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Archive for March, 2013

Egg Artist

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

The young artist of today need no longer say “I am a painter,” or “a poet,” or “a dancer.” He is simply an “artist.” All of life will be open to him.
Allan Kaprow

This was great fun. I have some new artist markers (they even can be refilled) and I sort of doodled on the hard boiled egg.

Drawing is stressful for me, but when I get away from a flat piece of paper I feel more free. I also like the feel of these brush-tipped markers rather than a pencil or pen. Since I do a bit of decorative painting, this felt comfortable.

I often am afraid to continue with a project in fear of ruining it. It’s hard to remember that stopping too soon is a different type of “ruining” the work.

This one I kept going until I truly liked it. The magic moment was when I drew the purple diamond close to center here. Until then it didn’t look complete.

For the record, the pink marker bled all the way through the shell and membrane, onto the egg contents. This was a great art project but apparently not so good for food integrity. I’m already thinking about possible fabric paint possibilities for next year.

Adios to Being Perfect

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Imperfection can be outright beautiful. I didn’t know this for most of my life.

I still struggle. Part of me is a kind of imperfect I am not proud of. Part of me is very good but I always wish those strengths were stronger yet. There is no way to make that work. The only way to make peace is to let go, not to attain that perfection only seen in my own head.

There is No Perfect

I have a saying these days: “There is no perfect” (…except perhaps in tiny emotional moments.) The concept of perfection is not useful in living life. Discovering this was profound for me.

No person, place or thing can ever be perfect. Never. And really, isn’t perfection what manufactured items strive for? I’m no longer interested. I want to be handcrafted, not machined. As Joni Mitchell said in Big Yellow Taxi, “give me spots on my apples, but give me the birds and the bees.”

Striving to Avoid Criticism

That said, letting go of the possibility I can be perfect enough to never be criticized? It’s very hard. I work with kids and they seem to get grumpy and fragile about 6th grade. They try to blend in or at least look like the others, or the cool others (whatever seems cool at the time). It’s no wonder this is a time when they start making social judgements about what is good and what is undesirable.

I have a good handful of Godchildren. I’m not a traditional Godmother but we chat about standing tall. We discuss figuring out who we are and what we believe, then staying strong with those beliefs when others poke and prod and tease.

At least one kid came back to me with an example of how she took that lesson into her life and felt stronger because of it. I was delighted. One life a little more centered (especially in middle school) is a gift to not just that person but those around her. The child is now in her mid-20’s and still doing a great job of being her true self. (Photo of me with her at age 15, together in Montreal.)

‘Fessing Up: the Theory

I think opening up to our imperfections and mistakes is really hard. Starting in Middle School, it seems that we become so insecure of ourselves that we don’t want to have weak spots in our armor. Actually speaking out loud about those weak spots is scary!

Yet, look at the yarn bombed trees here. The pieces we had to cover the tree base below were imperfect at best. They were the right color but did not “match” in size or type. The shapes were odd. This photo was taken a few months after the initial installation, and the pennants at the base of the tree clearly were blown by some stiff winds. Yet, the tree still has its decorative sweater. It still is a sunny counterpoint to the monochrome winter colors around it.

I might even argue that its imperfection gives it more interest, more value. If it were “perfect,” it would not catch our eye. It would not look handcrafted. It would not have the desired energy.

‘Fessing Up: A Personal Story

I’m starting to believe that my becoming a true adult was when I learned to admit my mistakes. When I’d say “Wow, I wish I’d done a better job of this but I messed up. What can I do to help the situation as it stands now?” It never stops feeling fragile and scary to speak my imperfections out loud. However, when I do, at the end of the day I have no secrets and feel good about my integrity.

Once I made a very big mistake at work, one which required phone calls and paperwork to correct. A task I needed to do was so confusing I put off doing it past a deadline. I tried to hide it from myself and others, but of course the missed deadline was discovered in spite of me.

Wholehearted Living

I’ve been reading Brené Brown, a woman who researches shame and wholeheartedness. Oprah asked her the difference between embarrassment and shame.

Dr. Brown says that embarrassment or humiliation might be saying and acknowledging “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, manifests as the belief “I *AM* a mistake.” Wow. I clearly was confused on that count at that job, when I didn’t know how to do this task. I felt ashamed to ask for help.

In that situation, I was gifted with the right boss. He knew I was not the mistake and treated me respectfully. He had me sit in his office while he made all of the phone calls to make it right.

I got to see what a person who wasn’t afraid of imperfection would do. I watched a grounded, fully-adult person ‘fess up to making a mistake and ask how to make it right. It was a powerful lesson.

Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.
— Brené Brown

Saying it Out Loud

I now admit my weaknesses to the room, though sometimes I wish deeply that I didn’t have them. I admit I can get loud (a good feature for a singer/teacher but not so good in offices or some mellower public spaces).

I admit I can be distractable. I tell classes that I can get so into teaching the material that I can forget to give them a break until late in the class. I let them know that they can ask for a break if they need one.

I admit that being on time can be very challenging for me (this is related to being distractable). These days I use my iPod to set off a series of alarms for me all day long, to make sure I change gears when necessary. Admitting this coping system might just help others who fight the same tendency.

Our Strengths are also Our Weaknesses

All of these weaknesses no longer define me. All of them are less of a challenge now that I speak them out loud. They are part of the package. Part of why I’m distractable is because I am passionate and creative. I see things everywhere that inspire and interest me. I also can get into a flow with a task so that I don’t think of the time.

Our best features are also our worst. Being bold can be perfect at a networking event, and a challenge at a funeral. Being focused on relationship is great for teachers and restauranteurs but a challenge for jobs where one works alone or has a constant stream of people coming through that they will never see again.

The hardest part still, is when I mess up things that impact my beloved Brian. Telling him that I messed up is still horrible. However, I’m glad our relationship is so precious to me that I am not willing to have any shame secrets in it. I may put off the telling for a little while, but I choose to let him know. I regard not telling as a “lie of omission.” I value our relationship too much to keep secrets. He needs the whole me.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.–Anna Quindlen

Except, ironically… you are perfect just the way you are. Stand tall, my friend, and go forth with truth and courage!


If you want more on Brene’ Brown, Oprah interviewed her two weeks in a row for Super Soul Sunday. I had trouble streaming the video after the fact, but it is worth the hiccups to listen. Highly recommended.

You have No Competition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

If you’re able to be yourself, then you have no competition. All you have to do is get closer and closer to that essence.–Barbara Cook

If You Can’t Put a Smile on Your Face…

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

…put one on your pancakes.

Maybe you can see behind my pancakes, a green towel with a bunch of random electronic parts on it… and some screwdrivers? That’s my beloved (Ms.) Piggy, my iPod Touch, which is now 4.5 years old (3rd Gen).

She’s been dropped a few dozen times. She’s been in a sturdy, bounce-able thick silicone case and has bounced and bounced and bounced. Her glass is still intact (it’s easy to break the glass without a rubbery case).

But last Wednesday I dropped her, hard, down a stairwell. She landed just right and made a hard clunk. Then she forgot she had a battery.

She works fine plugged in, but I use her as a calendar. This doesn’t really work at the doctor’s office or the yarn shop where they want to schedule me.

I’ve got lots of screwdrivers from the many times I’ve fixed computers. I fixed desktops professionally back in Y2K days, when there were few laptops. I have fixed a few notebooks of my own, though they are a bit more finicky.

A few days ago I got out my screwdrivers and found some videos on YouTube showing me how to take apart this version of iTouch. I took her apart until I got to the “tiny phillips screwdriver” part. None of my drivers were small enough and phillips.

Teamwork and Community
Fortunately a FaceBook Friend/Knitting buddy (Elizabeth) had a driver I could borrow. Unfortunately, once I got in there it was clear that a connection I can’t fix was definitely broken (on the cable between the “motherboard” and the battery).

There was a tiny part with tiny little “fingers” on it which is supposed to click into another part like a lego… except the fingers were broken off. There’s no way to fix that. Tiny means smaller than the top of a pencil eraser. I needed magnifying eyeglasses to even see it properly.

The Verdict
Looks like I’ll see if getting a local fix it person will be affordable enough to put money into an older gizmo. I’d just as soon put off a larger purchase.  I’m not a happy consumer, comparison shopping for electronics is not entertaining.

But hey! I learned something. After I watched the YouTube videos I thought “this is something like things I’ve done before, I can try this.”

The hardest part was getting the glass front off, and I did it imperfectly. I didn’t break the glass but I did some minor damage to the rubber between it and the case.

Fear and Trying
Elizabeth said “Hey, you’re not afraid to try.” With due respect, I may LOOK unafraid but it’s more like proceeding in spite of the minor fear. I was trying something reasonable given my history.

Thank goodness another knitting friend steered me toward a local repair person. My Piggy-pod is far out of warranty and too old for Apple professionals to touch it (even if I had left it whole). We’ll see what he says, probably tomorrow.

The Magic of a Smile
Meanwhile, a smile of any sort has been proven to improve a person’s mood. If you want a lighthearted but earnest video explaining the smile effect, watch Kyeli here.

Words are Inadequate

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

My friends are losing loved ones and relationships all around me. I feel so inadequate to respond. I’ve lost too many myself and every story hits my gut deeply.

I know how the ground falls away from your feet and life floats for far too long. I know how sleep refuses to take away the pain for more than a few minutes at a time. I know that even driving a familiar path can become confused. When I went through my divorce, I remember turning the wrong way down a one-way street on the way home from work, the same way home I took for years.

I know that feelings come and go like waves… for years and years, despite what society says. I know that someone will try to help by saying “get over it” or “it’s been long enough, make a new life now” when that is just not reality for the mourner.

I know that losing a pet or becoming divorced are society-silenced losses which can hit us as deeply as those which require memorial services. Painfully, in those cases there is no public way to share the deep loss.

And when it’s time to call or write, to say I understand… well, all the words leave me. There is no good way to comfort the inconsolable.

I wrote a poem/letter to my father on the 23rd anniversary of his death. Society thought I should be done with that loss long before. I still have waves of feeling when I hear a particular song on the radio, the one which I sung for my brother’s first wedding to his now deceased first wife, Kelly.

If you need someone to understand, rest assured. At least I do.

Images: My dad in high school, me in 4th grade. Same eyes and ears. (He died when I was 14.) Brian’s dear friend who played banjo until he was 99, his last year with us. My cat, Muffett… the only pet I’ve ever had. I had him 17 years and even my friends cried when he died.

Let Us Eat Cake! (Gluten-Free/ Allergy Friendly)

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Last week, our Thursday night knit group had two members with a birthday. I figure if I don’t make the cake, I can’t eat it because of all my allergies/ sensitivities. Naturally, I volunteered.

In addition, one of the birthday girls is celiac, which means she can’t have even a speck of gluten. I can’t have xanthan gum (often made from fermented corn, which I can’t have on two counts). Most commercial gluten free baking mixes contain it.

In order to get a tasty cake which was not too fragile, I’ve had to tweak and experiment with flours and binding agents. This recipe has flaxseed meal, sweet white rice flour and oil to do the job.

This is my current rendition of chocolate cake for those with food restrictions. It has a lot of  ingredients in it, and most kitchens won’t have these flours in house (I use them often). This is the first cake I’ve made that was sturdy enough to stand up to having frosting spread upon it, and it is tasty as well. Yeah!

I put a standard old-fashioned buttercream frosting on this cake, reduced to about 1/4 of a standard frosting batch since I only needed to frost the top of one layer. The end result? This cake was fully devoured by the end of the night.

If you do want buttercream frosting, make sure to plan ahead and pull that butter out of the refrigerator so it can soften naturally to room temperature. The microwave will ruin the butter for this purpose.

Tough but Luscious Chocolate Cake for Everyone

(Make sure all flours say certified gluten free on bag, if for a Celiac person.)
Makes one 9″ layer, to be served in its baking pan.

Dry Ingredients:
1/4 c Sorghum Flour
1/4 c Baking Cocoa Powder
2 Tbsp Flaxseed Meal
3/4 c Buckwheat flour (only Arrowhead Mills is certified Gluten Free)
1/4 c Brown Rice Flour (Used Bob’s Red Mill)
1/4 c SWEET White Rice Flour (must say sweet or sticky)
3/4 c White Sugar
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Cream of Tartar
(can replace Soda+Tartar with 3/4 tsp of Baking Powder)
2-4 Shakes Salt

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbsp Oil (I used Olive, you can’t taste it with the cocoa powder)
1 c Water

Preheat oven to 350F. If you will be making buttercream frosting, take butter out of refrigerator now.

Oil pan: I use a 9″ glass pie plate, or use a 9″ cake pan (if not glass it will have a different baking time).

Sift lumpy flours into baking pan: I put the sorghum, cocoa and flaxseed meal in a screen-type strainer and pressed them through with the back of a large spoon, to remove large bits & lumps (toss whole flax that won’t pass through the screen). This makes it mix more completely and eliminates dry-flour bubbles.

Add other dry ingredients to baking pan. Mix thoroughly with small wire whisk or fork.

Add wet ingredients and mix with fork in pan, checking corners for dry spots.

Shake pan *for a few seconds only* to bring larger bubbles to the top of the batter. Use dry fork tine or toothpick to break the bubbles. If you don’t do this, it will be fragile to frost.

Use paper towel to wipe up uneven splashes of batter on the edges of the pan. I just hold my right hand with the towel still, and spin the pan around with my left hand.

Bake for about 30 minutes. It is done when a toothpick at center pulls out clean. You can often smell the “toasty” baking smell when it’s done, usually just before the timer goes off.

Cool thoroughly. If it’s not room temperature when you go to frost it, you’ll have a fragile mess with crumbs in the frosting.

Serve without frosting if you wish, or add homemade buttercream frosting (not vegan because of the dairy products, but there is nothing more delicious).

Top-One-Layer Buttercream Frosting (for the corn-allergic & celiacs)

1/2 stick (1/4 c) Lightly Salted Butter, softened at room temperature – do not melt!
1 cup Corn-Free Confectioners/Powdered Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract (gluten free)
appx. 1 Tbsp. Milk

Place butter in mixing bowl. Use back of large spoon to stir butter until it softens up and is more creamy than resistant. Add sugar in several small batches, mixing until smooth by pressing and smoothing with the back of the spoon. It will feel at first as though there is far too much sugar for the butter, but slowly it will incorporate if you stay with it.

Add vanilla and a teaspoon or so of milk, and mix again until smooth. At this point, determine if the frosting needs more milk to be soft enough to spread without breaking apart the top of your cake layer. Keep adding milk a small bit at a time and mixing until the frosting looks not quite wet and seems spreadable. If necessary, you can add a little more sugar to bring it back to a proper texture.

Let the frosting sit for a few minutes to let the sugar melt and mellow with the liquid. Make sure your cake is fully cooled.

Use a soft rubber spatula and a very light hand to spread the frosting on your cake. Longer strokes often are more gentle to the top of the cake (which is fragile and will want to crumble and mix into your frosting). Worst case, let the crumbs just be there and consider adding mini-chocolate chips on the top as decoration. Make sure the chips are certified gluten free and don’t have corn syrup in them, if you go that route.


If you are new to this sort of baking, many healthy-food groceries will carry all of these ingredients for you. If you have nothing like that near you, try Bob’s Red Mill online. It’s an employee-owned company with great customer service and fine quality.

Enjoy your cake! I’m sure you will.

Knitty! My Sunberry Socklets Published Today.

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Knitting news: I have a new design published in the world-class online magazine, Knitty. Today the site went up at noon, and it has been fun to see the internet light up with enthusiasm.

Believe it or not, this is the Spring issue. I designed socklets in Yarn Hollow yarn (dyed by my dear friend Rita Petteys in the Grand Rapids area). The design is called Sunberry.

These include an afterthought heel (knit the sock, then go back and insert the heel). The heel is an adaptation of my Crystal Heel (featured in Knitty last March), with stranded knitting. This two-color technique gives extra reinforcement to the parts of a sock most likely to wear out!

What’s new about these, though, is that they are knit top down. Much of my sock-designing inspiration comes from Turkish sock traditions, where they knit the toe first.

I often explain that an afterthought heel can be added to either a top down or a toe up structure. However, until now I have never designed a top down sock with this heel.

These are a quick knit as socks go. Even though the colors give the design a  jazzy look, most of the knitting is just one color. Add in the short leg, and you’ll be ready for warm weather in no time!

Click Here to reach the Knitty page for the Sunberry pattern.
Please note that you need to print out both the text and the color charts in order to knit these without being online. I’d hate to see you on a weekend away thinking you had everything you needed, and find yourself short some charts.

For those interested, Rita from Yarn Hollow is offering special kits of yarn for this design. You can make two socks which look like the lower one in the photo above (mostly “Stormy Fuschia”), in any size, for only $17 plus shipping.

Click here to reach the Yarn Hollow Etsy Store for the kit.

All photos taken by Rachel Meyers. Photos above taken at Elderly Instruments, Old Town Lansing, Michigan . Below photo taken at Zingerman’s Deli, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Thanks to both locations for being accommodating and fun.