Sunday, December 30, 2012

Also from my hands--- food!

It's been a while since I was in a fiber state of mind. My hands have not been crafting due to RA stiffness and to my being consumed by El Rancho and all its inhabitants. However, I picked up my hook again and am nearly done with square #4 of the tablecloth mentioned in the last post. On the way to visit the family in Marble Falls, I seemed to pick up the rhythm like I had never left.

But even when I don't craft with fiber, I am still using my hands productively-- to make food --- which has fiber! I enjoy cooking when I have (or make) the time. When I was at Goat Camp in October as a sous chef (see Goat Camp Part II) , I reconnected with my foodie self. I've always known what a powerful drug food can be and now I am striving to make better food choices. 

Since I was diagnosed with RA, in the back of my mind were unconnected ideas about my health and food, simmering. I do not want to stay connected to Big Pharma on a daily basis forever. Recent research has shown that obesity, inflammation and other ills like diabetes, may all be caused by an imbalance in the gut microflora. These ideas finally came together when I read an article today about research being done at Texas A&M and other places related to unraveling the puzzle of our symbiotic relationship with microbes-- our microbiome-- in the American Gut Project. This is actually a cool research project that is NOT being funded by the government OR by Big Pharma-- it's being funded by individual donations. (Check it out and donate, heck participate!)

Rather than delve into a biology lesson, I'll move onto what I've been doing in the kitchen. First, I'm trying to cook my food. From scratch. I've always been a pretty good cook, but I'm trying to make meals that I can name all the ingredients and where they came from. Eat real food! For instance, tonight we are having Swiss Steak with braised cabbage and mashed potatoes. No mixes, kits, or boxes here. I am a CrockPot fiend, so I've had two of them going most of the day. Sure, I have to chop and sear and saute and such, but there are not hidden junky things in the pot. Just food. Yum.

I am also trying to rebuild my personal microbiome by ingesting good bacteria and getting rid of the bad ones. Most folks will think of yogurt immediately as a food having good bacteria, but many fail to realize that you need to be eating whole milk yogurt without the sugars and fruits put in there by someone else. Or better yet-- make your own! Add your own fruit and avoid the preservatives and colors and 'natural' flavors!

But there are billions of bugs that we need. Another way to rebuild your gut is to eat fermented foods, such as sauerkraut. So I started researching fermented foods and made some! So far, I have made apple-cranberry chutney (added cranberries, used cinnamon and nutmeg for spices), lemon confit, sauerkraut, and ginger spice carrot sticks (I did not use coriander). I did the apples first and have already moved them to the fridge and have begun eating them. The others were made yesterday and today and need to sit at room temp at least a week. 

The foods are not rotting because they are preserved by salt-- nature's first food preservative. Anaerobic bacteria are munching away in the brine, converting the fruits and veggies into pickles! Once the flavor is where you want it, you pop it in the fridge. (You can also do a pressure canning, but that kills the microbes).

Finally, something I learned about myself 20 years ago was that simple sugars and starches are not good for me. Whether you are talking Atkins, Weston Price, Dr Mercola, or a paleo dietician, all note the same thing (using different reasons and language). I lived a low(er) carb life until about 10 years ago and have decided to return to my whole food lifestyle-- this time with microbes!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thread Squared...

What a week! I've been at the PreLaw Advisors National Conference in DC all week and it's been a whirlwind event with events day and night. You'd think I wouldn't have had time to crochet, but I did! I ended up choosing the perfect project in my filet crochet tablecloth. It's small with an easily memorizable pattern--- really just a bunch of ch and tr. The only hard part is putting two tr in the 4th ch in the corners.

The best part about this project has been that the more I do, the smaller the jumbo ball of #10 crochet thread! Our conference involved bus rides nearly every day, and traffic in DC is a bear, so I would get 45 minutes a day minimum of hooking on the bus. I am member of the board and was totally consumed the first two days, but after that I attended sessions and luncheons and could hook on the side. I even worked  on my project during movie night because we weren't in pitch darkness.

Another thing I did was create a new way to carry my tools. I took a Crystal Light container and removed the label. Into that I was able to place two hooks, a small pair of scissors (TSA approved), post-it notes, a pencil, needle threader, and tapestry needle (for weaving ends). To keep the small items from falling out and getting lost, I took a prescription container (label removed) to hold them and put them in the taller container. Overall, this has been the best setup I've done so far. The crystal light container is see-through and the top snaps on firmly, so no accidental opening.

Overall, I completed one-and-a-half squares for the table cloth. I'll need a minimum of nine squares for the tablecloth, so hopefully this means this will not be a perpetual UFO.

Getting ready to board my flight to Houston! Starting square number three once on board. I hope to get several "rounds of the square" done before I make it back to Texas.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Have project, will travel

Traveling to Washington, D.C., this week and am at a loss on whether to take a project or not.

Before smart phones and tablets, traveling for work presented a lot of boredom. Flying from a regional airport means at least a two hour layover in Houston. I don't like to read on airplanes or in airports, so a little knit or crochet project is usually tucked in my carry-on. That way I can while away the time while creating something. But what to take?

First, the TSA had no problem with my taking some aluminum #9 needles on board, along with little scissors. But those little cutters that are like a pendant are verboten. Crazy, huh? Right after the bombings in 2011, I often had fellow passengers tell me they felt better knowing we had a weapon.

Back to crafting. A good travel project will be small and have few moving parts. Once I tried to complete a complicated cross stitch pattern that was almost illegible. Too many threads, small needles, charts, scissors-- yuck! When knitting, using circulars is a bonus because you can't lose one. Doing some socks on dpns is fraught with danger. Once, I took socks (small, right?) and the little metal needles kept sliding out and skittering across the floor. Not my finest hour.

This trip, I won't have lots of nighttime hours to spend in front of the tube and I'll be gone six days, so the suitcase will be stuffed. I think I'll take along a thread crochet project. One ball of thread, a hook and a spare, some blunt scissors, and the pattern! Crocheting is my 'native' language so I won't have struggles with figuring out what I am to do. I saw a pattern for a tablecloth in the June 2012 Crochet World magazine that would look great on my dining table. Nine squares of filet sewn together and then edged. Very similar to a throw I made out of thread and keep in the living room for chilly evenings in the summers. If I only got two or three squares done, that would be a good start.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Granny's Daughter

When you craft with yarn, you end up with leftover yarn, usually not enough to make anything, but throwing it away seems wasteful.  I either hand roll it into a ball, use my yarn-winder to make a center-pull skein, or leave as-is. I sometimes have a pristine ball of yarn or two left when I finish a project. What I should do is return them to the store for a refund, but I always talk myself out of it or plain forget about it.

Thus a stash begins...

My favorite way to use scraps to make something useful, like an afghan. I have made several "scrapghans," including the one shown in my first post, with light and dark shades of a color, surrounded by black. Last week, while cleaning up the sewing room, I came across a gallon container with little squares in it--Granny's Daughters. Basically, a Granny's Daughter is round one of a Granny Square and uses between 2 and 3 yards of yarn.

About 15 years ago, I received a 3-ring binder 'card' which featured a Granny's Daughter afghan pattern that is one of Vanna's favorites. (Did you know that the most famous letter turner is a mad crochet artist with her own line of yarns?). It was designed by Nancy Fuller and is the same as her pattern on Ravelry. Anyhoo, the offer was to join a club and they would periodically send you a new pattern card, or even win a lapful of yarn! (like I need one...). Vanna: I like the variety of colors in this afghan. It's made of miniature granny squares you can work using bits of leftover yarn from your collection (emphasis mine). Yup, always trying to get you to load up the stash, er, collection.

I never did join the pattern club, but thought using up small scraps would be a "good thing." Thus the jar of granny's daughters has slowly grown over time.

These are so easy and quick and they can be done without looking. Great for TV, travel or anytime you have a minute. This pattern calls for over 800 GDs, so I started working on it and have about 400 ish ready. The major drawback to this pattern is that each tiny GD has two ends which must be woven. Have I said I hate weaving end?  However, I have perfected it and crochet over the tail when making the first 6 dc in the 5 ch ring. When I finish, I just weave that one back the opposite direction and take the final tail and weave it on the opposite side of the ring. Balance, symmetry.

So far I'm proud of myself. I've been weaving tails before they go in the jar, thus avoiding the drudgery of weaving 800 at once. Now I'm just working on the GDs. I can make about one per minute at slow speed, so if I need 400 more, that's a minimum of 6-2/3 hours, PLUS the weaving time (it takes more time to weave than crochet). Add in time to 'balance' the porportion of colors, and I should be ready to progress to the second part of the project by mid-June. I have plenty of white yarn on hand to do the joining, so completing this stash buster will actually free up space!

Friday, May 25, 2012

De-stashing my life

Note--- I wish this were a picture of my sewing room, but it's not.
It belongs to Tara of the 'Easy Makes Me Happy' blog.

All who create with fiber have a stash, a collection of fiber, carefully hoarded and nurtured over the years. I have had a sewing stash since high school. Who hasn't gone into their favorite fabric store and just had-to-have that print, that suiting, that slinky jersey. And the accompanying thread, seam tape, interfacing, and zippers (Why do I have so many zippers?). My other stash was small, mostly because I didn't have the extra funds and because I usually bought with a specific project in mind. So, if  I were planning an afghan, I selected the pattern and yarn, bought what was needed, and started hooking. I'd be left with a small amount of yarn, which I wound up and put in a box. I bought most of my cross stitch as "kits" and just threw away the little bits of leftover thread. All was well.

But somewhere between motherhood and middle age, things got a bit out of hand. One Christmas years ago, I made afghans for everyone in my extended family and all my co-workers while watching The JAG and assorted British mysteries (Harm and Poirot entertained me for hours). I was also becoming known for creating lovely baby blankets. I swear, some women in my department at work got pregnant so they could get a Karen Blanket.  I think this is when I started buying yarn without a project in mind. (For those without a stash, this is the number one warning sign--Beware!)

 I even opened an Etsy shop and started selling online.

Early in the 21st Century (heck, I like typing that!), I was getting 40% off coupons via email from Hobby Lobby every week, so I would go and buy yarn or tools. Sadly, the marketing mavens at Hobby Lobby know how to suck you in with gorgeous displays and with the mark-down shelf positioned cleverly next to the yarn. (Hmmm. Might as well look through and see if there's anything useful).
Again, a danger point I didn't see. Thus, all the cross stitch and crewel kits. 

Finally, I quit smoking in December 2007 and needed something to occupy my hands, so knitting became a compulsion-but I haven't smoked since! I think I reasoned that the money I did NOT spend on cigarettes was to be rightfully spent on stash!

Recently, I've made several forays into the sewing room, sorting and grouping, and its terrifying. I have about four cubic yards of yarn (boy that sounds better than 36 cubic feet!), two dresser drawers of sock yarn, scores of needles, hooks and scissors, numerous 'project' bags, and a library of leaflets, magazines, books and tomes.  When Hancock Fabric closed down in College Station, I bought a Vogue pattern cabinet and the top drawer is full of sewing patterns, the middle two with cross stitch and embroidery, and, of course, yarn in the bottom. I made a vow last year to NOT but any more stash until I had worked some of it off or given it and away and I've done fairly well. I have finished two cross stitch beauties ( gave one to my friend Kristi, keeping the other for me) and am started on a third. However, its baby time for a couple of expectant moms and I need to make two blankets and I don't have much baby yarn in the stash.

The big question: Do I work with what I have, or buy 'new' yarn for the babies?  (After all, it's for the children....)