Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

I got it into my head to make some homemade holiday gifts this year.  Not a complete DIY-Fest, but just a few “supplemental” gifts.  I cannot say what they are just yet, since a few of my readers are on Santa’s list.

But let me just say this: there always seems to be a significant gap between the quality and classiness of the imagined gift…


…and the actual end product.


Parents, I would like to urge you to think good and hard about encouraging youngsters to make handmade gifts. Some of us never get it out of our heads that we can produce a treasured object, and even decades later we are foisting our hand-mades on friends, family, our favorite cashier at the grocery store, the UPS man…


It’s all harmless, I know. But it’s quite time consuming. The time-spent-to-quality-achieved-ratio is way out of whack. And worst of all, we never learn from the past. We go on crafting gifts year after year, leaving a trail of dreadful projects in our wake as we cling to our belief that the next one is really going to shine.

I think the real trouble is The Gift Balance phenomenon.  Even if you are giving a gift that will not be reciprocated, there is a certain equality involved. “You were kind to me this year, so I made you this lovely cake.”  It’s a nobler version of “we’re even.”  A citizen’s take on the Naughty And Nice List.

The problem is that the things I make that are really worth having (i.e. hand-knits) take hours and hours to create.  A pair of socks takes about 25-35 hours, for example. If I stuck to the sure winner, not only would it be impossible to get through my gift list, but my gifts would be overqualified for the job in most cases.


“Just buy something!” …I know. I assure you I’m not being cheap. My time is my most precious asset.  Unfortunately the training of early childhood, which maintains that homemade gifts contain more love, is deeply ingrained in my holiday consciousness.

Friends, please accept (and forgive) my wonky gifts. Go ahead and throw them away when I’m not looking. But don’t discard the wrapping: my deepest regard and warm wishes for a happy holiday.



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Ode to chicken

On the first day of chicken my grocery sold to me… one rotisserie chicken. (You may need two for a larger family.)   Cut, serve, yum yum.

On the second (and maybe 3rd) day of chicken my leftovers gave to me…  stirfry, salad topping, wrap filler, chicken salad, etc.

On the third day of chicken my last bits of leftover chicken meat gave to me… soup.  (I love this part.)  Nobody wants your stupid old leftover chicken anymore?  Have some hearty vegetables on hand (squashes, carrots or yams work well).  Cook those veggies with some onion and celery. If you’re tired, pressed for time, or too hot, use the microwave. Now stick what’s left of the chicken meat into your Vitamix (you’ve got a Vitamix, right?) and add the veggies, just enough water to make the mixture move easily, salt and pepper, whatever seasonings you like, and crushed garlic.  Vitamix it for 3-5 minutes. It will heat up from the friction (a cool trick that you can’t do with most mixers, but the Vitamix has an industrial grade motor). Last thing to add: a bit of heavy cream, within 5 minutes of serving. (Optional: Stick that all in a large saucepan and keep warm. Fool your family into thinking that it took hours to make when they see the big pot.)  Call it creamed-something without the word “chicken.”

On the fourth day of chicken, the carcass gave to me…  Bone broth.  Keep a large ziplock bag in your freezer and put the chicken carcass in it. When you have 2-3 carcasses stored up put them in your slow cooker. (You have a slow cooker, right?)  Add “mirepoix:”  carrots, celery & onion. I like to add parsley and garlic as well. Very important: Add 1/4 C apple cider vinegar to create an acidic environment, which will  leach the calcium from the bones.  Set to “low.”  This next part will be hard for some people:  let it cook for a day or two.  Strain out the liquid from the pot and freeze it in pint jars.  It makes a highly nutritious base for soups, or drink it when you are sick.

Speaking of chickens, I’ve been reading Joel Salatin’s book about farming, food politics and ecology: “Folks, This Ain’t Normal.” I highly recommend it.  You won’t agree with everything he says, but what would be the fun of that?  I have learned a lot by reading it, and it has given me a lot to think about. The method with which most chickens are raised today is barbaric and disgusting. Salatin’s methods are inspiring and humane.

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Things are finally starting to cool down a bit. I was so excited about the rain last weekend that I celebrated by starting a little scarf in autumn colors. Here’s to crisp nights, pretty trees, and all things pumpkin-flavored.

The stitch pattern is “seafoam,” though I’ve seen it called other things.  The yarn is Malabrigo Rios.

I am ready to put the ridiculously dry “Indian summer” behind me, forgive Mother Nature for her cruelty, and move on. Let’s do Autumn now.  And if Mother Nature wants to make it up to me, she will make this season last “too long” as well. 🙂

Fall colors on Gilman Blvd. in Issaquah WA, 2011

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“Oh, there you are, Albus,” he said. “You’ve been a very long time. Upset stomach?” 
“No, I was merely reading the Muggle magazines,” said Dumbledore. “I do love knitting patterns…”
from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

I do too.  Especially the ones with the good photography and the elegant, slender models. There is just one teensy problem.  If it’s some kind of sweater garment you want to knit (as opposed to a scarf, hat or socks), the chances of it actually fitting are slimmer than that cute model.  And I don’t have a magic wand to wish it into shape.

For years, I’ve done what I suspect thousands of other knitters have done: follow the pattern as best as you can, and ignore the ill-fitting bodice, the too-long sleeves, or the odd bulges of fabric where heaven-knows-what was supposed to fit in.

Occasionally, we “do a mod.”  (Slang for modification.) Oh, the daring knitter that strays from the pattern, in hopes of waist shaping that matches her own!

If doing a mod is like your dog sneaking a treat off the table, what I’ve been doing lately is more like the dog who gets out of the house altogether and is running madly throughout the neighborhood in a giddy revelry of freedom.

I… am… drafting! From scratch! From measurements!  With cool tools! And math calculations! And special paper!

I am learning how to draft my own patterns from a friend who is taking multi-year course called Nihon Vogue (Japanese knitwear design and finishing techniques).   My own lessons are just a fraction of what she has learned, but it’s enough to wonder if I’ll ever use commercial garment patterns again.  If I do use patterns, I’ll probably “mod” them beyond recognition.  Transfiguration a la Hogwarts.

How is it going?  I couldn’t be happier.  It is not “easy.” …I have dozens of pages of notes, which must be consulted constantly for all the details, but everything I’ve made so far is lovely and fits perfectly.  No more wonky sweaters! So far I’ve made a vest, a pullover, and a tank-top. On the needles: a cardigan. On the drafting table: a pullover for the Mr.

In Weather News…

We may get back up to the 80’s this week, as summer hangs on like a pit bull.  It “always rains in Seattle”? Today is the 44th straight day without measurable rainfall.  Although we are flirting with the record (51 days), this dry, warm spell is typical for July-Sept. Being a lover of all things cloudy and foggy, I struggle to get through this every year.  At least the nights are cooling off.  Temperature at the start of my run this morning: 46F.  Ahh….

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I love knitting. It was bound to come out sooner or later.  In certain circles (for example, any places/activities where I take my daughter and have to wait around for her), I am “that lady who is always knitting.”  Right now I have five projects in progress. I’ve been “on Ravelry” since 2008.  What I’m trying to say is, I’m dedicated.

However… (is there any way to say this nicely?) …some knitters get so wrapped up in our cult hobby that they lose perspective and start knitting insane garments.  Let me be clear about this, I do not mind that they knit insane garments, I mind that they believe these are normal things to wear.

I used to only notice this Loss Of Perspective with regard to sock knitting. Sock yarn and sock knitting is very popular right now (non-knitters, trust me — this is an industry to be reckoned with; this is huge).  As far as I can tell, there is no recession in the sock yarn business.

What happens is this: the abundant availability of sock yarn creates a competitive atmosphere among vendors, in which more and more vivid colors serve to increase market share in a sort of fiber orgy of wool fumes.

Did I mention that all these hand dyed yarns make some kind of stripe pattern when they are knit up into socks? It is the easiest thing in the world to get sucked into the color hypnosis and start knitting crazy striped socks, and then proceed to put those high decibel monstrosities on one’s feet, go out in public, and not know one is wearing something bizarre.  It has happened to the best of us, including me.

Loss of Perspective – it can happen to anyone.

If any knitters of wildly colored striped socks are reading, please do not think I am morally or aesthetically opposed to wildly colored striped socks.  But one day (while wearing the very socks pictured here), I suddenly realized that what I saw as  casual day wear, others saw as: Clown Outfit.

Feel free to declare, “I don’t care what others think!” Feel free to see yourself as the artist that you are. Just don’t feel free to cross your legs in public and expect not to be stared at.

Well, just as we were told in 7th grade that marijuana use would lead to heroine, it turns out that the Loss of Perspective is a slippery slope.  One day it is loud socks, the next it is…  

All names and yarn company identities were omitted to protect artistic freedom.

Knitters, keep on being creative and breaking new ground. Non-knitters, be patient. We love our yarn.

(They’re holding sock yarn, by the way.)

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To the Radio Shack Powers That Be:

A trip to Radio Shack has never been what it ought to be for us.  We are a fairly geeky family, and logically should be in RS stores fairly often.  We should pop in to pick up specific items, and we should saunter in to browse all things wiry.  But we rarely do either.

First, let me assure you that this is not the opinion of a lone, disgruntled shopper.  I have consulted family and friends on various occasions, and they agree.  Nor is it the result of single experience.  I have felt this way for years, and have only had my point of view strengthened with each sad visit to a RS store.

At Nordstrom the magic word/phrase is “customer satisfaction.” You can return almost anything.  At REI, it’s “quality.”  (And you can return almost anything there too.)  At RS, it’s PUSHY.  And I never want to return anything because I  barely escaped with my wallet the first time.

Geeky and creative people sometimes just want to look around a store like RS.  But no one is safe in an RS store to “just look around.”  I wonder, when the young salesmen (and why is it nearly always men? do you have a problem hiring women?) attack a shopper with irrelevant offers, do they hope that one big sale will make up for the dozens of people who never want to darken your door again?

After getting therapy for post-personal-boundary-breech-syndrome, one vows to never “browse” at RS again, and to only go there to get a specific thing like, say, a Precision Lubricant Pen (which one cannot easily get elsewhere).  And there one is — ok, there I am — at the counter with a $3.99 Precision Lubricator Pen in hand, ready to pay.  I am smugly – and prematurely – congratulating myself for getting inside the shop, to the product, and over the the checkout without being offered anything extra by any agressive salesperson.  I have my car keys and my iPhone in my hand, and I set them down on the counter to get my wallet open…

NOOO!  It’s like a horror movie, when they lady decides to check out the noise she heard upstairs in the spooky dark mansion.  Don’t go there! Don’t open that door! Get out while you can!  

“Is that the iPhone 4 or the 4S?”


“Do you have the iPhone 4 or 4S? Do you have Siri? Because, you know, I could upgrade you….”

“No, thank you.”

“Right now we are running a special and for $…..”  And he was off.

Oh please, let me pay my $3.99 plus tax and go free, I beg you.  I said no thank you. My body language is not even being that polite. But on and on he goes.

It was always some little purchase (lube pens, headphones, batteries) that brought on the massive sales campaign for larger items.  If I actually was shopping for an expensive item, what would RS salespeople want from me then, a kidney?

In such situations as this, there is always one person playing by the rules of polite society (me), and one person playing by no rules whatsoever. If we both had no rules, I would grab him by his nascent chin hairs and tell him to take my $3.99 and shut up or I will put this Precision Lubricant Pen in his eye.

But we civilized shoppers never, ever do that. We value our dignity and our morals above, well – justice? Instead, we let an even longer period of recovery time go by before we can work up the will to enter a RS store again.

RS Powers That Be, the writing is on the wall for you. And it says, “There is a point at which people who don’t like being pressured would just as soon buy stuff online and pay for shipping.”  I am not even going to complain  about your product line (Google “radio shack sucks” if you want that kind of feedback), or the fact that Siri is a joke.  Let’s just start with a simple, easy improvement: respect.

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