Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holy Handmade Christmas - Batman!

It's another handmade Christmas in these parts. It's of course not the first. Those of you who have been following along on this blog will remember that last year it was felted clogs for the big kids, and sock monkeys for the little ones. Those of you who don't follow along can read the archives.

This year I was way pressed for time - I've had four shows in the last month and was really focused on having lots of work done for those. So, I only actually made two gifts this year (well, it will be three but that person reads the blog so mums the word, and I haven't technically even started yet).

For my Dad who claims his head is freezing, and I don't doubt it since he's in northern Minnesota where it's reported to be well below zero, I made a simple ribbed beanie from Noro Silk Garden. It's the same improvised, I-don't-need-a-pattern-for-this hat I made for My Man last year. I'm pretty sure my Dad will love it, it's colorful and warm.

For my niece I made a pair of fingerless gloves. The pattern is one I modified a bunch - did the math and converted it to a worsted weight yarn, that way they knit up quicker and they're a little chunkier. They're also purple, her favorite color.

The rest of my Handmade gifts came from various vendors on 1,000 Markets. I really felt strongly about supporting this new on-line sales venue (see earlier post). For my sister and my Amy I got artisan soaps - some were from Besem Natural Scents and the others were from A Breath of French Air . My sisters were sent directly and I haven't heard yet, but Amy's came here first to be packaged with my Dad's hat and they were lovely! Really!

For my other niece and her family I ordered the ding-dang cutest cookies you've ever seen from Cakebox Cookies. I received a sample cookie for myself from the generous folks at Cakebox Cookies, and I can assure you it wasn't just cute, it was darn good! I'm a huge fan of old school short bread, and this cookie was rich, and lemony, and delicious. In fact I loved it so much I order another big box to be delivered to My Man's parents. Yum! I also ordered some artisan caramels from Have it Sweet Caramels - they were sent to my Mom, and again I haven't heard the reviews yet, although I'm sure they'll be rave.

So Holy Handmade Christmas! I always feel so much more enthusiastic about the gift giving when I do it the handmade way - You get a much better value, you get something unique and original, you get to support an independent business and craftsman, you get to avoid the mall, and you get to feel good about yourself. Well at least I do. Everyone wins.

Have yourselves some Happy Holidays, and make 'em at least a little Handmade!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Meet the Gnomes

Meet the Gnomes - the new series of mixed media assemblage pieces I've been working on lately. Each of the tiny sculptures are made entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials. The pedestals the gnomes perch upon are super old, I'd guess the 1930's, alphabet blocks that I covered with carefully culled bits of vintage maps, and other vintage paper ephemera. The Gnomes themselves are actually vintage cupcake toppers that I've been scavenging and finding about. They've become one of those mysterious things that you go your whole life never noticing, and then once you discover them they appear everywhere. Yup, these little guys just keep finding their way into my life. In fact there are three of them on their way to me now from Jolly Ole England. I found them online, and they look really old. I'll love them I'm sure.

So far there has been 8 of these little lovelies. Each one is unique, and has it's special charm and character. You can see them all on my newly revamped website. And of course stay tuned for more in this series.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Another Charity Run

We participated in another charity run this morning - Run Like The Wind 5k was put on to raise funds for The Schrodi Memorial Training Fund. The Schrodi Fund was founded by one of our trainers, Shari, in memory of her dog Schrodi. The fund is designed to help people who could otherwise not afford training to get the top notch training they need, often allowing them to keep a dog they may not have otherwise been able to. It's a great cause, and was a nice way for us to give back to our favorite trainer.

It's a proud moment for us when we can get out and do events like this with our dogs. They've all come along way with their training. Especially our Layla, when we adopted her out of the shelter 2 years ago she was shy, and terrified of everything, so terrified you could barely bring her for a walk. Today she ran like a pro, with lots of people and dogs around. A year and a half ago Aaron Johnson was living under a boat in a junk yard, today he wore a blue ribbon.

Dale and Aaron Johnson won their Race.

Layla and I also ran.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's becoming a Thanksgiving tradition in my house to get up and run the local Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning - If two years in a row can qualify as a tradition. My Sweetie and I and one of our three dogs did the 5 mile run through Downtown Austin. The course was nice, fairly scenic, and the crowds were amazing. This is not a run you run for speed, too many people, 12,000 to be exact, this is a run you do for fun. And it was was fun.

I'll cook today. Only for three, but I'll cook. I am a vegetarian and haven't eaten meat in over 20 years, but I'm cooking for two carnivores, who kind of want some tradition. So I bought the free range, organic, and locally farmed turkey and I'll see what I can come up with. It's good to try new things.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Race Report - My First Half Marathon

I'm back from a fantastic weekend in San Antonio TX where I ran the inaugural San Antonio Rock N Roll Half Marathon. It was a first for San Antonio and a first for me. Overall it was a well organized, and very fun event. Kudos to the folks who pull these things together, it can't be easy getting 30,000 people to all run the same course at the same time.

Pre-Race: It was cold, and I mean really cold by Texas standards, on Sunday AM. I never did check the official temp, but it was for sure in the 30's. Being a Minnesota girl, and having maintained my thick blood I wasn't sad about the cold. In fact I love running in the cold, so this wasn't a problem for me the way it was for many and I was thankful for that.

We rose bright and early to catch the shuttle at 6 AM, despite the line, which I expected, the whole shuttle thing went smooth. As did the other pre-race activities of checking our extra gear, and waiting in the porta-potty lines. So despite the fact that it was a little on the chilly side I was able to start my race relaxed. You can't ask for more than that. Perfect!

The Run: My plan had been to join the 2:30 hour pace group for the half marathon, but at packet pick-up I learned that the pacer would be starting two corrals ahead of me, giving her a minute and a half head start. I hoped to catch her, knowing I could run a much more relaxed race if I had someone else worry about how fast I was going. I didn't want to go out too fast with the excitement, but I didn't want to psyche myself out and hold back either.

By mile one I had caught up to the 5:00 hour full marathon pace group, but still had not seen the half marathon group. I figured it's all the same when you do the math so I fell in with the 5:00 group and decided to hang with them until I either found the half group or until our course split, at which point I would only have 2.5 miles to go.

The pace leader was great! She ran us at a consistent pace to within just a few seconds per mile and we were running ahead just a touch. We caught the half marathon pace group at around mile 4 or 5, she was running a few minutes behind pace and honestly she really looked like she was struggling. Needless to say, when the 5:00 group passed her I went with them and stayed with them until the half marathon course split.

When the split did come I was feeling amazingly good. Nothing hurt and I could breathe. Breathing is key. I was amazed at how quickly the miles had gone by - I had not once got inside my own head and felt daunted by the distance. And I was still relaxed and even more importantly I was still having fun.

At the split the pace leaders parting advice to me was this "I want you to spend the next 2 miles looking at the backs in front of you and picking ones to pass. Just keep passing them one by one". I thanked her for a great race and went my way. I was even able to follow her advice and finish strong.

At mile 8 I was cheered on by my friends who had traveled down to cheer us on. They tried but missed me at mile 2 and again at the finish line, but we saw each other at mile 8. It's a great boost to see your peeps out on the course. I feel grateful to have such good friends.

All in all the course was fantastic. It was flat, and fast, and fairly scenic. There were tons of supporters all along the course. And the bands every mile or so were a great little boost.

I finished my race just under my 2:30 hour goal - 2:28:55 was the official time. More importantly I had a great time, and I left feeling really good. I have to shout out to my Sweetie who also ran. It was also his first and he ran it in an amazing 1:52:13, which in my book qualifies as WAY under his goal of 2:00.

Post Race: Post race was the only time I stopped having fun for a minute. The organizers had just not made the proper plans for dealing with the mass of runners that were going to be coming in around the same time. After crossing the finish line we all came to an abrupt stop and bottle necked trying to get into the post race secured area. Stopping is not good after a run like that and my calves immediately started to cramp. I had to fight my way through the crowds and the mayhem, and was barely able to grab any of the post race food. I managed to grab a couple of snacks and some water and found a little piece of open space between the medical tent and the information tent where I could stop and stretch and re-fuel. It took a long time to get there though and by the time I did I was pretty cranky. So I hung there for a while before meeting my Sweetie and my friends at the designated spot. No sense showing up crabby after an otherwise great race, it may have given them the wrong impression.

After we reunited we headed out to walk the 1.5 miles back to our hotel. That's when the funniest thing happened... We're walking along, we've got our finishers medals on, and we're still wearing the clothes we ran in, it was clear we had just finished this thing. So I spot another obviously just finished runner, and someone who was probably her mother, and they had a whole box of snacks. Because I hadn't been able to grab enough stuff, and hadn't grabbed any sort of electrolyte replacement or salt, I was like flies to crap on their multiple bags of pretzels. I walked right up and said "ooh, may I?" and the Mother says "No, they're hers", and I say "I really need some salt" and the Mother handed me a single pretzel, and the obviously just finished Runner scowled at Mother and gave me a bag of pretzels. I thanked her. We walked on. And my friend Kathy said in disbelief "did she just really give you one pretzel?" And I said "yep, that's going make my blog." We laughed. Maybe you had to be there...

After the walk back to the hotel we celebrated with a couple of cool showers, followed by a giant lunch of Mexican food and a couple of vodka tonics, followed by a well deserved 2 hour nap. We couldn't have asked for a better first marathon experience or a better weekend.

We felt so good about the whole thing we've decided to continue our training and signed up to run the 3M Half Marathon in January here in Austin. I'm actually looking forward to another 13.1 miles. And I never imagined I'd hear myself say that.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Another First...

It's race week again. This coming Sunday I'll be running my first Half Marathon down in San Antonio TX. I originally joined a training group for this race because running has always been a little daunting for me. I do it because it's the most efficient way to get my exercise - no gear, no equipment, no special playing field, you just put on your shoes and walk out the door. It's also a way for me to be able to eat cheese, which happens to be my favorite food, and not weigh 500 pounds. So I run, and I hate most of it, until now that is.

The theory was that if I joined a training group, and ran a lot, and put in the time to train, and did the long runs, that I would get better. And if I was a better, stronger, maybe a little faster runner, that I might actually start to enjoy it some. And the theory was dead on. I've been training since August, and I've put some serious miles on my shoes with the Saturday long runs. And I've been pushed to run hard, sometimes really hard, on Wednesday Night Track Nights. And the result, after 18 weeks of running four days per week is I'm a lot stronger, and a lot more efficient, and a good bit faster. And most importantly the running doesn't suck anymore. It's fun, I like it, and I actually look forward to it.

So now it's race week. The big day is just 6 days away and it's time to get a plan and set a goal. The goals are easy - I want to finish, and barring some freak accident I will. I want to have fun, and most likely I will, at least a little, and probably a lot. My plan is also pretty simple, I'm going to join one of the official pace groups, and let someone else worry about my pace. I think this highly increases the odds that I'll have fun. It also highly increases the odds that I'll finish in less than 2 and 1/2 hours. I just need to stick with the group and enjoy the crowds and the atmosphere. Simple. Other than that I only need to plan for hydration and nutrition, and that should also be pretty simple - I'll carry my own water, which I've done for all my long runs, and I'll consume two packets of Gu - one at the 1 hour mark, and one at the 2 hour mark. I won't forget to Gu because I get down right surly and mean when my blood sugar levels get too low, so just as soon as I start feeling the slightest pangs of road rage I'll Gu. Simple.

This race will mark another first for me. The very first time I'll have run in a Marathon. I think I've mentioned before, and it's worth repeating - There is nothing more thrilling than doing something for the very first time.

I'll be back next week with a race report. Cheers!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Learning to Weave

I've been wanting to learn to weave for some time now, and this summer I have finally resolved to get it done. I took one class a while back at my LYS - Hill Country Weavers - it was good; while it was project specific and we didn't make any of the design decisions other than what color our scarf would be, we did learn a lot about the mechanics of a 4-shaft table loom, and we did learn the warping process.

This past week I went back for a more advanced class. This time the students were able to decide what projects they'd like to do, and make all the design decisions. Suzanne, whose knowledge, talent, and patience seems boundless, walked us through each step of the weaving process - We calculated our yarn needs, we choose our own fibers, we made our own warps, and warped our own looms. Amazing! The best bit about the class is we our able to take the 4-harness table looms home with us and continue the weaving process for one month. We can come back for guidance and create as many projects as we can or would like in that time period. Simply put, we are truly learning to weave.

Here's what I love about weaving: I love how easy it is to combine different fibers/yarns and really experiment with texture. I love how it is equally easy to work with color. I love the instant gratification - within minutes of starting the weaving process, the actual throwing the shuttle back and forth, you can see what the finished fabric is going to look like. Very different from knitting. I also love the seemingly endless possibilities - the patterns, the textures, the color work, make for a cornucopia of ideas and fabrics to try.

Don't get me wrong, I still love my knitting, and I always will, but weaving brings a different kind of satisfaction, and sparks a different source of creativity for me. And it's yet another reason to buy more yarn!


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Race Report

I'm back. I survived. In fact I did more than survive, I had fun! And I kicked ass! Race day went something like this.
Pre-Race: I didn't sleep at all the night before, but I knew I wouldn't and it doesn't really matter. I was already well rested and the race day energy makes it so you don't notice any lack of sleep. I got out of bed at 4:30 AM as planned, had my smoothie, started hydrating, my Sweetie loaded the bike and his camera. We got on the road by 5:40 AM, 10 minutes later than planned. Despite leaving behind schedule I was surprisingly calm. Really! I never once felt like puking. Once at the site my Sweetie topped off the air in my tires. We must have looked like we knew what we were doing because the girl parked to the left of us asked me if I could tell her where her helmet and bike numbers were supposed to go. And the girl parked to the right of us asked my Sweetie if he would pump up her tires also. I remembered that this is one of the reasons I like to do this - the camaraderie - suddenly you have 400 and something new best friends and you're all in this together, sort of. I got my body marked, the volunteer got a little artistic working the numbers in around my tattoos. It was open racking, and I was able to get a really sweet spot on the end of a rack. It pays to get there early. I got set up, walked the transition area, picked up my timing chip, ate a banana, stood in line for the porta-potty and spent the rest of the pre-race minutes on the beach. I did my warm-up swim. I told myself the big-fat lie that there wasn't any fish in the lake, and even though I knew it was a big fat lie I chose to believe it. I shared this with my Sweetie and a few other spectators. They were highly amused, and I remembered that this is why I do this, it's fun, and I love chattin' it up with strangers.

The Swim: The swim was a real bitch. I did everything I planned, I lined up in front and I swam out hard. Trouble is there was a small gaggle of other ladies with the exact same plan, and we were all pretty evenly matched. Somehow the 5 of us managed to swim the entire distance in a scrum. I got kicked in the face once, hard. I never found my little piece of water. The whole 300 meters was a scrum. I studied the swim results and there were 5 of us who came out of the water within 4 seconds of each other. Yep, it sucked, mostly. There is no way to improve on this, to train harder for that, it's just one of those race day variables that's out of your control. You deal with it. And the goats, did I mention there were three goats living on the island in the lake. Pre-race I thought they were kinda cute, at about the half way point of the swim I had the thought that the water I was swimming in was brackish, murky, and smelling of sulfur because of those goats. I put that thought right out of my mind. Official swim time: 7:55 - not as fast as I wanted, but I was ranked 9th in my age group and I caught some of the "green cap" people in the wave before mine. I'd write home about that. And I didn't freak out - this is why I do this, I am reminded that sometimes you have to just deal with the stuff that's out of your control.

T1: I got my cap and goggles off just as soon as I got out of the water. I knew right where my bike was. Everything going as planned. Except the stitch in my side. You could hardly call my movement from the water's edge, through the parking lot, and to my transition area a jog, it was more like a gimp, but with a few deep breaths the stitch surrendered. For some unknown reason I couldn't get my shoe on - I verbally abused the shoe. And it too surrendered. Perfect. Helmet, sunglasses, never mind the gloves, I'm off! Official T1 Time: 3:08 - A little slow but I remembered where to bike exit was and got there.

The Bike: The first hill. It wasn't really as steep as I had remembered from my scouting trip, it was long. Really really long. I had left my bike on the small chain ring, with room to move down to the granny gear. It worked, I was able to spin up that first hill. I didn't get off my bike and walk it up the hill, although I saw a few that did, and it's not a bad strategy, I would not have been above walking up that hill if I had needed to, but I didn't need to. Once I crested that hill I rode hard, and smart. I went fast. I remembered to drink my sport drink. I remembered to call out "on your left" and "thank you" to everyone I passed. I congratulated and encouraged everyone who passed me. Really, every single one, I'm competitive, but nice. I felt sincerely bad for the girl with a flat, and the ladies with the really heavy mountain bikes. The back half of the course wasn't that bad, it was rolling, gravity was indeed on my side. Those training rides paid off. The last mile is all downhill, and I did indeed fly. I glanced at my computer once and it said 32 mph. I don't think I've ever gone that fast on my bike. I felt fearless. I felt like a super hero. It was fun. Official bike time: 44:52 - right where I wanted to be. I made up some time and was back on track for my goal. That's a great feeling. Could I have gone faster...? Probably. Could I have been more aggressive...? Probably. And that encourages me for next time.

T2: Bike racked. Helmet off. No gloves to worry about. Drink some water. I'm off. Wait! My belt, turn around run back, get the damn belt. Go! Thank goodness I remembered, I'm not sure but I think that could have been a DQ. I'll have to check the USAT Rule Book. Official time: 1:06 - that's right, despite having almost forgotten my belt I was ahead of my goal.

The Run: Most of my favorite moments in the race happened during the run. First, the oldest athlete was a 70 year old woman who was doing her first triathlon with her daughter. I saw them early on in the run, the mom was race walking and daughter was a few paces ahead, telling her she "looked great" she was "doing a great job". Mom replied with "I've got this race in the bag, I can do this!" I loved her! And I thought hell yes! And I congratulated her on job well done. This course isn't a great one for spectators, except at the beach and the finish line. This means there are no fans to cheer you through the bulk of the run. But, it's an out and back course and so those on the way back encourage those on the way out. It's the camaraderie thing again, and I love that. It took a little longer then I wanted for my legs to stop feeling like rubber and the evil stitch was back so I took the first mile a little easy. I admit it seemed a little daunting. I took water at the turn around, and thanked all the volunteers. And then I decided I needed something to get me going - I challenged myself to pass the lady just in front of me, according to her body marking she was 52 years old. And then I went after the next one, her calf said she was 48 years old. And then the next one, and the next one, and I went after a few that were a little younger. I still got passed by some, and I still took the energy to encourage those on the way out, but I spent that second mile trying to pick off runners and make a note of their age as I did. Before I knew it there it was, the turn off the road up to the home stretch. This is where it gets really, really thrilling - this is where you can see the finish line, and you know in your heart that you've earned the finish. This is where there are lots of fans and spectators cheering you on and congratulating you on a strong finish and you know in your heart you deserve it. This is where I spotted the calf of the girl just ahead of me, she was 22 years old, and this is where I got competitive and made up my mind I could take her. And I did. And it was awesome. Official run time: 22:04.

I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I got my finisher's medal from a perfect volunteer. I got my ice towel and my bottle of water from two other perfect volunteers. Official total race time: 1:19:07. That's exactly in between my "It was a great day, I had fun, and I can be really proud of this time" Goal and my "I kicked ass!" Goal. I was 11th (out of 50) in my age group, and that seemed beyond my wildest dreams.

Post-Race: I did everything I said I would do, I found my Sweetie, I re-hydrated, I stretched, I consumed some calories. I basked in the glory of the day. I congratulated other finishers. I cheered for those still coming across the finish line. I ate up all the congratulations from complete strangers without hesitation. It was fun.

And I remembered why I do this. I do this for the camaraderie. I do this because it's thrilling. I do this because I can and I'm proud of that. I do this because it reminds me to take stuff as it comes. I do this because it feels good to be 40 years old and be healthy and strong enough, I'm grateful for that. I do this because anybody can, but most don't, and that sets me apart, just a little. But mostly I do this because it's fun.

What's next? Something completely new and different - The Rock N Roll San Antonio 1/2 Marathon. The training program has already started, I've sort of fudged the first three weeks of training to make it fit with the triathlon. It will be the thrill of doing something for the first time, which is an extra special kind of thrill. And next season I'll do another triathlon, in fact I'd love to travel to Minneapolis and do the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon again, but this time do the Olympic Distance. And later this week - the knit results of race week.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Race Plan without Goals...?

Last night I dreamed I forgot my bike on my way to the Triathlon. This morning I practiced my transitions on the back porch. (Did I mention "nervous energy" in my previous post?)

I realized I published The Race Plan without including The Goals. All Race Plans include goals. Perhaps I left them out of the previous post on purpose, it takes courage to let others in on your goals - what if you don't achieve them? Everyone will know. And perhaps I'm flattering myself to think that there even is an "everyone". Well, in the spirit of not being such a scared-y cat, (and secretly telling myself no one reads this blog anyway) I've decided to go ahead and make public The Goals.

I learned from my friend and neighbor (who sometimes reads my blog, I think, so Thanks!) the nifty little trick of setting a couple of different goals, it gives you some flexibility with your performance, and it can help to stave off any disappointment if things just don't go your way. I've got three sets of goals for this race - the first is the "things just didn't go my way"goal. Next is the "It was a great day, I had fun, and I can be really proud of these times" goal. And finally there's the "I kicked ass!" goals. Keep in mind "kicking ass!" is relative, it's about putting in a great effort and pushing yourself up to your limits, but not beyond them.

My "things just really didn't go my way" goal is pretty general - I just want to be done before the awards ceremony starts, that gives me just under 2 hours. I don't even care if I'm dead last, that could be funny if I have a sense of humor about it, I want the finisher's medal. And I don't want to fall off my bike.

The "It was a great day..." Goals are more specific, and I think realistic, although you never know for sure until you try, they look like this - Swim 1:15/50 meters, finishing the swim in 7.5 minutes. Bike at an average speed of 13 MPH which means finishing the bike leg in 51 minutes. Run 10:50 miles or finish the run in 21:40. With T1 at 2:30 and T2 at 1:30 my total time would be 1 hour and 24 minutes.

The "I kick ass" Goals look like this - swim 1:00/50 meters which gets me out of the water in 6 minutes. I've beat this time in the pool by 7 seconds more than once, but this isn't the pool, it's a scrum of bodies in open water. Bike at an average speed of 16 MPH which would mean finishing the ride in 42 minutes, hard and aggressive, but possible. Run a 10:20 Mile or finish the run in 20 minutes 40 seconds, this is lofty, I'm not that fast, especially running off the bike. With the same T1 and T2 times I'd be across the finish line in 1 hour 13 minutes.

There, I've done it, I've made public The Goals. All I need to do now is hit the "publish post" button. Until next week...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Race Week - The Race Plan

It's race week - on Sunday July 27th I'll be partaking in the Rouge Women's Triathlon - and that means this week is race week, and that means lots and lots of nervous energy. This is not my first triathlon, nor is it my longest, but it is the first one in three years and that's a heck of a long time when we're talking athletics. In fact it's a whole new age group. I'll be racing with the "40 somethings" this time. This is a "super sprint" triathlon - 300 meter swim, 11.1 mile bike, and 2 mile run.

Despite the fact that I've done this before, I still get really nervous during the week leading up to an event. In some ways it's the kind of nervous energy that's generated when you're really looking forward to something. It's the anticipation and it's the waiting - you've worked really hard, you've put in the hours, you've taken care of yourself, you've prepped all your gear, and now you wait for the big day to be here. But it's also just plain, good old fashion, butterflies in the stomach, gee I hope I don't fall off my bike in front of all those people, nerves.

So what to do with all the nervous energy? Hopefully lots of knitting. The knitting keeps my hands busy, and calms the spirit, while leaving the mind free to think about the race. Which is good, because when it's race week the race is pretty much all I can think about. I'm pretty good at not letting this become obsessive worry, and at staving off any negativity or self-doubt. But in order to do this I have to focus my thoughts on something constructive, and that something constructive is The Race Plan. All smart athletes have a Race Plan. I may be old and slow, but I'm still smart. I have a Race Plan and I'm spending this week knitting and going over it in my mind a hundred trillion times.

I figured if I was going to be going over The Race Plan a hundred trillion times I may as well write about it. So here it is, although a few of the details have been edited to save space and spare you from any of the gross stuff.

Pre-Race: Arrive at the race site at least an hour and a half before the start. This will mean being on the road and out the door by 5:30 AM. First thing to do is get my body marked. Then I find my rack, top off the air in my tires and rack my bike. Set up my transition area. Keep my swim cap and my goggles in hand. Lay out my shoes, with the laces loose, socks on top of shoes, gloves inside helmet, sunglasses, and race belt ready. One bottle of fluids on the bike, and an extra bottle for before the start and available if I decide I need to do the run with water. Once my transition area is set up, I need to walk the transition area from where I come in from the swim, count the racks so I can find my bike. Walk from my rack to the bike exit, and from the bike return to my rack. Finally walk from my rack to the run start. It's good to know where you're going, it can keep you from getting frantic. Apply another, extra layer of sunscreen. Visit the bathroom. All the while hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Remind myself the nerves and the butterflies stop once I start.

The Swim: I'm a strong swimmer, and this swim is short. For many triathletes this is the part they dread, and they will be wanting to just get through it. The swim start is always a little weird, it's hectic, and crowded, you can't see a thing, and swimming in open water is completely different then swimming in a pool. The swim start can be scary. I won't freak out. I'll line up towards the front and swim hard for the first 50 yards, to get out of the crowd. Then I'll find my rhythm and settle into my pace. Remember swim cap and goggles off as soon as I leave the water, and remember where your bike is.

T1: Get geared up in this order - socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, sunglasses. Remember where the bike exit is and get there. Remind myself to drink fluids on the bike. Remind myself this is fun.

The Bike: I scoped out the course a few weeks ago and got myself totally freaked out about the hills on the bike course. I've been riding hills ever since, I need to remind myself I've gone longer and harder on those training rides, I've done it before I can do it again. This course starts with a steep climb. My strategy is to have left my bike in a low gear, and to just spin up this first hill. I will remind myself that no matter how much it hurts, I've got 5.5 miles of downhill and flats after this first hill which will be plenty of time to catch my breath, take some fluids, and get my legs back. Go fast. The back half of the course gets hilly again, but it's pretty rolling so gravity is on my side. Remind myself I've gone harder and longer. Remind myself it's almost over. Say "hello" to all the volunteers and shout "nice job" to everyone who passes me. I'll fly down the last hill and give my legs a rest.

T2: Rack my bike - helmet off, gloves off, sunglasses on, go. I'll put my race belt on while moving towards the run start. I'm riding in my running shoes so this transition should be quick. Remind myself to breath.

The Run: It will be hot by now, and there is no shade, but I've been training in the heat, and this is Texas after all, so just go. The run is short. I recently learned something called "the Ironman Shuffle" you lean just slightly forward from your core and let momentum get you started on the run, your feet will just have to keep up, I'll do this until the rubbery feeling goes away. This is a fairly rolling run course, if I use my arms to power up the hills, I can use gravity to pick up speed going down them. Remind myself to stay light on my feet. Remind myself to breath. Smile. Take water at the turn around and thank the volunteers. This run is short so I can go a little harder. I'll hold my head up, cross the finish line, raise my arms in victory, and smile.

Post-Race: I will keep moving, I'll find my Sweetie, get some fluids, find some shade, and celebrate. Enjoy the camaraderie and revel in the glory for awhile before I load up the bike and pack up the gear. Remind myself I can nap if I want to when I get home. Remind myself it was fun.

I'll be back next week with The Race Report and some knitting to share.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Altered Vintage Postcards

I've been thrifting a lot lately and some of my favorite finds have been vintage postcards. Mostly there from the 1950's and 1960's, and I've been lucky about finding ones that have never been used and that are pretty pristine.

Cleaning Up City Hall - Altered Vintage Postcard

I've been using them as backgrounds for collage elements. All of my collage bits of paper and ephemeral are also vintage and of the some era.

Swimming Beach - Altered Vintage Postcard

It's been a lot of fun, mostly tongue in check humor, and a touch of irony. After I alter the postcards I seal them with a protective acrylic finish, low gloss to preserve the vintage look. You can find these altered postcards in my Blue Valentine Etsy Shop. Oh, and there's lots more to come.

Highway 101 - Altered Vintage Postcard

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Holy Crap! Long TIme No Post

Pendants made from collaged vintage Domino

How does it happen? You log in to blog and realize it's been over a month since your last post. How it happens, at least in part, is two trips to Minneapolis to celebrate weddings and graduations. Tons of hours spent on the road and in the pool training for another triathlon. And lots and lots of life's little details like lawns to mow, plants to grow, and dogs to walk. None of it the stuff worthy of a blog post, and yet I just managed to include them.

There's also been time for crafting, although there never seems to be enough. It's the great unsolved puzzle in my life, and I'm sure in lots of my readers' lives: Where do you find the time to craft?

"Cleaning Up City Hall" - Altered Vintage Postcard

The work with paper has continued to involve lots of collage - right now the x-acto and glue are more fun than the press and ink, so I'll stay with it until I get the urge to print. It's a funny thing about me, I can't just stick with one thing - I can't just run so I bike and swim also, and viola it's the makings of a triathlon. Like wise I can't just print, I sometimes would rather collage or sew some bindings. I don't just knit, I also full my knitting, needle felt, and now I'm learn to weave (more on that in future post). The variety keeps me sane. I think... Either that or it makes me crazy. I guess that's the other unsolved puzzle in my life.

"Highway 101" - Altered Vintage Postcard

Back to the work with paper... I've been altering some vintage postcards that I found at my favorite thrift store. I've also been collaging on old game pieces, mostly vintage domino and old wooden nickels, also thrifted. I've been using them to make some really fun pendants. Some have been listed in my Etsy shop, and some will be listed soon.

I'll share some knitting news and the learning to weave in a future post soon. But right now I've left my bike on the porch so I can get in a ride after I write a blog post, and before I sit down at the loom... Crazy? Sane? And when will I walk the dogs?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on Collage

I've been doing more and more work with collage lately. And not just on the journal covers. I've been working with watercolor paper and then mounting the collages onto greeting cards. I've got a few other projects planned as well, with new materials and media, but I won't reveal the details until I have photos to post.

I've always been a collector of paper and ephemeral bits and pieces. I especially love the vintage stuff circa 1940-1965, sometimes a bit older, and sometimes a bit younger, but mostly that's what I seem to gravitate towards. I love the colors they used then, the muted tones. Collecting papery bits is one of those uber-addictive things. I have boxes, and drawers and stacks of papery goodness all over my work space. Some things I especially love: sheet music, maps, sewing patterns, and books that are beyond repair.

Collage is all about juxtaposition, that's what makes it fun. It's about working with colors, contrasts and compliments. It's about being true to an era or a theme, without being literal. And it's about irony. I especially love the irony. I noticed the other day that it's not unusual for me to chuckle out loud to myself when working on a collage. That almost never happens when I'm standing at the press.

As a word lover I find myself almost always including text in my collage. Sometimes the words are the starting point, but sometimes they come later. I'll never get away from the words, I really don't want to.

Collage is also about experimentation. Trying new materials, and media. It's a way to really explore the vast world of art supplies, and sometimes you discover something you love. I recently went to the craft store and shopped the sections I never used to, I also went to a bead store. I didn't buy much, just a few odds and ends, the idea was to push myself creatively, to look at new materials.

Like the journals, I've been posting the collaged greeting cards in my Etsy shop. I think it shows that I've been having fun. At least I hope it does.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Grow Your Own - Wheat Grass!

Here's another super simple way to have fresh greens and to add a little life to the kitchen; grow your own wheat grass. Get yourself some wheat berries, they are available in bulk at most co-ops, natural food stores, and finer groceries. Put several tablespoons in a small dish, cover with water and soak over night. In the morning, find yourself a container for planting - you can use a pot, a dish, or I recycled the containers my raspberries and blueberries came in.
Fill to almost full with an organic potting soil, sprinkle the surface with the plump soaked wheat berries. Barely cover with more soil. Keep them moist with daily watering, and put them in a sunny window. It doesn't even really need to be that sunny. Once your grass is 4 inches long, mow some off for use, and it'll keep growing. You can juice it in a juicer if you have one. Add some to your smoothies. Or feed it to your dogs and cats, they can either graze right off the plant (cats especially) or you can cut it up and add it to their kibble. It's really good for them and you.

Happy planting!

Earth Day Project Update: New total on re-crafted re-usable totes is 134!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

And the Winners Are...

Congratulations to the lucky 6 winners of my Earth Day Contest - They are Christine P. , Amy C., Hoganfe, Contessa Kris, Kim aka Images by Kim, and Antjamie. Please send an email to with where I should send your re-crafted re-usable totes and your issue of Croq "The Trash Issue" and I'll get them on their way to you asap.

Thanks to everyone who played along. There were some great comments and emails with some great ways to live a little greener. Kim would like to implement this idea in her home town, I say go for it, and right on! The less plastic in this world the better. Including plastic water bottles, which is why antjamie's comment about ditching the disposable water bottles is so great - I myself made that change some time ago and it's amazing how much money and plastic you save, for myself personally, I drink a lot of water, like on average of 90 ounces every day, and that's a lot of refills. I love the idea of swifter covers, and riding your bikes to work. I thankfully get to work here at home but my partner has been making a real effort to commute via bicycle when ever it's possible. I also really really loved the idea of getting rid of disposable cups at the office - it's the perfect way to put all those free-be coffee cups to a good use. All it takes is a little effort and a little dish soap. Perfect!

Here's some updates on the project: As of right now I have 124 shirts, and I know there is more on the way. Almost all of these are prepped and ready to sew - thanks to my super next-door friend who spent her Friday evening helping me cut shirts. Some of the finished shirts have made their way out into the world - like 36 of them. And I've only had one person say "no thank you" they didn't want a free re-usable shopping bag, but he was a little weird anyway so...

Here's the biggest most exciting update: Blue Dog Rescue, the local mixed breed rescue group that I volunteer for has an annual fund raising 5k run - Run for the Rovers. They have asked and I have agreed to recycle last year's left over runner shirts into this year's swag bags. This should be about 60 re-crafted tees, and will probably be distributed to the first 60 registrants. Although myself and my partner are already registered to run, so that'll be two more re-crafted re-usable totes for me to get out into the world. If you're reading this and you're in Central Texas, hop on over to the race website, and get yourself registered to run. It's a lot of fun, it's for a great cause, and you can run with your dog, as long as it's spayed or neutered, and current on it's vaccinations. We'll be running with Layla. Way to go green Blue Dog!

I have to say I am so pleased with response I've gotten to this silly little project. My hope was to get my friends and family and their friends and family and maybe a few strangers excited about not using plastic bags anymore. Clearly this has happened. And that my friends, makes me very happy! So thank you all for your enthusiasm, and thank you all for wanting to jump on board and go a little green, and thank you all for not using plastic.

Friday, April 25, 2008


There's still time to enter my Earth Day Contest! I've received some great comments, and some great emails from the shy folks - You have until 11 PM cst time today to enter. I'll be announcing the winners tomorrow, along with some updates on the project. Leave your comment, and send that email.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

EARTH DAY 2008! The Project -

Happy Earth Day readers! I have a crafty recycling Earth Day project of my very own this year, and a contest to kick it off...

I had this idea for turning old Tee-Shirts into really cool, re-usable totes. Like a lot of my ideas this one has become sort of project. My own personal Earth Day project. I've had a ban on plastic bags in my house for some time now and this is my way of encouraging others to use a little less plastic.

Here's the logistics - Last week I sent an email to basically everyone I know and have an email address for, friends and family, asking them to give me their old tee-shirts, the ones they've been meaning to bring to the Goodwill anyway, the ones in the deepest darkest corners of their closet or drawers, the ones they'll never wear again. And I'll make them into totes. As an added incentive for them to give up their old tees I promised them one completed tote for every three shirts they give me. For example, they give me 3 shirts they get 1 tote, 6 shirts = 2 totes, 9 shirts = 3 totes, you can do the math.

All I ask is that you use it! That's sort of my theme with this project. I asked that you keep some in your purse, or a pile of them in the car, or in your panniers and use them everywhere you shop. Most grocery stores have caught on to this idea and are into it, but it's pretty amusing the response you get when you say "I have my own bags" at places like Target, or Petco, or Lowe's. Really it's fun. The goal is to have less plastic floating around the world. Which brings me to the scary stuff...

WARNING: This paragraph contains the scary stuff - you really should read it. At their most basic level, these plastic bags are made from petroleum and all that that inherently implies in terms of fossil fuel harvesting and harmful emissions. Every year Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags. No that's not a type-o, 100 BILLION. That's the equivalent of dumping 12 million barrels of oil. A goodly portion of those 100 billion bags end up in our landfills - forever! They don't bio-degrade, they do eventually break down into tiny toxic particles, and release toxic gases all the while. Worse yet, the ones that don't end up in the land fill - forever - take flight and end up in our waterways and oceans. I read one estimate that 1 million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles are killed every year by eating or getting tangled up in plastic bags. I read another estimate that 50% of all marine litter is plastic. Want more of the scary stuff? Do a google search on "plastic bags" and if you weed through all the ads from manufacturers and distributors of plastic bags you'll find several conservation groups with articles and FAQS about the horrors of plastic bags. I gleaned most of this scary stuff from a Salon Article.

Back to the regularly scheduled program - my Earth Day project. The response I have gotten from my friends and family has been astounding! Really! In just four days I have collected 110 tee shirts. I have sorted, piled and logged each of those 110 shirts. And I have word from several people that there is more to come. I think a very reasonable goal is 200. I am going to turn 200 old tee shirts into 200 re-usable shopping bags. Think of the plastic that will save.

So what happens with these 200 shirts I'm re-making into totes? They will all be given away for free - All I ask is that you use them! The first batch to be given away will be the 40 (out of the 110) bags that will go back to my original contributors. Several of them have said they intend to use their tee shirt totes as gifts, giving them to people who would maybe not otherwise think of using a re-usable tote. And that is exactly the spirit of this project.

The next batch to be given away will be to the winners of the Kick Off Contest - Yep, here it is the Earth Day Contest: Leave a comment, or if you're shy send an email to, and share either a recycling tip or an Earth Day resolution of your own. Everyone who comments or emails will be entered into a random drawing. You have until Friday April 25th at 11PM cst to enter. I will announce six winners, here on the blog on Saturday the 26th. Each winner will receive 3 re-crafted tee shirt totes and a copy of CROQ Craft Zine The Trash Issue, which is chock full of crafty recycling projects. That accounts for the next 18 bags, bringing us to total of 58 tee shirt totes out in the world.

This is an ongoing project, as it will obviously take some time to sew 200 totes, and I won't stop at 200 if my loved ones keep giving me shirts. My goal is to save the Earth from having to deal with so much plastic. Every shirt that is given to me will be re-crafted into a tote and that tote will be distributed for free. I have visions of myself out front of the local pet food store handing out free totes...

I will continue to blog my progress with this project and share with y'all how the shirts have been distributed. So stay tuned, and don't be shy, enter the contest before Friday night. Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 21, 2008

National Ride Your Bike to Work Week Sale

It's National Ride Your Bike to Work Week and to celebrate I just posted a tiny sale in my Etsy shop - Now through Friday April 25th - Buy one of my On Your Left Notebooks and I'll ship it for FREE and throw in a FREE GIFT!

Get on your bike and ride!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Earth Day Project in the Works

I wanted to post quickly just a little teaser that I've got a huge Earth Day project in the works. It involves lots of recycling, and lots of crafting. It will even involve a kick-off contest. Be sure to check back next Tuesday - April 22 - Earth Day '08 - for all the details.

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Etsy Find - Ker-bloom!

Every once in a while I like to share something I find on Etsy and love, and think you should all love also. This time it's Ker-bloom! A letterpress printed zine from Artnoose. Yup, you read that right, a letterpress printed zine.

I have a very real mad love for all things letterpress. I also have a pretty vast collection of zines and indy comic books. Ker-bloom! is by far my most favorite - The writing is always way above par and the slice-of-life glimpse into the mind of Artnoose is always worth a look. And it's letterpress printed - in some of the more recent issues she has used polymer plates, and the current issue was screen printed with a letterpress cover, but amazingly Artnoose has been hand setting lead for every issue since 1996. That my friends make me giddy!

I buy every new issue that come outs. I've amassed a healthy lot of back issues. I even recently did a special order to fill in some of the gaps. I dream of a complete run, although I fear it will be near to impossible.

If you've got a spare minute or two or six hop on over to Artnose's Etsy shop and grab yourself some back issues of Ker-bloom! You'll thank me for it. I love Ker-bloom! and you should also.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Afflicted Featured in a Show

Great news! My book Afflicted has will be a part of the Sitting Room and Sit Down and Read - side by side shows of artists books you can pick up and read. The show, sponsored by Another Room Book Arts Bookstore, was curated by Tom Sowden and Lucy May Schofield and will feature 110 Artist Books by International Artists.

The thing I love about this show is that the audience can interact with work, and actually read and enjoy the books. That doesn't happen very often, although I believe it should. In most gallery shows the work is displayed under glass or on the wall. It has always been my feeling that books, even Artist Books, are meant to be held and read. It is that interaction with the audience that made me want to create books.

Another Room and Gallery K are a part of Rythmix Cultural Works in Alameda California. If you're in that part of the world stop by and fondle some art.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mid-Winter Gocco Swap

I recently participated in the Mid-Winter Gocco Swap organized by Sarah at Cloth Paper String. I contributed my "On Your Left" Notebook, sending it to my 12 swap mates.

In exchange I received this fabulous assortment of loot. Everything from cards, to prints, a handy market bag, and even a printed and sewn oyster. All of it was great and the swap was organized perfectly.

Check out the flickr group for more great photos from participants. It really was so fun!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Recommendations for Crafty Folks, Gardners, and Knitters

I indulged myself, as is tradition, and made a rather large purchase of books on my recent birthday. A little gift to myself. I've had some time to sit down and at least turn all the pages and in some cases read quite a bit and I've got some recommendations.

First up, I've been dreaming of putting in an organic vegetable garden ever since I moved here to Austin. I've also been dreaming and scheming about some major landscape changes to the back yard. It's got great bones - a patio, a covered porch, and lots of shade - but I want it to be spectacular. Spectacular and dog friendly. It is their domain after all. I found these books: Dogs in their Gardens by Page Dickey and Dog Friendly Gardens Garden Friendly Dogs by Cheryl S Smith. The later has a ton of very useful information about materials, safety, and plant suggestions. She shares not only her gardening know-how but also some very practical advice on managing the dogs in the space. The former is strictly a picture book, but it does have a lot to offer in terms of inspiration. I recommend them both.

Second to indulge the book artist in me - I've been fascinated by pop-up books and their forms and structures lately and have been planning a new series of small artist books that will involve screen printing and pop-up structures. I ordered a fantastic book - The Pocket Paper Engineer How to Make Pop-Ups Step-by-Step by Carol Barton of Popular Kinetics Press. I've been familiar with Carol's work as a book artist for several years as she is quite accomplished. This book is great! Not only does it offer clear and concise tips, instructions, and tools list it has projects. There are several pre-printed pages which you cut, score, and fold, to make pop-up cards, and pockets within the book to store your finished cards. Very clever!

And of course I had to also indulge the knitter in me. This time rather then go for a book of patterns, which I seem to have quite a collection of, I went for instructions and encyclopedic references. Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti and The Knitter's Book of Yarn by Clara Parkes. Both are staples to any knitter's reading diet and every knitter's shelve should have them.

That's it! Quite a haul I know but it was my 40th birthday so I went all out. All books are available from Amazon and I've included links in the sidebar. Happy reading!

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Bunch of Knitting FO's

I've been finishing my knits lately. And it feels dang good. First up Flair the knit jacket for Wendy Bernard of Knit and Tonic. I knit this using Blue Sky Alpaca's Dyed Cotton. 6 Skeins total, which really isn't much, it makes this a very affordable jacket. I picked up some special buttons, but they also weren't bank breakers. The pattern definitely falls in the easy category and it took just a few weeks to complete.

Next the last pair of felted clogs. The patterns is from Fiber Trends. It fast and simple. Add some extra time for felting and drying, but otherwise they are pretty much instant gratification. I used Nashua Hand Knits Creative Focus Worsted which felts beautifully and has a nice halo.

Lastly I whipped up the Beach Beanie from Hats a Knitters Dozen in anticipation of the cooler climes of New Mexico. Because I wanted some warmth from this hat I used Blue Sky Alpacas 100% Alpaca. I delectable, soft, finally haloed yarn. The patterns is super easy and took just two short evenings to complete.

Happy Knitting!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Photo Tips

I've been taking tons of photos, re-shooting all the pictures for my Etsy shop as a part of a new year shop makeover. And I've learned a thing or two. I'm not by any stretch claiming to be an expert, and I still have things I'm struggling with, but I do have some tips to share. It doesn't matter if your taking pictures of products for your website, or other online sales site, or if your taking pictures to share your creativity with the world through online communities like Ravelry, and Flickr, or to post on your blog - you should make an effort to take good photos.

Tip1 - Always, always, always use natural light. Unless you've got a tungsten balanced professional light kit or box, shoot you photos outside in natural light. It will keep your colors true, and add a certain warmth that you just can't get from an artificial light source. It is best if the light isn't too direct, as that can cause harsh shadows, and/or a washed out look. An overcast day is great, or late afternoon or early morning when the sun isn't directly over head. I sometimes use the covered porch - it's filled with light but protected from glare. If you can't go outside, shoot near a sunny window.

Tip2 - Never, never, never use your flash. It just looks bad. It changes the colors and causes weird glares, reflections, and hot spots. Do yourself a favor and turn the flash off.

Tip 3 - Put your subjects in a context, stage your photos. It adds visual interest plain and simple. Find yourself some props, and a place to shoot and play around with styling your photos. In addition to adding visual interest it can be useful in communicating to your audience - if you're shooting a product show your customers how to use it. Or make allusions to how it was made. Any additional information you can communicate will further the connection with your intended audience. And use your imagination, having more creative photos let's the world know that you're a creative person.

Tip 4 - If your shooting clothing put it on a model. It doesn't have to be a live model, although sometimes that is better, it can also be a mannequin. Bottom line is clothes don't look how they're suppose to spread out on a table. This is one I still have trouble with - I don't always have someone around to be a model, I don't always feel like being my own model, and while I have a vintage wire mannequin she's tiny and the clothes I make for myself don't fit her.

Tip 5 - Use an interesting background. Again, unless you've got a professionally set-up back drop don't use sheets, or bedspreads to try to imitate one. It will look like hell and it's boring. Be creative with your back drop. Try different textures and colors. Light colored items benefit from the contrast of a darker background and vice-versa. Try a wooden tray, or a wicker baskets, or decorative papers, or pages from a book. Be creative, create a visual metaphor, use your background as another opportunity to add interest and express your cleverness or sense of humor.

Tip 6 - Take lots and lots of photos. Once you have something set up take several shots, move in a little closer, move out a little further, shoot from a higher angle, shoot from a lower angle, shoot it in reverse. Now re-arrange your props, change out your props, and shoot it all again. Now move to a different part of the yard where the light will be slightly different and do it all again. Taking tons of photos will give you choices, so you will truly great photos to post.

Tip 7 - Let your style develop. If you're taking lots of photos, and your being creative with the styling and use of props, and your being patient and thinking about what your doing your own style will start to shine through. Just like with writing practice you start to develop a voice, your photo taking will start to develop an eye. And it will be your eye, unique to you, and will give your photos a signature look that helps to communicate who you are and what you're all about creatively.

The old adage "a pictures says a thousand words" isn't just an old adage. It's true. Your photos are an opportunity to communicate in ways language can't. I hope these tips are useful in making your photos speak for you in new ways. Get out the camera and have some fun.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Spreading the Blogland Love!

So I wouldn't normally post twice in one day - Unheard of actually, but I was surfing around today and noticed that I'd received a You Make My Day Award...

Sweet! So Windy Knitty gave me the prize. I almost missed it, but catching up on my blog reading today I noticed on her blog that she had passed the blogland love my way. So thank you!

Here’s how it works:
Give the award to up to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel so happy about Blogland! Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so that they can pass it on. Beware! You may get the award several times!

So now I must share the love - These are the blogs that have been making my day lately.

Cloth Paper String
- She knits, she prints, and she takes great photos.

Cosmicpluto - I love her knits and Her Patterns

Deconstructed Artichoke - Her blog is new, and she's a very talented Book Artist

The Plucky Knitter - She just posted some beautiful yarn and I have a secret crush on her dog

Green Chair Press - Another great Printer and Book Artist

Knit Creations of a Curious Mind - Always good for Eye Candy

Knit and Tonic - Another source of fantastic knits and patterns

Monday, February 4, 2008

Reading Recommendation - Craft Inc

This past week I devoured Craft Inc Turn Your Creative Hobby Into a Business by Meg Mateo Ilasco. It's a great book and I highly recommend it. Whether you have dreams of hitting the big time with your designs, or you're thinking of doing a few craft fairs or opening an etsy shop, there is something you can take away from this book.

Ilasco covers the business aspects, some of which is a reminder of things you probably already know, but maybe haven't followed through on - like registering as a DBA. Much of it applies to designers and artist who are really taking their ideas to the level of out sourcing, hiring employees, and major marketing campaigns. These parts don't really apply for me personally, I print in very small editions, and want to keep it that way. So these sections only got a quick skim. But there was also a lot to be learned about things like pricing strategies, and the importance of packaging, and ways to market yourself.

She also covers the creative aspects. It was these sections that I got the most from, these parts of the book were a welcome inspirational kick in the pants. When the subject turns to creativity in general, it really stirred my pot, so to speak, about things like being out in the world, and developing your ideas, and taking time to just think.

In addition, Craft Inc. is well written in a conversational tone, with a great layout and design, so it's pretty to look at while you read. If you're a creative type, and you have any aspirations of making your craft more than a hobby, I recommend this book.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Etsy Find Lady's of the Letterpress

From time to time I like to showcase a few of the gems I find on Etsy - your place to buy and sell all things handmade. Let's face it I spend a lot of time on Etsy, and a fair amount of cash. So when I find something I'm thrilled with I figure I should share it with y'all.

The Lady's of the Letterpress badge was designed by and purchased from Heroes and Criminals Press. In the funny world of coincidence Jessica, the letterpress printer/artist happens to be a student of one of my dearest friends, at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. I guess the world of letterpress is a small one indeed.

This recent gem was actually a gift. My fella new I loved my Patagonia fleece vest that I've had for years and years, he also knew I never wore it. Why not? because it was a wrap present from a film I worked on back when I was working as a production assistant, and it wasn't a very good film, in fact I never bothered to see it, and they gave us the vests with a badge. The badge was a silly inside joke having to do with Lutherans and gun clubs, not really my cup of tea. Anyway, I never wore the vest.

Until now! I pointed out Jessica's shop, pointed out the badge, and fondly reveled in the small world warm feelings. My fella took it upon himself to order the badge, and - and this is the best part - he sewed it to my vest right over the top of the old icky badge. Perfectly, and meticulously hand-sewed it.

All stitched up

Now I wear my vest a lot. And each time that I do I am warmed not only by its wind proof fleece, but also by thoughts of my fella who sews, and my friends in Iowa, and the tiny community of Lady Letterpress Printers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gocco - A- Go - Go

I haven't done a lot of printing lately. I no longer have the access I used to have to letterpress equipment. I also have limited studio space. But I got the urge to print and so I dug out and dusted off the old Gocco and am fully embracing the low tech nature of it and have fallen in love all over again.

What is Gocco? Gocco is a Japanese screen printing system designed for home craft use. It has a small table top press, exposes the screens with battery powered flash bulbs, and uses water soluble inks. What that means is it's perfect for a studio with a limited amount of space, like my spare bedroom. There are no brain sizzling solvents, or inky fumes, which keeps us happy and healthy. And it's pretty versatile in what it can do. When you're exposing your screens your source image needs to be carbon based, that means photocopies work, and many drawing pens. When working with text that I don't want to hand write I do it up on the computer and then take it to the copy shop for a quick copy. Otherwise I draw all my originals. Lucky me my favorite drawing pens are all carbon based - Zig Millenniums, and the Staedtler Pigment Liners. Lead pencil also works, and you can order Riso pens from suppliers of Gocco accessories.

It's limitations - size. Size is the number one limitation with the Gocco system. The model I use has a print area of approximately 3.5" x 5" perfect for postcards, and smallish prints, but otherwise you're out of luck. There are larger systems, and I've got my eye on one. But mostly its small size suits me, I tend to work towards smallish anyway.

The other major limitation is availability. When I got my Gocco 5 or 6 years ago they were still available in the United States and I could get replacement inks and screens at my local art supply store. Since then there have been a lot of crazy rumors that they were not going to make them any more and that they would quickly become extinct. There was practically a movement on the internet to save Gocco. Near as I can tell the Gocco is still very popular all over the world - this means new models, replacement inks and accessories are still available off the internet. Places like Northwoods Studios, Felt Cafe, and Print Addict Japan all sell supplies on the internet, making availability pretty much a non-issue.

Want more? There is a community of Gocco users out there on the internet. There are yahoo groups, bloggers, flickr groups - (Gocco and Loco for Gocco), and Etsy shops - some of my favorites - Magic Jelly, and Jan Allsop.

I love my Gocco - Mostly I love how low tech and non-toxic it is, making it possible for me to print in the spare bedroom.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A Sort of Metaphorical House Cleaning

At the New Year I seem to find myself setting goals, making lists, and performing a sort of metaphorical house cleaning. I suspect that I'm not alone. I also suspect that other artists and crafts people find themselves setting similar goals, making similar lists, and performing similar tasks. Perhaps this post will resonate with my fellow crafters. Perhaps this post will bore the pants off everyone else. Or maybe they'll get a sort of voyeuristic glimpse into the business of crafting. In any case it's what's been on my mind and taking my time lately and so it is what I should post about.

First off there is the really rather tedious and mundane, but no less necessary tidying. I speak of things like updating your website, updating the sidebar of your blog, updating your various online profiles. And giving the Etsy Shop a makeover. If you snoop around you'll notice I have most of these done. Thank goodness.

Then there is the goal setting. You know, things like deciding which grants you'll apply for, which shows you'll do or apply for, which new venues you'll pursue, and developing new marketing strategies. My favorite part of these tasks is getting a brand new daily calendar and carefully plotting out the whole year. I write in due dates and deadlines. I write in reminders to myself well in advance of those due dates and deadlines. I write in which shows are when, making mental notes of my busy months online, that way I won't be caught short of inventory, in theory anyway.

I also make lists and take copious notes on projects I want to do. This year I've included 4 new artists books (at least two of which are carry overs from previous years), a letterpress printed broadside, a calendar project (for 2009 of course), and a whole mess of screen printed tidbits, cards and other assorted ephemera. Most years I don't get as much done as I think I will, but every year I have high hopes, and that's what counts.

This year I have made a few crafting resolutions as well. The big one is I have resolved to learn a new piece of software. I asked for and received Adobe In Design for Christmas with the intention of putting it to good use. I admit I'm intimidated. I have resolved to not neglect marketing. I have resolved to be productive and love what I make. I have resolved to stick with this dang blog.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Final Finished Object of 2007

Here it is - the last finished object of 2007. I finished the One Row Scarf from the Yarn Harlot on New Year's Eve - a little late as a Christmas gift but loved all the same. I did this in Noro Silk Garden and love it.

If you've got an itch to knit a scarf go for this one - The pattern is free, simple to memorize, fun to knit, and the texture looks great. Just be sure to do it with a yarn that has some interest, like a hand spun. I plan to do another with some hand spun I got on my trip to Minneapolis and have been saving. Perhaps it will be the first finished object of 2008. Looking back it was a pretty darn productive year when it comes to knitting. Happy New Year! We'll see what awaits us in the new year.