mother of 4 littles (soon to be 5) who lives in a farmhouse in Maine (how charming is that?). Her photography is amazing and she writes about some really clever projects as well as musings on her day-to-day family life. She is a wildly successful blogger (who has 2 project books published on the strength of her blog) and there is a reason for that. She posts daily and what she writes/creates is always good.

    Ysolda
    Ysolda Teague is a very popular Scottish knitwear designer. She's young, ambitious and highly creative. Most of her blog is devoted to talk about her design process and her travels. It seems as though she is always at this show or that...and even yarn shops here in the US and in Europe. I really enjoy seeing where she's been and her impressions of the place. She's even been here to Madison, Wis. and her post about it couldn't have been sweeter. I wish I would have been able to get to that book signing!

    The Purl Bee
    This is the blog associated with the fabulous Purl Soho shop. The posts are almost always tutorials on projects for supplies that they carry. Really clever stuff. Some of my favorite projects are The Back to School Lunchbag, The Very Easy Pincushions, and Toddler Overalls. And I really mean these are just some of my favorites. They update their blog at least once a week with a fresh project so there are so many to drool over.

    That is just a list of 3 of my favorite crafty blogs. I will share more at some point in the future. If you have a blog you would like to share with everyone, please put your url in the comments section so folks can go take a look!

    Have a great day everyone... talk to you again soon!

    –Cassandra

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Charity Crafting Redux

    Unlike my normal, long-winded posts, today's will be blissfully short.

    This afternoon, ten people from my office will be converging on our local fabric/yarn shop, taking over their sewing room, and crafting for charity. We did this once before and had such a great time that we agreed to do it again.


    This time, three of us decided to make the Take-Along Quilt from the book Craft Hope by Jade Sims. It's a simple quilt - using fat quarters (1/4 of a yard of fabric, cut a specific way) on one side and a single cut of flannel on the other, with some batting in between. The final product has a strap that can be used to secure the quilt into a bedroll when it's time to be put away. Together we decided to simplify the pattern a bit and use quilt binding to finish the edges instead of making an edge out of the back-side fabric. If you'd like a free copy of the pattern, click here.



    Here's the issue... All three of us spent around $40 on materials, so each quilt will have $40 of hard cash plus four hours of our time invested in them. This smarts a bit when you're giving away the item. On our last charity craft day we made pillow case dresses so we had, probably, $15 each invested and we got twelve dresses out of the deal. Needless to say, we got a lot more bang for our buck as a charitable project with the dresses. This is something you have to think about when you're giving away your finished project. I want to be able to provide as much as I can for my time and money invested. All I can hope is that these quilts will be well-loved and used for years.

    We'll take some pictures today and do a follow-up post on Monday. Have a great weekend, everyone!!

    Wednesday, February 9, 2011

    Sentimental Journey

    As I've mentioned before, I have been plugging away for a while at some hand-made Sesame Street decor for my older son's room. He has throw-pillows, a duvet cover, and a pillowcase for his "big boy pillow" (the embroidered band is finished and the case will probably be seamed up quickly tonight). There are other Sesame Street projects in the queue but, since there is only one of me and a family of 5... well, one room doesn't get done all at once.

    All of my friends are well aware of my projects... I knit or embroider when I am out and social, blog about what I have going on, and, admittedly, I chatter a good deal about the topic as well. Most of my friends are not crafters but what I work on often jogs their memories about handmade gifts they received over the years from their mothers or some special person in their life. I love hearing those stories and seeing folks get sentimental. It's also interesting to remember what sort of crafts were in vogue 10, 20, or 30 years ago. I mean really, I defy you to find any woman from the age of 40-50 who didn't have a poncho knit from them in the 70's!

    A couple days ago my friend, Melissa, told me she had something for me. And did she ever!

    How beautiful are Big Bird's feathers here?
    This Ernie and Bert embroidery is dated 1977 on the front.
    Her mother made these for her in 1977 & 1978. We know what years exactly because she actually took the time to write a few sweet notes on the cardboard backings. I was shocked at such a gift. These hold sentimental value for Melissa... but she gifted them to me because she knew I would appreciate them. And I do. I will be tending to their cleaning and care and putting them in new frames. These embroideries (I would label as crewelwork) are amazing. Her mother did a perfect job and they have definitely held up just fine over the years. I wish I had a time machine because apparently these were made from kits, and good Sesame Street project kits cannot be found anywhere these days!

    I'm so glad to share this project from the past with you today. Hopefully 30 years from now, someone will be waxing poetic about a handmade item I made for them. Wouldn't that be the best?

    –Cassandra

    Monday, February 7, 2011

    Me and Hosni Mubarak


    Egypt is in an uproar. They're calling for the resignation of Honsni Mubarak, the person who has been their leader for 30 years. The first question that comes to mind is "what kind of democracy has the same leader for 30 years?" The second is, "what does one do when an angry mob forces you to step down?" Somehow I doubt that "retiring to the country house to do a little gardening" is the answer.

    In today's Spiegel Online International - the English-language, online version of the German newspaper - a story ran about a possible exile location for Mr. Mubarak. The headline, "Possible Exile in Germany: Clinic Near Baden-Baden Considered.", intrigued me.

    My favorite paragraph in the article is this one:
    "The United States government's scenario for an end to the political chaos in Egypt appears to be this: President Hosni Mubarak travels to Germany for a "prolonged health check" that would offer the 82-year-old a dignified departure. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that secret talks to that effect were being held between the US government and Egyptian military officials."
     So, Mr. Mubarak is 82 years old. I had no idea. The man must have a painting aging in a closet somewhere. And there have been rumors that he has cancer. So, I guess it makes sense that going to Germany for a "prolonged health check" at a luxury clinic would make some sort of sense.I kind of love how our government is trying to find a way to facilitate a "dignified departure" for this dude. I honestly don't know enough about the politics of the situation to speak intelligently about it but I just marvel at the fact that we, as a nation, feel it necessary to be the steward of EVERYTHING.

    What does this have to do with me, you ask?

    Baden-Baden - the possible future home of Mr. Mubarak - is one of my favorite places on earth. It's a small German town in the western foothills of the Black Forest and it has been a destination for health and restoration since the time of the Romans. "Baden" means "bath" and Baden-Baden's primary raison d'etre is to provide the best soak and schvitz in the world which, in my opinion, it does.


    The "old" part of the city - where the Romans probably trod - is closed to car traffic and still retains the cobblestone streets. The High Street is filled with insanely expensive boutiques and lovely little cafes. But the real reason to go to Baden-Baden is the bath houses of which there are two:

    Friedrichsbad, otherwise known as the "old" baths", was built in 1877 and is a crown jewel of a place. The mosaics in the saunas are, alone, worth the visit. The thing I find most quaint about this spa is that, as soon as the receptionist realizes I'm American, he or she starts emphatically reminding me that this is a "naked" spa. This is not "clothing optional" - this is "you don't get to wear clothes even if you want to." It's a little disconcerting at first but, eventually, you get over it and, when you do, you experience one of the most gloriously relaxing days of your life. Mineral showers, saunas, steam room, and various mineral baths, done in the correct order, will provide you with the optimal health benefit. Mark Twain famously said of Friedrichsbad, "“Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes, and track of the world within 20…”

    The "new" baths were built in the mid-1980's and are called Caracalla, after a Roman leader who visited the area for help with his arthritis. It's very modern and lovely with great, warm pools to swim in and lots and lots of whirlpool areas to work your aches and pains. Caracalla is a bathing suit facility on the first floor where the pools and a few specialty steams are. If you choose to go to the second floor, you're required to shed your clothes. On the second floor, you're treated to eight different saunas/steams with varying heat and aromas. You can also enjoy two "relaxation rooms" that have comfortable lounge beds along with special lighting and sound pumped in.

    During any visit to Baden-Baden, I'll go to both because, really, why wouldn't you? Both spas have their charm but, for my money, I prefer the history and beauty of Friedrichsbad.

    I figure if Mr. Mubarak ends up relocating to Baden-Baden, and he's really as unwell as they're suggesting, I may just find myself sitting next to him in the pool or (heaven forbid) the sauna. One learns to keep their eyes to themselves when everyone in the room is naked.

    - Alex

    Thursday, February 3, 2011

    Holy Guacamole!

    As I've mentioned before, one of my crafty resolutions this year is to become a better cook. Luckily, this past weekend I had a great opportunity for some learnin'! My cousin-in-laws invited us over for a dinner that included a lesson in guacamole done the right way. And let me tell you, it was exceptional. Would it not have been bad manners, I would have eaten the whole bowl by myself.

    My gift to you... the Best. Guacamole. Recipe. Ever. (with photos):


    4 Cloves of Garlic (diced)















    Then ground up (with a few de-seeded jalapenos and a diced yellow onion) using a mortar and pestle. You see, that's the trick right there. The smashing is where the flavor lies. I was gifted (by same cousins) at Christmas my own mortar and pestle. I can't wait to try this myself!

    8 ripe avocados, chopped and then mashed in a large bowl (along with some cilantro) using 2 spoons. Onion-garlic-jalapeno mixture gets mashed in too at this point. Then there is the lime... see it in action in photo above! Diced roma tomatoes can be added now if you like them. Salt and pepper to taste. 

    Hopefully you have something that looks (and tastes) like this:

    See, this is an example of having the right tools for the job. The smashing of certain ingredients in the mortar and pestle really added to the flavor and texture of this guacamole. I have been making it for years by just chopping, but this is so much better! Gracias to my family for turning me on the the beauty of this cool kitchen tool. I can't wait to figure out what else can be made better by using it!

    –Cassandra

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Traveling Shoes

    Whew! Vacation can really take it out of you! Travel, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, dealing with people you normally don't spend so much time with, and, in my case, too much exercise - I went downhill skiing. In Colorado. At 12,000 ft. Yikes!! Sore muscles and altitude sickness made for an interesting break from the day-to-day.

    Me, in white, and my friend at 12,000 ft.

    That being said, vacation is also a great time to knit. Long waits in the airport. Hours on a plane. Evenings in a hotel room (or, this time, a condo with a fireplace!) These are captive times when knitting can really keep one's sanity in check. It has a grounding and calming effect - Cassandra said she read an article that claims that knitting increases some calming element in the brain chemistry. Who knows. Regardless of any science behind it, I love to knit when I travel.

     I had a stroke of luck the week before my trip. A friend called and, in the course of conversation, I discovered that he was planning to buy a pair of slippers. So, I offered to knit (and felt) him a pair as a birthday gift. This particular pattern is the perfect travel project - it's small, relatively easy, requires only six skeins of yarn, and can be done very, very quickly. I've made these slippers about seven times. It was one of the first projects I ever did as a knitter and I'm still wearing the original pair that I made myself nine (or so) years ago. They make an awesome gift.

    FiberTrends Felt Clogs
    The pattern is by FiberTrends and it's just their basic felt clog. There are some variations in the pattern - you can make them with fancy cuffs or with suede bottoms (which FiberTrends sells, btw.) I just do the standard clog with the double sole and can knock one shoe out in about eight hours or less.

    For this particular pair, I dug into my stash and found a lovely tan-colored Cascade 220. I needed a darker color for the sole and ended up finding a great evergreen color that coordinates perfectly. You want a dark sole so that they don't look dirty too quickly. You can (and should) wash and rewash these often, especially if they start to get too loose. Basically, you can "re-felt" them any time you need them to be a little tighter or cleaner. Never put them in the dryer though or they'll end up as Barbie slippers.
    Cascade 220 - best felting yarn ever.

    My favorite part about knitting something for felting is that you have to knit the item SO big. My friend has large feet so the final pre-felt shoe looks like a clown shoe. It's really hilarious.

    So, while these won't be totally finished by my friend's actual birthday next week, they will be done very soon. I want to make another pair quickly and try to needle-felt a pattern on top of the shoes after the machine felting is done and the slippers are dry. Maybe I need to make myself another pair....

    Cassandra's size 7 foot next to the unfelted clog