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Give Handmade – Tips on managing the Gift List

I've taken the Handmade Challenge and am very excited to see so many other people are as well! I've always preferred handmade for myself and my general distate for malls has necessitated our own version of ‘Handmade Holidays' through the years. We do this by paring down the list, making special things for the people who reamin and giving cookies to everyone else. In the 3 years we've been married, we've developed a bit of a tradition:

  • We simply don't buy gift for anyone we won't be seeing over the holidays
    • Jay's extended family is huge (15 Aunts and Uncles + spouses + kids) and we just don't want to mindlessly contribute to the masses of gifts they're all getting each other, so we give tins of cookies or handmade ornaments. I'm not sure they entirely appreciate it, but after 3 years, they accept it. Same goes for my Dad and Step-mom.
  • I always knit slippers for my Mom and 2 little brothers (ages 6 & 7 this year). It's something they all love and have come to expect)
  • Together we make something for his parents (handpainted cookery, pictures in frames).
  • I also try to make a handmade ornament to use in place of a gift tag for every gift I give. One year it was little hats, last year it was beaded wire snowflakes.
  • There's at least one ‘required' gift for co-workers (in every office we've worked in, we've insisted on a name-drawing and just give to ONE person). This just can't be avoided and I'll address the problem of buying a gift for someone you might not know anything about during the Handmade Gift Guide.

The above system not only saves money, it's a great way to avoid contributing to the commercialization of the holidays and it requires us to think and plan and make together.
Even with the small gift list, this time of year always feels like creative overload for me. So many things to make, so many tutorials to read and new things to try. And that's just for gifts. Gift wrapping is something I love, but I never feel I truly succeed in getting it just right. Tree decorating is a whole other creative endevour: finding old ornaments, making new ones. And Baking: cakes and breads and iced cookies. Yum!
Sometimes there are so many things on the To-Create that I get overwhelmed. This year, in an effort to avoid that, I'm going to learn to be ok with buying something handmade.
In that spirit and to celebrate the official start of the Holiday Shopping Season, I'll be posting a daily Give Handmade Guide, starting on Friday, November 23. Each day will have ideas and links on appropriate gifts for different types of giftee (anonymous co-worker, Crafter, Foodie, Reader, Kids). I choose these gifts with the following in mind:

  1. The gift must be handmade (or produced by a small business) or be something you could handmake in a short amount of time.
  2. Be as environmentally friendly as possible (extra points for recycled or reclaimed materials!)

On the final day, I'll list gift-wrapping tutorials and links to Handmade gift wrap.

Oh and many many stores on Etsy are having sales (or free shipping) this weekend, Friday – Monday, to kick off the Holiday Season. Just search “cybersale” to find all of the sales!
Happy Shopping!
Posted in An Adventurous Life | Comments Off on Give Handmade – Tips on managing the Gift List

Creative Mojo

Ok, first of all, it's hard for me to talk about *mojo* without using my Austin Powers voice (yeah, baby) but my loved ones don't find that funny, so I'll resist (oh, behave).

But in reality, I am feeling the mojo. I've been reading, devouring, savoring Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write a little bit each day, journaling my impressions. That bit about resting in a creative idle, well it really sunk in and started to work some magic in my creative life. After a weekend of emptying list of ‘shoulds' and ‘musts' .. I woke up with a buzz Sunday morning. I had a burning desire to create, to make, to flow.
Luckily there's a stash of yarn next to my bed, so I grabbed the first ball and needles I found and just started knitting. It doesn't matter what I knit, or even that I knit…but what matters, what really spoke to me, was that I wanted to.
I had bemoaned that my interests and inspirations never make that jump into passion-in-action but through reading this book, I realized that it was because I wasn't showing up for it. Brenda (we're on a first name basis, now) encourages the writer (or artist or whatever) to show up everyday, ready to write, ready to create. I had been feeling inspired, but I wasn't commiting to showing up whether inspiration struck or not. Just the commitment itself has become inspiration, spurring me on to action.
I'm not entirely sure I'm explaining this as clearly as I'd like, but I plan on writing about this more, with my journal by my side, because it feels important to get this right, to figure out this part of my creative life. To understand and maybe to capture it…

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Pincushion Love

I am besot with pincushions.
Pincushions!

1. three + three, 2. yet another, 3. cat pincushion, 4. bird nest 2 003, 5. Zingy!, 6. Donut Strawberry Erdbeer Pincushion, 7. red ladybird, 8. Cupcake Pincushion (bottlecap), 9. bottlecap pincushion, 10. koi pincushion, 11. custom order for fgantner, 12. Festival de alfineteiros!

They are just so adorable and small and fantastically useful! After stumbling upon the Flickr group, I discovered some great vendors of handmade pincushions:


edited to add: All of those pincushions inspired me to try my hand at my own. I used Purl's tutorial…but only as a rough guide. I cut the fabric a little too small, and my pincushion is minuscule.The dog added himself for scale, but keep in mind, he's little!
Posted in Good Shtuff | Comments Off on Pincushion Love

Creative Idle

I am not an idle person. Or patient. I love efficiency. Practicality. 10 year plans. I long for goals and lists and checkmarks.

And yet.

Creativity comes in those moments where the brain has a chance to wander. To wonder. To drift.

Maybe it wonders to un-creative, daily things: the grocery list or if the dog's been fed yet. But in those in-between moments, when I abstain from forcing efficiency; when I stop writing the list and start doodling in the margins. Creativity. Inspiration.

Barbara Ueland refers to this as “moodling”. She called it being creatively idle. Sitting in front of the tyepwriter (for writers; the canvas for painters, the yarn for knitters) every day, giving space and time for the something that is uniquely you to pour forth onto the page.

I've heard it a thousand ways: Allowing the muse to speak. Waiting on God. It appears in many of my beliefs, in the literature and theology I love to study, this idea of waiting. Waiting for the words to come, for the solution to present itself. Contentedly, mind you. Not in a rush, not forcing it, not listing pros and cons. Sitting ready. Waiting.

And yet.

And yet I make lists: things to write about, things to knit, things to sew. I sketch sweater designs, embroidery designs, grocery lists. Wondering why I don't feel impassioned to do any of the things on my list. I'm not stopping to wait.

But that's what I want: to idle. To create space and room for not just creativity, but for the passion to actually do.

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Beginning a-fresh

Starting a blog always feels like an Anonymous meeting:

Hello, my name is Tara, I am a creator.

I have entrepreneurial aspirations and a degree in French.

But my current passion is creativity. It's a word that's used so much, maybe overused, but the concept fascinates me.

As for my own creative and entrepreneurial endeavors, in July 06 I launched Blonde Chicken Boutique. I started by selling handpainted earth-friendly yarns on my website. I limited my suppliers to those who could assure me that the yarn was created from either recycled or organic materials because it's important that my monetary choices reflect my beliefs.

In the last year, Blonde Chicken Boutique has went through some changes:

I focused more efforts on spinning than on dyeing and have researched eco-friendly yarns which are still incredibly hard to source. When I’m looking at a yarn, I consider it’s impact on the environment in it’s creation (the sheep’s environment or if it uses recycled material) and in it’s distribution (if it has to be shipped from across the globe). This has led me to cut back on the whole “sourcing” thing and focus on finding local resources and low-impact dyeing.

During this period of research, I stopped selling dyed yarn online, for a few months, in order to properly keep up with my local orders, as I was asked to sell handpainted and handspun yarns at the local art gallery and supply shop. In conjunction with this, I held knitting and spinning demonstrations at the monthly gallery nights in March and April. Just last week, I posted some yarn online for sale, on our Etsy site.

Personally, I’ve gone through some changes too. We opened the shop just 15 days after moving to a new state and a new life. In the interim, my husband has become a full-time student. I changed ‘careers’ (if you can call 2 years out of college a ‘career’) and now work in an office: 8-5. I’m employed by the University that my husband attends, and as a benefit I can to take classes for free. I’m currently enrolled in Pre-MBA programs and am researching the possibility of entering an MBA program next fall.

More than all that, I’ve spent the last year searching and pursuing a definition of what it is I want to be doing with my life. I went through some times of deep confusion and real frustration. I spent much of my free time reading and writing and talking, and my knitting, spinning, dyeing and designing all fell behind. After all this, I still don’t know what I want to be ‘when I grow up’, but I do feel a real sense of purpose before along with a bit of clarity about what I want from BCB and from this blog.

Which brings me to what I’m doing here tonight:

The clarity I reached came unexpectedly. After over a year of reflection and confusion and anger at all the unknowns in my life, I had calmed down, told myself to be more zen, to take what comes. I was laying in bed on a Sunday afternoon, reading A Whack on the Side of the Head, reading about the various ‘creative geniuses’ of the world have had vast interests, specialized in nothing, learned about everything. Reading that being creative was putting together a lot of disparate concepts into one new idea and it was then, reading this silly book, that I felt a whack of my own (well, maybe it was a slight tap). I’ve spent a lot of time trying to ‘narrow my options’ and figure out what one thing to commit to. Every time I come close (yes, I’ll be a French Professor or yes, I’ll own my own business) I get distracted by something else (ooo, fiber art or ooo, theology). My interests are simply not narrow and I don’t enjoy trying to limit myself to one thing. All of my other interests center and circle around one (or two) concept(s): Creativity. And Learning New Things (what would you call this? Knowledge…Wisdom…Education?)

Literature, Theology, Language, Art, Craft, History, yes: even Business: they are all about humanity’s innate desire to be creative and to express one’s view of the world. The activities I enjoy also reflect this desire for learning and expression: creating (spinning, knitting, writing, dyeing); researching, analyzing, talking. The area of Business may not seem to fit in, but trust me, it does: what is an entrepreneur doing but creating something that acts as a reflection or extension of herself?

So, my new mission is to stop obsessing over what I’m going to be doing, what I should be doing and just start researching the things I love, analyzing what I find and sharing it here. I hope to share the books I’m reading, interview people who’s creative careers I admire, study some history of creativity and the history of crafts.

Pumpkin loaf

breakfast with Stephanopoulos

The pumpkin loaf, it is DI-vine. I altered it a bit (because that's how I roll) and so this is my take on it:

INGREDIENTS
2 cups white sugar (I will be using cane sugar)
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup fresh ground flax seed (it substitutes 1:1 for oil, did you know that? I didn't!)
2/3 cup water
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (actually, I might have forgotten the 1/2 cup, I got distracted)
1 cup wheat flour

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips (After I measured 1 cup, there was just a bit more left, so I tossed it all in…and really, it could have used even more!)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 loaf pans (the original recipe said 3, but I found it just made 2, sort of flat, not filled to the brim loafs…next time I'm gonna make it in just one, so it has that puffy, super-full look)

In a large bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, flaxseed, oil, water, and eggs. Beat until smooth. Blend in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill loaf pans 1/2 to 3/4 full.

Bake for 1 hour, or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool on wire racks before removing from pans. (I never wait this long, we dug in about 15 minutes after it came out of the oven)

Slice and eat. Or warm up and spread some cream cheese on top. Or some peanut butter. I like it for breakfast (the chocolate chips don't count due to the healthful benefits of canned pumpkin!)

Let me know if you make it!

Posted in Tasty Bits | Comments Off on Pumpkin loaf

The beginning

3/13/08 Edited to add: this was my first post of my first knitting blog, I've moved it here for posterity's sake!

But I did accomplish something today! I dyed yarn! I'm going to use it this for this Buttonholde bag (you might have to scroll down a bit to see the pictures on that site).
Koolade dying yarn is officially my favorite new Sunday afternoon activity (so much more fun that trying to set up my blog!)

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