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Once Again Into the Wool: Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival 2014

sheep-petting

I tend to lose some of my knitting motivation as spring weather forces the mercury up, but the annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival usually kicks me back into gear. Since I posted some motivational photos last year, I was going to skip documenting this round, but in the end the adorable faces were too hard to resist. (Regular readers know I have had this problem before.)

Sheep Counting Sheep

Sheep counting sheep

Sheep: Say that again

You talkin’ to me?

Who's the boss?

Who’s the boss? (click to enlarge images)

This year I kept my spending to a minimum by skipping the $164-a-skein arctic qiviut I fell in lust with. Thankfully my hands got too sticky after a confrontation with a red velvet funnel cake (!!) and I had to regroup before feeling up any more yarn. I still managed to come home with supplies for a summer project I’m looking forward to getting started on, however.

Do you stay motivated to work on cold-weather craft projects once the weather heats up? I think a few baby goats running around my back yard might help. Shhhh, don’t tell Brian…

Sheep: The intense gaze

Sheep: The trio

Sheep: The side eye

Bah bah black sheep

Have you any wool?

Natural Woman: DIY Moisturizer

DIY moisturizer

I tend to approach health and food trends with an open-minded skepticism. Sure, I’ll try oil pulling or short-term juicing since it’s pretty obvious it won’t kill me, and I even did a stretch of “clean eating” that nixed all the dairy, gluten, caffeine, and alcohol from my life for 30 days. But I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I try not to do anything too weird without a good reason and a decent amount of research. I don’t want to live in a world without butter and avocados and coconut oil, but I can stick to moderation and food that doesn’t come in a box for the most part.

For all that care, however, what I hadn’t done is put much thought into what touched my skin. I’m no cover girl, but still it seems kind of silly to put so much thought into what goes into my mouth and then turn around and smear things on my body without reading the labels. And as with food, once you start reading labels things get questionable pretty quickly.

So without being a zealot about it, I’ve started playing around with cosmetic alternatives that, even if I wouldn’t literally eat them, are a little closer to the ground. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily make them a good idea, and I would strongly caution every reader to use your own common sense when experimenting. For example, most of the DIY deodorant recipes I’ve come across have a significant level of baking soda in them which painfully irritates my skin. Just because you make something in your kitchen does not mean that it’s a safe(r) alternative to commercial products.

Rainbow Henna

Dying my hair with my usual drugstore box of color seemed ill advised if I was getting serious about chemicals on my skin, so I tried out this henna which I found at Whole Foods. Mountain Rose Herbs also sells henna in a variety of tones.

DIY deoderant

I’m still looking for the recipe that works for me. This (going even lighter on the soda, but not omitting it completely which removes effectiveness, I found) is the last one I tried. Closer, but not quite.

DIY cosmetics

Most of the products I’ve tried take only a few minutes to assemble and package and, once you’ve stocked a few key ingredients, are fairly cheap to make. Mix arrowroot and white kaolin clay with a bit of cocoa to make a respectable face powder, mix it with a bit of activated charcoal and you get an attractive smokey eyeshadow. Cracking out a small army of lip glosses tinted with alkanet (way better than beet powder!) was child’s play; my attempt to mix activated charcoal into a similar base to get a decent eyeliner was slightly less successful, but definitely educational!

Of all the products I’ve attempted, however, none has felt as sophisticated as the moisturizer I made from a recipe designed by Rosemary Gladstar. For those in the crowd who have made mayonnaise, this project was a similar level of difficulty. The key to successful emulsion seems to be patience. Make sure your oils have cooled to room temperature! (I took this another step and set my glass measuring cup of waters in a bowl of hot water to warm it up some while I waited.) Result: beautiful cream right out of the gate! While this moisturizer does seem to take a few extra seconds to absorb fully into the skin than commercial products, when used sparingly on the face and generously elsewhere, it leaves my skin feeling satiny and in no way greasy. My destroyed winter hands are especially happy.

Do you have any DIY cosmetic tips or tricks to pass my way? Anything you’d like to learn to DIY at home?

Blending moisturizer

Rosemary’s Perfect Cream
The original recipe as found in Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health offers various substitution options, so do check that if you want more ideas. This is the breakdown I followed.

2/3 cup distilled water, room temperature
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
2 drops lavender essential oil

1/4 apricot oil (w/vitamin E added)
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
1/6 cup coconut oil
1/6 cup cocoa butter
.8 ounces grated beeswax

Combine the water, aloe, and essential oil in a glass measuring cup. Set aside.

Measure the oils, cocoa butter, and beeswax into a double boiler (I suspend a metal bowl over a small sauce pan filled with about an inch of boiling water) and heat gently until melted. Transfer melted liquid to your blender’s carafe and allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally to gauge progress. (As I mentioned above, I also took the chill off my winter room temperature waters by setting the glass measuring cup in a bowl of hot water. I’m not sure this was strictly necessary, but it didn’t seem like it would hurt my chances for success.)

When oils have reached the desired temperature, secure lid and turn on blender at highest setting. Add the water/aloe mixture through the top access hole in a slow and steady stream. When 3/4 of the water has been added, monitor the cream in the blender. At a certain point, it will thicken and pull above the blades, no longer accepting more liquid. Stir by hand to make sure all oils and water are incorporated evenly and transfer to storage jars.

Cream will thicken as it sets. Store covered in a cool location.

Baby Love: Sweet Treats and Cozy Knits

Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls

While handmade gifts for adults can be tricky to navigate, knitting for a new baby always feels right to me. They are much less likely to notice my mistakes! But seriously, to my mind knitting provides a great venue for reflecting on a new life and infusing some good thoughts into whatever soft and fuzzy creation you’d care to take on.

Last month friends welcomed a sweet little boy into their family. Considering the intense cold that we’re still battling here in the Mid-Atlantic, a simple little cap seemed like a useful item. Admittedly, I was also encouraged by the fact that I was almost guaranteed to complete the project before the new baby was filling out his college applications. I found a simple yet attractive pattern that would definitely flatter a variegated yarn. Since my color was subtle, I decided to just eyeball in a couple stripes for a little visual kick.

Cosset Baby Hat by Jenny Raymond

Get the pattern: Cosset Baby Hat by Jenny Raymond

Knowing that the sleep-deprived parents were also big fans of cinnamon rolls, I took the opportunity to finally test drive Joy the Baker’s stunning Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls. Even with her reduction of the Pioneer Woman’s original “ranch-sized” recipe down to 16 rolls, that’s still plenty to make this a “one pan to keep, one to pan to give away” project. Plus, while the production is somewhat time intensive, the process is actually fairly simple, the timing flexible (bake now or bake tomorrow!), the dough easy to work with, and the filling options ultimately innumerable. I assembled them the evening before and let them rest in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I let the chill come off them while I heated the oven and then baked them while I whipped up the glaze. I suspect that I will be bribing friends and neighbors with these for years to come!

Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls

Get the recipe: Pistachio, Orange, and Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls by Joy the Baker

Do you have a go-to baby gift or food item you like to share with new parents?

13 Days, Countless Miles: West Coast Show and Tell

San Juan: Alex's house

Well, folks, it was champagne and Amtrak sleeper cars, warm sun and glorious landscapes, and more talking than I did in all of 2013. I have returned from two weeks of travel a complete convert to the West Coast’s casual chic and moderate temperatures. Aside from getting fogged in and being forced to spend an extra day and night on beautiful San Juan Island (exactly!) the travel gods had my back and friends had my hand, allowing me plenty of room to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The sum up:

First, the obvious: Technology may provide the opportunity to share ideas with more cool people than ever before, but hanging out with those same souls in real life is ten times as awesome. Really, this trip was all about people, and I met so many! It seems I ditched my typical introversion on my first layover in Atlanta and for the duration of the trip I was all about making new friends out of fellow train passengers and shop clerks. I also got to catch up with some amazing artists and their partners/families/friends, a super talented group of folks who welcomed me into their homes and graciously showed me around their towns. Much gratitude (and linked recommendations to check out their inspiring work) to the Oliverius and the Shaut family, Sidney Chen and Kevin Copps, Marc Weidenbaum (and his new book–woo!), Nat Evans and Erin Elyse Burns, Jim Holt and Rose Bellini, John Teske, Alex Shapiro and Dan Shelley, Chris Kallmyer, and Isaac Schankler. Thank you for shaking up my thinking and sharing such great conversation with me along the way.

Amtrak dining

For all my fears that 31 hours on Amtrak was 30 more than a relaxing vacation could handle, I was super impressed by my Coast Starlight experience. As it turned out, a ten-hour ride gazing at the passing landscape was incredibly preferable to a coach airline seat ten inches from my nose for even an hour, and 17 hours rocked in a sleeper car was a special kind of heaven. I’m sure my experience benefited from the fact that I was traveling during a super off-peak time, so there was lots of room to move about and the bathrooms were always fresh and clean. Still, I think I may have become one of those weird train fans excited to plot slow trips through large square states. If nothing else, I want to take @HeSpokeStyle with me next time so that I can complete my North By Northwest dining car fantasy.

LA: Amusement at the Pier

In Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Pier melted away any lingering New York City frost still clinging to my lapels. A Ferris wheel ride offering views of the beach snapped me into the right frame of mind for the adventures ahead. The brightly colored strip malls and the scent of sunscreen in the air left me wondering how life must change in the absence of seasonal affective disorder.

Golden Gate Park Flower Conservatory

In San Francisco, we drove with the top down and shopped at my favorite kind of store: the vegetarian grocery! There were also inspiring walks down Valencia, along Crissy Field, and through Golden Gate Park. Breakfasts of gourmet bread and butter gave way to cocktails and deluxe veggie fare.

In Portland, we skipped Voodoo Doughnut (though–aside–my seat mate on the flight home actually got married there! Who knew?) to eat a fabulous meal at The Farm Cafe (drink the Brick House Gamay Noir!) followed up with an after dinner stop at the Cheese Bar. There was shopping along Mississippi Ave., and charming lunch at Por Que No?. And of course there was plenty of Stumptown Coffee and a few lost hours in Powell’s Books.

Seattle's Public Market

By the time I cruised into Seattle, I was ready to slow down a shade. And so it was lovely to camp out for three days in a killer AirBnB apartment (with the cuddliest of host cats) in the heart of an awesome neighborhood. The most excellent of brunches and dinners and the deadliest of cocktails were enjoyed here. Then kismet and a convenient bus to Fremont found me at the door of Theo Chocolate just in time for a tour!

San Juan: cove views

And then the cap off: two days on San Juan Island, a place I will happily run away to as soon as I can convince my husband and my cat it’s a really good idea. I mean, please, there was even an alpaca farm. To get me through the meanwhile, I took an over abundance of photos, the evening light firing up the grasslands in a way that could not have been more seductive.

San Juan: American Camp

As I landed in LAX at the start of this adventure, I worried that perhaps the entire outing had been a grand miscalculation on my part, but I could not have been further from the truth. It was precisely the wake up call I was looking for in a way I could never have anticipated before I was standing right in the middle of it. So here’s to doing more scary things in 2014!

San Juan: follow the path

If you’re game to suffer all my vacation photo snaps, bless you. The full gallery is here. Happy to answer any questions/pass on recommendations if you need ‘em.

Under Construction

under construction

I have largely stopped doing things that scare me, and over the last few months I have found that (irony alert!) quietly terrifying. I realize that this is, by its very nature, a problem of a privileged person, so there is definitely an important element of perspective and awareness that needs to be ** here. Still, after living in an environment of non-challenge and change, I am way past due to actually take responsibility for the situation. Now, there will probably be some closer-to-home solutions to this that will ultimately carry more weight and meaning in the long run, but as a personal jump start (think Cher slapping some sense into Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck) I am off on a little travel adventure for the next couple of weeks: to chat with and learn from people I’ve known for ages, people I have only known on the internet, and people I just haven’t met quite yet. I’m going to spend a lot of time on Amtrak trains. I’m going to see parts of the country I’ve never seen before and learn something about public transportation in four new-to-me metropolitan areas. I’m going to get terrifically lost. I’m going to try not to cry in any public restrooms, but no promises!

horoscope 2014

The 2014 tarot cards suggested a challenging year ahead. Guess this is my
way of going out on the field to meet it.

Meanwhile, I have been running some small-scale, totally safe experiments here at home that I thought I might share as a “getting off on the right foot” send off. First up, this terrific stitch from the Purl Soho blog. (I want to cast on pretty much every pattern they post, and have even picked out a new project to take along on my trip.) The finished look of this slip-stitch pattern is almost a kind of woven material, at least more than any traditional knitting I have ever seen. It’s not terribly complicated once you get the rhythm down, but will take a bit of time to complete—a.k.a. consider starting next year’s xmas scarf gifts now!

woven knits

I have no actual expertise in natural remedies, but I sure do love reading about the possibilities. When the husband was feeling flu-ish and asked if I had any “potions” to help him out, my research led me to elderberry syrup. Considering there were even some studies/scientific evidence for its usefulness posted on WebMD, I decided to try it out. Not being a controlled experiment, I can’t say it worked…but with both of us nearly down for the count and then quickly back on our feet, it didn’t not work.

elderberry syrup

And finally, the polar vortex and the general unrelenting darkness of this time of the season weighing hard, something bright and healthy to eat seemed to be called for. Cauliflower is one of the only banned vegetables around this homestead but, as a result, those alterna-pizza crusts fare poorly in these parts. However, this butternut squash version (with a kale pesto instead of spinach and whatever toppings I can dig out of the fridge) is sure to be a repeat order.

Cable Me: Quick Knit Winter Hat and Fingerless Glove Patterns

Cabled Winter Hat and Fingerless Gloves

I cut off all my hair a few weeks ago. Four days later, Jennifer Lawrence did the same, saving me from some measure of social scrutiny (well, almost). However, I had not accounted for the fact that it was winter and my ears felt like they were about to freeze right off my head whenever I left the house.

Being me, rather than just going to the store and purchasing some ear muffs, I found some awesome yarn and a pattern and began knitting with a vengeance. When I was done with a hat large enough to fit my admittedly plus-sized brain pan, I clearly had enough yardage left over for my favorite style gloves. So I found a second pattern and just kept going…and going…and going until I realized I actually only almost had enough yardage for gloves. In reality, I was short a thumb. Five measly ten-stitch rows.

Chunky Cabled Fingerless Gloves

If you, too, are looking for a nifty hat-and-fingerless-glove winter warmer set, I love how these came out. I used a very bulky Berroco Borealis in Vik (108 yards to the hank), which resulted in a cap that might be a little loose on my more delicately headed sisters, but worked out quite well for me.

If you’ve never done any cabling before, fear not: this was my first time and possibly the easiest new stitch I’ve learned. It made the project look more sophisticated than many of my previous DIY efforts but I didn’t have to sweat the process. The gloves are done on the same size double points as the hat, so if you’re buying supplies, that will keep the project budget at least moderately in check. The gloves have a cable pattern up the back that’s a close match to the hat and makes it all feel like family.

Cabled Winter Hat and Fingerless Gloves

Chunky Cabled Fingerless Gloves

If I had known in advance that I’d have such a small yardage issue, I could have easily dropped a row or two from the hat pattern to make up for it, but alas. My awesome local yarn shop sympathetically offered me a surprise discount on my 3rd hank and now I have enough for a couple of extra gift glove pairs. This is the first knitting project I’ve ever finished and been anxious to cast on another right away. So if you need me I’ll be spending the rest of the holiday weekend with warm ears and a fully belly of leftovers, counting stitches and watching bad TV.

Patterns: