getting in the spirit

December 17, 2011

I’m not a big Christmas music person. I don’t wear red and green or holiday sweatshirts. I don’t fill the house with garlands of pine or popcorn or lights.

But I do make Christmas trees from recycling, and put presents under them.

Starting to feel like the holidays

I started making a temporary DIY “tree” three years ago to help celebrate the holidays. Kasy and I don’t really buy into the whole cut tree thing and we don’t have a backyard that has room to plant any potted trees, but we still wanted to get the house all festive. This year’s tree was made from a Long Trail beer box and has yarn garlands around it. We’ve started to put our presents (wrapped in recycling) under the tree as well and I’m making a mental list of all the cookies I want to bake this week.

Starting to feel like the holidays

Stockings have been hung and the house is tidy and warm. And the radio even said we might get flurries in the morning!!

We recently purchased a 50lb bag of Vital Wheat Gluten flour for seitan making. A decision to no longer keep tofu in the house has spawned us making more seitan as an addition to our meals. Kasy is a meat/dairy eater and I eat meat occasionally (only liking red meat, when I do opt to eat meat) but prefer to continue eating mostly vegan. We don’t buy meat (expensive!) and our dairy food purchases are low as well (also expensive!). Lucky for us, I like to cook and have a history of vegetarianism and veganism and can cook vegan easily and enjoyably. I love to experiment with vegan cooking! Our output of packaging from food products is very low as well, but there are still places that we can improve and not buying tofu regularly is part of that mission. Those plastic containers really stack up. We were getting our vital wheat gluten from the bulk bins at Whole Foods, but decided to bite the bullet and get our own bulk bag of it (we also buy dried beans, rice, and lentils in bulk).

In a mission to find some new recipes for seitan and other meaty substitutes using vital wheat gluten, I came across this excellent little youtube video for “Seitan Cheat Balls.” It’s delicious and has a great consistency, as meatballs or even hamburger patties.

Seitan "meatballs"

I followed the recipe, for the most part, adjusting the spices to match what we have in the kitchen (garlic powder, black pepper, kosher salt). I’m growing some basil in our backyard, so hopefully I can add some of that deliciousness to the mix soon.

Pasta with seitan meatballs and mushrooms

One of the first nights I made this for dinner, it was to go with simple pasta with tomato sauce, with mushrooms from Lancaster Farm Fresh. We also get our nutritional yeast from Lancaster Farm Fresh. If you’re local, or in their catchment area of deliveries, we highly suggest using them to support Lancaster farmers and get amazing products! If you’re looking to ease your way off of meat dishes, or want a new way to make a seitan product, I highly suggest this little tutorial. I’ve been making double batches of the recipe and baking patties to keep in the fridge for Kasy to make quick lunches in the morning, with great success. If we had a bbq grill, I’d be grilling them up as well this summer.

Happy Earth Day

April 22, 2011

I hope you are getting fresh air in your lungs and sun on your face. It is cloudy and chilly, here in my corner of Pennsylvania. I have beans bubbling away on the stove for a big pot of soup that involves low impact ingredients, as many of our meals do. Kasy and I talked about blogging a bit about what we make to eat for dinner and changes we’ll be making in that regard to ensure even smaller amounts of garbage and recycling. So stay tuned for that!

In the spirit of Earth Day, I will take this moment to urge everyone to get out from behind the wheel of their car and get walking, get biking, get public transportationing. I’ll be posting, in the coming weeks, about how we’ve managed without owning a car and renovating a house by bicycle.

And on that note, check out Kasy’s first fully handbuilt bicycle.* It’s replacing his Surly Crosscheck as his commuter. He’s been working on it for a few months now and is so pleased to see it finished. It really is a stunning bicycle.

Kasy's newest creation

Kasy's newest creation

Kasy's pretty pleased

*Kasy works in the handbuilt bike industry making racks, building wheels, welding and brazing onto frames, etc. This is the first bicycle he has built. I am so incredibly proud. Next on his docket is retro-fitting my touring bike, an ’86 Ritchie, with S&S couplers and new racks.

Warm and happy

In January, I cast on and cast off for the fastest sweater ever made. The oh so popular Owls by Kate Davies. Nothing but utter love for this knit. It took a total of 7 days and fits like a dream.

o w l s

No mods were made. I measured myself at the 38 inch bust size and knit the 38 inch bust size. I got spot on gauge with the called for needles. I lengthened the body and arms of the sweater since I am a long person. I used the called for yarn, British Sheep Breeds Chunky, in the now discontinued color of Dark Gray Welsh. Since I have a long body, the added length to the sweater required me to crack into a 7th skein to finish the ribbed collar of the sweater, but if I were a bit shorter I would easily get away with this size and 6 skeins of the yarn. (ravelry project page here) That’s ok. It leaves me with some yarn to add to my pretty scrappy hexagon crocheted blanket.

hexagons in progress

This blanket is one of the few yarn projects on my knitting/crochet priority list. I am a polygamous crafter and it stresses me out. The few times that I’ve solely committed to a singular project, I finish it so quickly and get to enjoy both the process and product. Unfortunately, after I work on something monogamously I usually have a fit of casting on for a large number of things and feel like a hurricane. It sucks, really. I am always flitting from thing to thing without finishing much of anything. I do this in most aspects of my life but it isn’t a comfortable role for me. I hate it every step of the way but have a hard time reigning it in.

Enter my priority list. I have a few sweaters, a pair of socks, and this crocheted blanket on there. I’m only working on these projects right now and destashing a lot of yarn, ripping out long abandoned projects, and thinking of things besides knitting that I want to do, used to do, and love to do. I am going to try a bit of knitting quitting at the end of this list. I have a ukulele that I want to learn to play. I have a few quilts I want to finish. I have many books I want to read. I have lots of bike rides I want to take. And since I don’t know how to accomplish everything in my small amount of free time, I need to try freeing my time a bit more.

It’s scary. It’s unsettling. And it’s weirdly freeing.

Have you ever had to tell yourself to stop something, take a step back, and re-prioritize? How did you handle it?

Reaping rewards

September 15, 2010

So, I live in a small house. A small house in a city. A small house that has great bones but needs some cosmetic love. Slowly (ever so slowly) Kasy and I chip away at things around the house, inching our way towards the inevitable goal of finishing the home renovations and making each room uniquely us. A few months ago we had a long talk about getting serious about it. If we kept at the renovations at the pace we were taking it would be at least 10 years before we saw much of anything. Enough was enough.

We made a long list, organized by rooms, and decided to start attacking each room one by one until complete. We’ve been wanting to build some things but much of the work is sanding, patching walls, repainting. Since Kasy is far more talented weilding power tools than I am, or hope to be, that means the sanding of spackle is left to me.

I. hate. sanding. spackle. There. I said it. Not like it’s been a secret. I cut corners. I cheat. I want to get it over with as soon as I begin. I’m trying to get better at doing it right instead of quickly, but really…can’t doing it right also mean it’s done quickly? Figures.

Well, after weeks (months, it feels like) of living with the living room in our dining room, and our dining room furniture stacked in the room that will eventually be our new kitchen, we finally finished things to where we could put a room back together and in better shape than before.


Before (a shot taken of the first floor, when Kasy did a walk through when buying the house)

dining room to living room

This photo is after we put in a new vestibule and repainted the green.

Before we installed the floor


Living room - After

Living room - After

I know! Amazing right?! We are so incredibly pleased, and we have avoided leaving the living room when possible. It’s the prettiest room ever!

We purchased bamboo flooring a few months ago and had it stacked in a room “curing” to the humidity and temperature of the house. Using a manual nailer, and powered by enthusiasm and the promise of cold beers and ciders in the fridge, we managed to nail in 1/3 of the room before calling it quits for the night.

bamboo floor installation

When I came home from working Sunday at Rosie’s Yarn Cellar, I found that Kasy had finished the floor by himself.

the head of the renovation team

I could seriously go on and on about how awesome this room is, but really who wants to hear that? I need to save your patience for when the dining room is finished (that room is next) and I go on and on about that one too.

Installing new floors is serious business

We make a pretty sweet team when we want to be.

Fall is slowly rolling in. Since summer is my least favorite season (I belong in cold weather), I am so pleased that the days are still warm but in a different way. There’s something about 85 degree heat in September that feels drastically different from 85 degree heat in July or August. Maybe it’s the cool nights. Maybe it’s the lack of the humidity. Regardless, nothing but smiles over here.

As the temperatures drop to more humane standards, I find myself continuing to wrap my arms around my possessions and my relationship with material items. As all you crafters can understand, this naturally leads to thoughts of how to manage the yarn and fabric and other crafty detritus acquired over many years of making things with your hands. Sometimes I have fleeting thoughts of dumping everything and starting from scratch, stash-wise, but then I remember how much I love the yarn and fabric I’ve lovingly picked out and purchased and how I want to be able to use it and love it as a garment or quilt. I had many crafty goals in January 2010, but sadly those are long forgotten. I still have piles of things half knit and half sewn. Many projects stalled out mid-way. And enough yarn and fabric for many more. Thus enters the 6 month Stashdown.

Starting September 6, 2010 and ending around April 6, 2010*, I have a list of projects I want to knit out of the yarn I currently have in my cupboard. The list is not really prioritized or to be followed in any real order, other than to try to accomplish the whole thing by early Spring 2011. There are some gifts, some socks, some scarves, some WIPs, and many things I’ve been wanting to have for myself. So here it goes, friends. Wish me luck! If you want to check in and see what the list is or the progress made on it, you can check out my ravelry page for finished items and items in progress or my blog page which houses the whole list.

If you find yourself embarking on a stash-down goal of your own, tell me about it in the comments or leave a link to your blog so I can cheer you along as well!

And there are some other non-crafty items to share with you, from this past summer. To whet your appetite, here’s a lovely sunset from a recent trip to Vermont. More to come soon.

Sunset driving

*Depending on how this plan goes, I may want to extend the deadline and add more projects to the list.

Still working towards finding that perfect place where I feel completely at ease with my amount of things. Hand in hand with this constant purging of the unnecessary is the need for organizing what is staying put in my life. Organizing has always been hard for me to do. At the beginning of every school year, as a kid, I would promise myself that things would be different. I would write neater in my notebooks. Keep things tidier in folders and binders. Know where my textbooks were all the time. By the beginning of November, without fail, I would be a scattered mess again. Not sure what my roadblock is in this area, but it’s there. It’s stubborn. It’s something I want to get rid of.

In trying to understand how to organize efficiently (not the problem) and stick with it (the problem), I’ve read blogs and articles about the subject to no avail. So many things talk about all the cute boxes and containers you can buy to organize your things. Label them! Put them on shelves! Buy this weird piece of crap you don’t really need to help keep all your stuff in one place and easy to find. Call me crazy, but I don’t think I need more things to keep my things organized during my downsizing process. I don’t want to go to The Container Store and buy a lot of plastic organizers to put stuff in and place on shelves. That’s how I sort of got into this overwhelmingness of things to begin with. It’s easy to acquire more unnecessary items when they are all stacked on shelves in pretty boxes. I don’t want the pretty boxes. I don’t want the stacks of stuff. I want a system for my current belongings on the shelves and bookcases I have that I can stick with. I’m fine with organizing my stuff…it’s the keeping things organized that’s the real problem. It’s the putting things back that I don’t do very quickly. It’s the keeping the shelf of organized things tidy that I have problems with. Sometimes I feel like I’m a bit of a hurricane, over a long period of time. I don’t see things slowly become untidy and disorganized but then all of a sudden my office is chaotic and I need to spend significant time putting everything back to where it belongs. Let’s just say that my brief research in the area of “personal organizing” was uninspiring.

Friday afternoon

As Kasy and I continue in renovating our home, we are talking about how to organize, what to build to help keep up organized, etc. We’ve built a broom closet and built in bookcase on the first floor and a second closet for the bedroom. Once the second closet was built, now allowing both of us to have our own closets, we decided to rid ourselves of our dressers. I don’t know about you, but horizontal flat surfaces become magnets for stuff for us. Getting rid of our dressers was a great move. My closet is fantastic. Still not as organized as I like, but it’s getting there. I find it’s easier to keep it tidier since all of my clothes are in it and when it becomes unruly I need to address it fairly quick otherwise the door won’t close or I can’t find anything I want to wear. Kasy always talks about how it’s easier to stay organized when you have less stuff and I’m really starting to see that truth.

How do you keep yourself organized?

Kasy is very minimalist. This is something I’ve wanted to be for most of my life, but have always had a hard time getting started on reducing my possessions or getting over guilt for donating things that are perfectly useful even if I have never used it. I’ve trolled the internet for blogs on minimalism and simplifying one’s life. Kasy and I have had many conversations on the topic. I’ve destashed, I’ve decluttered, I’ve donated pounds and pounds of things to local thrift stores. I have far less material items than so many people I know. I have far less than average Americans.

Yet, my level of possessions still plagues me.

Kasy suggested I write about it on the blog, in case others are finding themselves in the same place.

How do you continue to further simplify an already simple life? How do you continue to reduce possessions, after you have cut out majority of the unnecessary? How do you keep focused on the minimalist goal once you reach this plateau, knowing you still have more work to do?

Here enters a new semi-regular segment to the blog:
Simplifying My Simple Life

I’d like for this to have some dialogue included so let me know if you have areas of life that you’re trying to simplify but have become stumped. Do you have any tricks that you’ve used when purging a room of the unnecessary, after you’ve purged it numerous times already? How do you continue to look at your possessions with new eyes so you can still rid yourself of more unnecessary clutter?