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Other Stories, Other Rooms

Joan D'Arc

Even though I only live 40 miles north, D.C. is a destination I too often overlook—its proximity making it somehow less exciting even while its streets remain unexplored. Still, about once a year, I catch a train south without a specific destination in mind. (When I do have a destination, it always involves Meridian Park outside my friend’s apartment. Go there! There is a drum circle on Sundays, FYI.)

When autonomously wandering, I always promise myself I’ll get further than the Mall, but more often than not I exit Union Station and find myself caught up in weekend pedestrian traffic. Tourists mixing with locals with slightly more equanimity than Times Square’s bustle, I fall in behind a family trying to get their bearings, a mother arguing via cell phone with her child while waiting to cross 17th Street, a man in a well-cut suit who I keep pace with for several more blocks than strictly necessary.

I often find myself hunting stories while on these walks, either overhearing one or making one up, filling in the details as teenagers sit sullenly on the Lincoln Memorial stairs or groups of old men stand stoic in obvious reflection. In many ways, my Instagram habit is now an extension of this same pleasure, a glimpse of private lives in public spaces, the story made richer and yet more obscure due to a filtered view.

Of Spider’s Silk and Skill

spider web

I walked through this spider’s web last night while dragging the trash can to the alley. Well, not this web specifically, but I’ll get to that. The exotic-looking-for-Maryland spider swiftly rappelled to safety as I looked on, leaving me both a little freaked out by the sticky surprise and rather crushed to have destroyed something so complex and painstakingly built.

Or so I thought. This morning the web was back, bigger and better than before. Its anchors spanned the back patio–probably six feet–from tree to grill to fence column, the web floating parallel to the ground at about chest level. How could this nickel-sized creature, alone in the dark, have done such work? Life is a wonderland indeed.

Thus inspired, in a bit of reverse poetry I went in the house and made some cottage cheese.

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


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.

UPDATE: Even only using the cream with clean hands post-shower, eventually my cream did spoil before it was completely used up. Making smaller batches and sharing with friends helps, but I found that there is a shelf life to observe here.

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.