Tuesday, December 31, 2013

a new year

A simple metta (loving-kindness) meditation to get this year started on the right foot...

I am wishing for myself, my loved ones, for each of you, and for everyone the world over these things:

May you feel safe
May you feel content
May you feel strong
May you live with ease

(Photo from the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, northern India.)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

happy winter solstice!

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone! We woke up yesterday morning to snow, making it feel like winter really is here. Of course, here along the Northwest coast, snow is a bit of a novelty and doesn't tend to stick around long. We made sure to bundle up and get out for a long walk to enjoy it while it lasts. 

Next week we'll be heading across the state of Washington to spend Christmas with family. I hope you all enjoy the holidays, however you choose to spend them. Here's looking forward to the new year!


Monday, December 16, 2013

sel de mer

In the summertime when I come home from paddling my kayak and pull my boat up onto the cobblestone beach, my arms are spotted white with dried salt water. Many times it has crossed my mind that I should harvest some of that salt for my own use. Well, after all this time I finally did it!

I filled a pitcher with seawater from my beach and filtered it through a coffee filter into a glass baking dish. With the wood stove burning all day long these days, I had the perfect spot to evaporate the water. I set the dish on top of the stove and watched as the water level went lower and lower throughout the day. By evening time I could see large salt crystals forming in the bottom, and by morning I had sea salt.

I've dried a few batches now, and can see that if you stir the salt during the final stage of drying you get finer crystals. I have also been experimenting with how long to let it dry, as the first time it dried pretty hard. It made beautiful perfectly square crystals when left undisturbed, though.

I like using coarse sea salt as a finishing salt, sprinkling it over my food right before I eat. It's also perfect to use atop desserts when you want just a pinch of salt with your sweet.

Do you live near the sea? Have you ever dried your own sea salt? I am so happy to have finally done it, and love having salt right from the waters I gaze at each day.

Friday, December 13, 2013


When I was in my early twenties, my sister and her beau decided to get married in Mexico. I saw this as a perfect excuse for an adventure, so spent the summer working in Alaska, saved all my hard-earned pennies and traveled overland that fall to join my family at the wedding on the Yucatan Peninsula. My family worried about me traveling alone through Mexico, but there was no convincing me to give up my plan.

Somewhere along the way on that trip, I think it was on a bus (who knows where), I got into a conversation with a man sitting across the aisle from me. I can still sort of picture his handsome face, his mustache and cowboy boots. Calling our exchange a conversation might be a bit generous, as my Spanish was poor and his English limited. We managed though, and I understood that, like my family, he was troubled about me traveling alone. After exhausting the limits of our shared language, he kindly bought me some sweets from a seller at a bus stop, and then pulled out his wallet and handed me this image of María del Perpetuo Socorro, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. I have been carrying this iconic image alongside my passport in all my travels since. When I'm not traveling, it's tucked into the pages of my journal.

For me, this icon isn't wrapped up in any religious story about Our Lady. For me, this token represents something much broader. It might sound lofty to say this, but when I look at this image it serves as a reminder of my faith in humanity. For a perfect stranger to care about my well-being, to offer me this as protection in my travels tells me that we are all more alike than different, that we are all part of one big family. (However dysfunctional we at times may be.)

Why am I sharing this story? If one day, someone else were to find my journal and in turning through the pages discover this image of María, they could only guess at why I had placed it there. They could never imagine the backstory of how I came by it, the meaning it held for me, or that it had become a talisman of sorts that I carried on all my journeys. 

As a purveyor of vintage books, I find myself wandering the shelves and poking my nose into many old tomes. Over the years, I have found many things tucked within their pages. Each time, as I'm standing there amongst the din of whatever store I'm in, I am stopped in my tracks as I ponder what I've found. Sometimes it's as simple as a receipt, telling me perhaps where and when the book was originally purchased. Others, it's a cryptic note scribbled on a scrap of paper, a photograph, a bookmark, a religious icon, a letter from a grandson to his grandmother. Maybe I'm too much of a romantic, but I can't help but wonder at these found items. Did they mean as much to someone else as my little icon does to me? Are they sorry to have lost them in the pages of a book now given away? I have been collecting these found bits over the years, unable to bring myself to throw them out, and thought I'd share a few here. 

"this is not my heart"

Then there is this scrap of paper, found inside a very old book, The Fossil Remains of the Animal Kingdom. Shooks for sale? What the heck are shooks? Quercitron bark? (It turns out that shooks are all the parts & pieces needed to build a box or cask. Quercitron bark is used to make natural yellow dye.) My curiosity led me to research this bit of paper and I learned that it's from a newspaper in Boston circa 1850. Yep, 1850. And the book? The book was published in 1830! How is it sitting on the shelf of a thrift store for less than two dollars? How many hands has it passed through these past 183 years? (It feels like it came right off Charles Darwin's bookshelf; I'm sure I'll never be able to part with it.) Most importantly, did the person who tore off this bit of newspaper get the shooks they needed?

I love these found bits I chance upon within the pages of old books. They have their own stories to tell, their own mysteries to make me pause and wonder.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

etsy love: pollen arts

I have decided to begin sharing a little Etsy love here once in a while, featuring a shop whose products I have personally enjoyed and love. I'd like to start with Pollen Arts, a candle shop run by the lovely husband & wife team, Peter and Juwels. 

As someone who has spent years and years collecting old glass jars and bottles, I'm pretty sure I gasped when I first saw their beautiful candles. Each one is lovingly handmade with pure beeswax, and I can attest to their amazing sweet scent and quality. (In fact they have such high standards, they sometimes sell their "seconds" through their blog and they are practically flawless.) 

From jars, to bottles, to sweet little inkwells, their candles vary in size, shape and design; I love them all. They are long-burning and as long as you keep the wicks trimmed, they hold a steady flame and don't smoke. The only problem I have found is that it takes me a while to break down and light them as they seem almost too pretty to burn! (I always do though, as they are meant to shine their light!)

With the holidays upon us, I think these candles would make great gifts... who wouldn't love them? 

You can find Pollen Arts on Etsy here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/pollenArts
Check out their blog, The Winnebago Diaries here: http://thewinnebagodiaries.blogspot.com/
See them as featured sellers on Etsy here: https://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/featured-seller-pollenarts/

Oh, and I think it's worth mentioning that you just might be able to find a local shop selling their candles and can then not only support handmade, but shop locally and save on shipping. I know a local co-op near me that carries a great selection of their candles. 

Many thanks to Peter and Juwels for permission to use their photos here... shine on you crazy diamonds!

p.s. This is not a sponsored post. As mentioned, I am just spreading some Etsy love!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

baby, it's cold outside

December is coming in with icy wind, snow flurries and the prettiest pink sunrises and sunsets. Last night I was awoken by what sounded like animals scampering across the rooftop. This morning I found the yard littered with fir boughs and branches, the likely culprits of those thumps & bumps in the windy night. 

I am drinking tea all day long, my current favorite a blend I found at my local herb shop that includes carob, barley malt, blackberry leaf, licorice root, chicory, cinnamon, clove and vanilla. It has a rich, roasted flavor and satisfies like a cup of coffee but without the jittery twittery feeling. I've also been eyeing the fine selection at Mountain Rose Herbs and thinking of placing an order. Their Firefly Chai and Herbal Coffee look like they'd be right up my alley.

What are you drinking to stay warm these days?

Top photo by Joe Anderson

Monday, December 2, 2013

how to block a hat

When I was fairly new to knitting, someone asked me if I blocked my work. I felt sheepish, but had to admit I had no idea what they were talking about. Blocking is basically a technique to shape your work, even out your stitches and achieve the proper finished size you're after. It also improves the overall look of your piece, giving it a nice smooth finish. Having tried it and seen the results, I now block all my hand-knit pieces. You can block your knitting by either spraying or soaking it in water, my instructions are for the soaking method.

First, fill a clean sink or basin with tepid (not hot) water and if you like, a drop of essential oil. I generally use lavender as it has a fresh clean scent that isn't overpowering. (Floracopeia has lovely organic oils.) Submerge your hat and gently squeeze it so that it fully absorbs the water. Let it soak for 15 minutes.

After soaking, gently, gently squeeze as much water as you can from the hat. Do not wring! Fold a bath towel in half lengthwise and lay the hat flat at one end. Roll the hat up inside the towel, smoothing out any wrinkles as you go so that it lays flat. Keep rolling the towel to the end and then press down on it with your knees.

Remove your hat from the towel and lay it flat on a surface that is clean and can be poked full of pins - I simply use a flattened cardboard box - not so glamorous, but it works. If you like you can purchase a special mat for blocking, or some use an ironing board. Gently stretch your hat to the finished dimensions you desire or as indicated in your pattern. I start with the bottom width, and pin that first.

Next, measure for the correct height and put a few pins at the top. Continue pressing the work flat, stretching and pinning to your desired shape and size. Remember to be gentle as natural fibers are weaker when wet.

Once you are done it will look a bit like this. Now, simply let it air dry for about 2 to 4 hours. The last step is to remove all the pins and loosely stuff the hat with crumpled tissue or any other colorfast paper and let it sit to dry overnight. That's it!

This same technique can be used to wash or reshape any hat that has stretched out or become too loose. (Or to try and get a bit more room if a hat fits too snug.) 

Oh, and this cozy hat shown here? Visit the handmade section of the shop to see if it's still available!