Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Space for Myself

This past weekend I attended a knitting/yoga/qigong retreat in the Blue Mountains of Maryland. We knit, we stretched, we moved, we knit, we ate amazing food, we knit, and we laughed over bottles of wine. We being 21 knitters whom I had never met before Friday afternoon and who now feel like old friends.  It's fascinating to spend a weekend with a group of people who know nothing about you. They have no pre-conceived notion of who you are. You could be anyone. And I wanted to be myself.  Not the B-boys' mom or so-and-so's wife, but me, just me.  It's not often I get a whole weekend to focus on myself.  Don't get me wrong- I love my family, but every so often it's nice to have a few days that are solely about me. The word for the weekend was "intention" and I did play with acting with intention, but the word that coming up for me was "space." I had space to assess where I am. I had space to rejuvenate. I had space to allow my body to move as it wanted to move. I had space to knit and create. I had space to remember who I am. And that person loves to knit.  That person loves to make new friends. That person loves good food and wine. That person loves to find time for meditation, be it in a class with others, or alone in the pre-dawn hour on the deck, or during a quiet walk along the river. That person is happy. And I'm glad I got to bring her home. 
Blue Mountain Retreat Center

The Potomac River,  just a few miles away.
 And I got a whole heck of a lot of knitting done too!

The sweater is finally starting to look like a sweater.

A new project Lintilla with yarn from one of my favorite dyersdragonflyfibers

The start of a set of rainbow nesting bowls for a school auction. Pattern to come soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Too Much Stuff

If your family is like anything like mine, or anything like most Americans, you have too much stuff. We try to clean it out with annual basement and attic purges and by trying to convince the kids to get rid of infrequently-played-with toys, and we do regularly drop off boxes at local charities. But it never seems to end.  More comes in all the time. Birthday parties with their bags of little plastic trinkets, deals too good to pass up at the dollar store, that piece of clothing that only needs a hem or two, that turns into a pile of unworn clothes.  In America this has gotten so out of control that we have stores that are solely dedicated to selling stuff to hold all of our stuff. We have tvs and books about hoarding and have made it a clinical diagnosis. 
Our attic

An overflowing toy bin. One of many.
This is my public confession- I have too much stuff. We live in a big old Victorian home with an unfinished basement and an attic and I have a tendency to keep everything, just throwing it in the attic and saying "well, I might use it someday."  I even admit to having a mild obssesion with jars and boxes and rags- you never know when you might need the perfect size box to ship a package or a jar to hold something small or lots of rags for a project.  It would just make me crazy to pay for boxes or jars or rags! (BTW-I fully blame this one of my farm-raised mother who really did grow up saving and using jars and boxes and rags. My problem is that I have too many and I don't really use them all that often.)

My jar and tin collection.
Tomorrow in the first day of Lent. A time a quiet and refection and self-denial.  We aren't a particularly religious family, but we were raised Christian and are, at a minimum, culturally Christian. We observe major holidays and enjoy both the celebratory and reflective nature of the festivals.  I like the idea of giving up something for lent but always thought it strange that it is so often food, or at least vice, related. I could give up chocolate, but then could just substitute caramels. I could give up wine but could substitute gin and tonics. These never really changed me in any sort of meaningful way. This year I am taking a new approach. Instead of depriving myself of something that is easy substituted, I am going to find items in my home that I don't use, or that could be better used by someone else and I'm going to give them to someone who could really use them.  I have placed a great, big, empty box in my guest room and every single day during lent I am going to place one item in that box. As I choose my item and place it in the box I am going to reflect on all the people in the world whose basic needs are not met. Mothers who don't have the means to feed their children.  Families that are torn apart by war. Children who have to scrounge for food to eat and rags to wear. I am going to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that I and my family are so blessed that not only do we have all of our needs met, we have more than we can manage.  On Fridays I will take that box to a local charity and pass it along so that someone else can share in the bounty. It's a little gesture, but one that I hope will stay with me long beyond lent.  Forty days isn't so very long, but long enough that I imagine I it will get harder to part with items as we approach Easter. I'm sure the first week or two won't be that difficult; collecting all those items that I keep meaning to get rid of anyway, but then I will have to start making harder cuts.  Purging items that have sentimental value or that were purchased with a goal in mine (I'm particularly thinking of all my crafting supplies here) but items I don't really need or use.  It will be an interesting process to watch. 
I am encouraging my family to join my on this journey.  What about you?  What do you do for lent?

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Cheesy" Kale Chips

I love salty, crunchy snacks. I would sooner give up chocolate than french fries or tortilla chips.  (I know that some of you are now thinking I'm bonkers, but it's true.)  I am well aware that most salty, fried snacks aren't particularly good for me, and I've reached an age where I'm conscious of the effects of food on my heart health, so I'm always on the look-out for something a bit healthier that will fill my salty-crunchy cravings. I keep trying new and different snack foods at the local health food stores. Most of them are "ok" but don't really fulfill my cravings. They are too bland or have a texture like cardboard or are dirt-flavored. We tried one snack and my 7 year-old announced that they tasted just like mulch, and I'm pretty sure he knows what mulch tastes like. Not wanting to give up, we keep trying new things. Corn puffs with spinach flavoring, rice crackers with "bbq" sauce, dried flavored seaweed. And finally I found it- "cheesy", vegan, raw kale chips that are divine.  I can munch away on these like I am eating cheesy puffs or nachos, except they are healthy- kale, nuts, red peppers. Perfect!  Except they are expensive. $8 for a little package is not in my food budget.  So I did what any other self-respecting-foodie-mom-on-a-budget would do, I searched the Internet. I found a number of recipes that sounded promising and I tried them all and kept tinkering with them.  After a few failed attempts, I think I've found my perfect recipe. Salty, a hint of spice, and a nutty-cheesy thing happening. Now when I want something to much on, besides popcorn which is a standard in our house, I grab these.

Kale Chips
2 bunches of kale
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 sweet red pepper, seeds and core removed
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs nutritional yeast
dash of cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

Place the nuts and seeds in a bowl of warm water for at least 4 hours to soak. No more than 6 hours or the cashews will get slimy. Strain the nuts, discarding the water.

Remove the tough stems from the kale and discard. Rip the kale into big pieces- these will shrink quite a bit so they don't have to be very small.  Wash the kale well and shake off excess water.

Place all ingredients, except the kale, into a food processor and mix until a paste is formed.  Using your hands, rub the mixture into the kale leaves, making sure to get it into all the nooks and crannies of the kale.  Spread the kale onto 3 baking sheets or on dehydrator trays.*

If using an oven, bake at a very low setting (150F is great if your oven goes that low, but 200F is fine) and bake for a few hours, stirring every hour or so, until the kale is crisp and the coating is dry.  Four hours seems to be the norm. If you have a dehydrator and would like to make "raw" chips, dry them at 105F for at least 10 hours, according to your machine's instructions. Allow to cool and store chips in an air-tight container. They will last for several days although they don't tend to stay around my house that long.

These trays were overflowing when I put the them in the dehydrator.

A few notes:
*I'm not an advocate for raw foods, but I have some friends that are. Recently, I was given a dehydrator and have been playing with it. It's nice to be able to free up my oven to make these chips that my raw-foodie friends will eat.
*Nutritional yeast can be found in natural food stores. It gives these chips their "cheesy" flavor and is full of B vitamins and 18 amino acids. This is NOT brewer's yeast. Nutritional yeast is thought by some to be a "superfood",  unfortunately some brands form high levels of naturally formed MSG when heated during processing.  Look for a light yellow color, which indicates low temperature processing. I use the Frontier brand.
*If you want a spicier treat, you can add more cayenne to give it a kick.  I've also been tempted to try to add some garlic. I'll let you know how that goes.
*Feel free to play around with the nut ratio or skip the sunflower seeds altogether. These measurements are a very rough guide.
*I'm a big believer in soaking nuts and grains.  It makes them easier to digest and allows more of the nutrients to be absorbed by our bodies.  Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morrelli is a great resource for information on soaking nuts and grains.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pretty Hearts All in a Row

Last month I knit a slew of little hearts for a valentine's swap organized by naturalsuburbia.  Crafty folks from all over the world agreed to create a little something fun for an unknown crafter and send it to them Valentine's Day.  I needed 10 hearts, but they were so quick and fun that I just kept making them.  I made a couple waiting in the carpool line.  I made one on a quick car ride (as a passenger of course.)  I even made one in the line at the grocery store.....  They were addictive- 10 minutes of knitting and a few minutes of fiddling with the ends and I had a little heart.  I strung them on a little string and voila.  I followed the pattern by Knit1Slip1's Knitted Heart Bunting.  I tweaked her pattern a bit- instead of starting with a new piece of yarn after the first bind-off, I cut the yarn about a yard long, threaded it onto a daring needle and ran it down the V of the heart and picked it up with the remaining stitches.  I hate weaving in my ends and this meant one less end to weave. 

Blocking after washing- they did have a tendency to curl.
 Before you knew it I had enough hearts to make garlands.  I put together my little swap packet. I included some hand-dipped candles (candle-dipping) and some chocolates (not pictured) 

I strung the rest of the hearts for my own fireplace mantel.

A few days ago, I received a sweet package in the mail. 
Yummy chocolates, heavenly lemon soap, and a lovely hand-knit heart washcloth.  Thanks Diana!

So much fun!  I think I'll celebrate with a nice hot bubble bath.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetic Fridays- Deep Down in the Earth

A Friday ritual- a post of words- a poem, a story, a song- that has been tumbling around in my head this week. Words that have changed my life or words that have nourished me. Words that have offered comfort or brought joy. Little scribbly shapes that can change so much. No commentary.

If you have words that have been inspiring you this week, leave a  link to your blog or share them in the comments.

Who is this I hear
deep down in the Earth,
hacking and cracking the rocks and the stones?
Is it the wind so strong and free
singing through branches of every tree?
No, it's not the wind.

Who is this I hear
deep down in the Earth,
hacking and cracking the rocks and the stones?
Is it the squirrel on scampering feet,
searching for acorns and nuts to eat?
No, it's not the squirrel.

Who is this I hear
deep down in the Earth,
hacking and cracking the rocks and the stones?
It is the giants big and strong,
as they march and stride along?
No, it's not the giants.

Who is this I hear
deep down in the Earth,
hacking and cracking the rocks and the stones?
It is the chickadee small and quick,
looking for seeds with a pickety pick?
No, it's not the chickadee!

Then let us see - who can it be?
Behold the dwarfs inside the hill
their tiny hammers are never still.
They sing and work deep underground,
and as they tap the rocks resound.

Crack, crack, the rocks we hack.
Quake, quake, the mountains shake.
Bang, bang, our hammers clang,
in caverns old we seek the gold.
-"Let Us Form a Ring: An Acorn Hill Anthology" (Spiral-bound)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Mid-Week Update

I have periods of time when I am very productive and then I have times when I look up, it's a new month, and I wonder how I got there.  This is one of the later.  With the whirlwind of Christmas and New Year's behind me, I gave myself the month of January to work on "little" organization projects around the house and in my life. A messy closet, filing of paperwork, fixing seams on some old pillows.... Then come February I would be ready to start a new, big project.  Well, it's February 8th and I'm just realizing that January is come and gone, yet my projects are still here.

I have been busy. I've been cooking a lot.  A big vat of chili and homemade pretzels for Superbowl watching.

before all the simmering. 

homemade soft pretzels

Tinkering with a new recipe for kale chips

I've been knitting a lot. 

Little gnomes waiting to be felted

Hearts for a valentine's swap.
Oh, and that sweater.  A friend just asked me how the sweater is coming.  I was knitting along, really liking the way the colors were blending and the shape was developing, then I checked my pattern for the next step.  Well it turns out, I can knit but I...CAN'T... READ. I missed a couple crucial steps early in the pattern. Not because it was particularly tricky or poorly writen, but because I didn't read it!  The sweater looked like this:
before discovering mistake

And now it looks like this:
After ripping out mistake.
An opportunity for more knitting. 

And I started a blog!

And there are cello concerts to attend, and class valentine's parties to plan, and homework to assist, and groceries to buy, and dinners to make, and laundry to wash. And it is good.  Sometimes the big projects just have to wait.  I'm busy living my life today and today is busy enough. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetic Fridays- Rise up O Flame

A Friday ritual- a post of words- a poem, a story, a song- that has been tumbling around in my head this week. Words that have changed my life or words that have nourished me. Words that have offered comfort or brought joy. Little scribbly shapes that can change so much. No commentary.

If you have words that have been inspiring you this week, leave a  link to your blog or share them in the comments.
Rise up O flame, by thy light glowing,
Show to us beauty, vision and joy.
Here is a link Libana to a beautifully song version of this song in round.

Chocolate crepes and berries at Candlemas.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy Candlemas, Imbolc, and Groundhog's Day

A little lesson for today:
You may have never heard of Candlemas. I hadn't until a few years ago.  Candlemas is celebrated on Feb 2 and is the day when the Catholic church blesses all the candle for the coming year.  It is also seen as the day Mary would have been considered clean, following the ancient Jewish custom of a woman being unclean for 40 days after giving birth.
As is oft the case, there is a lot of evidence that Candlemas was co-opt from the ancient pagan celebration of Imbolc/Oimelc which celebrates the "quickening of the Earth"- the stirrings of the Earth (mother) after the conception at the solstice.  Imbolc means, literally, “in the belly” (of the Mother). The seed that was planted in her womb at the solstice is quickening and the new year grows. Oimelc means “milk of ewes”, for it is also lambing season. Imbolc/Oimelc is celebrated at the mid-point of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The Irish celebrated the goddess Brigit at this time. She was the goddess of the hearth, midwifery, poetry, and silversmithing.  The day was celebrated with sacred bonfires, honoring the hearth.  The Catholic church also celebrates the feast of St Brigit around this time, claiming the ancient goddess was a Catholic saint sent by god.  Many neo-pagans have reclaimed the traditions of Imbolc and celebrate around bonfires.

Shooting up from the belly of mother earth.

It is commonly held the midpoints between the solstices and the equinoxes are auspicious times for predicting the weather.  This tradition is seen in Candlemas lore.
If Candlemas be sunny and bright
Winter again will show it's might
If Candlemas day be cloudy and grey
Winter soon will pass away.
In America we have adapted this ancient tradition and now wait for a little groundhog to peek it's head out of the ground to tell us whether or not winter is waning or will continue for 6 more weeks.

These daffodils think that spring is coming soon.

There are a great many traditions around Candlemas/Imbolc/Groudhog's Day.
-It is the day homemakers could start their morning chores without the need of candle light.
-It is said that a sea voyage that is begun on Candlemas will end in disaster.
-Christmas decorations that were not taken down by Jan 6 should be left up until Candlemas Eve.
-It is good luck to burn a sprig from your holiday greens in your Candlemas fires.
-In France it is good luck to eat crêpes on this day. It is tradition to hold a coin in your writing hand and a crêpe pan in the other, and flip the crêpe into the air. If you manage to catch the crêpe in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year.
-In parts of Germany people would eat pea soup and dried pig ribs, the ribs afterwards being hung in the room till sowing time when they would be put into the sown field or in the seed-bag as a protection against earth-fleas and moles, and to cause the flax to grow well.
-It is bad luck to bring snowdrops (white snow flowers) into the house before Candlemas Day. It is very good luck to bring them in on Candlemas day.

The first little snowdrops in the garden.
Tomorrow we will eat crêpes for dinner and have many candles at the table.  I have a little sprig of holiday greenery that we will add to the fire we will light outside in our firepit. We will wait to hear if the groundhog sees his shadow. (The boys are hoping for a sunny day so they can get in some sledding, while I believe I'm finished with winter this year and would happy to see a cloudy day.)  I will search my garden to see if any more snowdrops have poked their little heads from the ground.  I will stop and be reminded of the cycle of birth and death and rebirth. 

My boys discovered these lovely little flowers growing in the woods behind our house.
I do not know what they are?  Do you?