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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Curation Consternation"

So, I've been thinking a lot about the blog content that I want to create for the upcoming months and for 2017.  I've been putting together individual posts for the general post that I did for the 5 Must-Have Crochet or Knit Baby Shower Gifts.   And I was thinking about my tagline "be thoughtful" and how it is intended to evoke in the gift giver thoughtfulness towards the gift recipient but also thoughtfulness towards oneself because, as we all have experienced, you often have as much pleasure in giving as you do in receiving.  But, as I move towards putting together collections of crocheted and knit items to make, I was thinking about another tagline to sum up why it's different and unique.  One of the new taglines I was thinking about was "Curation + Convenience" or "Convenient + Curated".

But, this morning while watching CBS Sunday Morning, Faith Salie had a whole segment on curation and her irritation with the word!!  She thoroughly explains the origins of the word and how it's evolved as well as why she believes it's become overused and meaningless. 

Suffice to say, the segment has given me pause about whether I want to use that word to describe what it is I'm trying to do.  I'm in search of a new, descriptive, catchy way to encompass my desire to inform you about, in my opinion, the best choices and resources that you have available when planning and creating your crochet and knit baby gift giving!  Back to the drawing board...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

TGI 2017!

I am really glad that 2016 is over.  Although good things happened, too many unsettling things happened as well.  It's time to start fresh, and January is the best time to do that.

I don't like referring to a list of "resolutions" because I feel like it then becomes doomed to fail.  So, based on my guiding principal of simplicity, here are my goals and aspirations for the new year:

1)  Simplify Yet Bolster My Social Media Presence

Many Creative Gifts has a Face Book page (please come "like" the page ;-), a Twitter feed (of course come follow us too!), Instagram photos, etc., etc., but I post and tweet and whatever quite randomly.  This year, I'm going to methodically spruce up my page on each media platform and then try to utilize it effectively.  I've come across some great checklists and tips on Pinterest (oh, we are there as well) and posted them to my "Small Business Tips" board.  Well it's time to go old school, print some of those babies out, and get cracking!

2)  Simplify Yet Enhance My Product Offerings

I've always just created what I've felt like making, then posted the pattern on Ravelry and sometimes the actual sample on Etsy.  But I haven't paid attention to sales analytics, etc., like I really should.  I want to offer items that people want to buy or make themselves!  I still think it's a good idea for me to concentrate right now on crocheted and knitted baby wear and build out my Classic and Colorful Collections (but I'm sure I'll get distracted by other projects as well); I just need to be sure I'm offering what buyers are wanting.  That's why I participated in two holiday bazaars this year, so that I could do some market research.  Unfortunately, the turnout was very low at both due to very rainy and icy weather both days, so I'm not sure I really took away much insight from the experiences (except how to set up and break down a display table efficiently, which is a good lesson to have come away with).  I think I'll have another chance in February for a special Valentine's pop-up shop.  I anticipate that online sales will continue to be my focus and hopefully concentrating on #1 above will help as well.

3)  Simplify Yet Enrich Each Day

It's amazing how easy it is to fritter away time in unproductive and ultimately unsatisfying ways!  There's plenty of time in a day to do the things that you want to do IF you are willing to give up the game apps, email scrolling, and all the other time-sucking activities that we all do.  Now, I'm a firm believer in mindless activities, we all need to take some down time, but it all needs to be managed.  And, I know what you're thinking: "But it's just 5 or 10 minutes, what else could I do with that time?" The answer is plenty.  Ten minutes of exercising your abs is better than 10 minutes of exercising your finger!  Or, more importantly for me, 10 minutes of activities that help me achieve #1 and #2 above is what I need to be doing.  As painful as it is, I think the only way I'm going to be able to direct my attention to worthwhile apps (like a book app or an educational coding one) is to delete the others (taking comfort in knowing that they remain in the App Store for future downloading again if I get desperate).  But unplugging might be the best way to simplify:  truly making use of the "power of an hour" concept by exercising for 20 minutes, meditating for 20 minutes, and learning for 20 minutes.  Back to basics!

I hope my yearly process of closing out one year and getting ready for the next has been helpful to you as well in contemplating your courses of action.  There's no right or wrong way to do any of this, just be sure you're making conscious decisions, not passively following habits you no longer need or want :-)  Here's to an amazing 2017!




Friday, December 30, 2016

3 Simple Steps to the Best Banana Bread Ever!

I love banana bread -- it's filling, relatively healthy, and not so hard to make if you follow these simple tips and steps:

1)  Be willing to substitute and experiment!

One Sunday morning, desperate for homemade baked goods, I found this basic banana bread recipe through a Google search but discovered I didn't have all of the ingredients.  Not to be denied, I started experimenting and substituting and came up with my own recipe (and, don't tell everybody because they will NOT know, it's gluten free!!):

1 1/2 c. Gluten Free Mama's Almond Flour (www.glutenfreemama.com)**
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3-4 bananas (or 3 bananas and half an apple)
2 eggs
1/4 c. sesame oil
scant 2/3 c. sugar (I use the minimally processed turbinado sugar)
1/2 to 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract

** I have no affiliation with Gluten Free Mama, I just think they have excellent flours.

You can also add a handful of chopped walnuts and/or chocolate chips.  I find most regular recipes for baked items have too much sugar in them for my taste, so I always cut back (plus, in this recipe, the bananas and almond flour add enough of their own sweetness).

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ones in another bowl; add one bowl to the other (I've found it doesn't matter in which direction you go) and mix well; add walnuts and/or chocolate chips; pour into bread pan or muffin tin; bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour for bread, 35 minutes for muffins (cooking time will depend on your oven; I'd test with a toothpick after 45 minutes or 30 minutes, respectively; after one or two batches, you'll have an idea of timing).

2)  Have your tools set aside together to cut down on prep time

I have two bowls, a spatula, measuring cups and spoons set aside all together so that, when I want to make a batch, I'm ready to go.  I keep the flour in the freezer but the other dry items pretty close together in the pantry and wet ones in the frig, so it's easy to tell if anything is getting low and easy to grab when I'm ready to bake.  As I use each tool, I immediately dunk it into soapy water in a dishpan to soak; it makes clean up so easy.

3)  Make use of your mini-blender or mixer

I like some chunks of fruit in my muffins or bread, but if you don't want it too chunky or with a smoother consistency, blend some of the fruit in a smoothie maker.  For example, I put half an apple chopped up, one of the bananas sliced up, and one of the eggs in my blender for maybe 10-15 seconds, then poured the mixture into the bowl with the rest of the wet ingredients. Then, it's much easier to stir and blend the ingredients together by hand.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do, and I'd love to hear what fruit/nut/other ingredient combinations you choose!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Simplicity

Ah, the holiday season is upon us again.  Hard to believe 2016 is almost over and a new year is about to begin.  I always try to have a post at the end of the year reviewing how things went and a post at the beginning of the new year setting goals and aspirations.

This year posed many challenges again, but as I look back at the first post of the year, I feel like I might have done better than I thought...  Although my first goal, a realistic and meaningful blog post schedule, wasn't fully accomplished with respect to consistency, I hope it was successful in providing helpful and interesting information.  And I sure had fun trying some new techniques, like short row heels on socks.  Most of all, though, I do think that the crochet (and knitting) lifestyle is worth exploring.  I made a point of doing a little stitching each day (or some creative endeavor), and I hope to continue to incorporate the concept of "the power of an hour" into my day (more on that to come!).

What possibilities might 2017 hold for me?  Well, please return in January to find out, but I'll leave you with one thought that has been going through my mind a lot lately:  simplicity.  We live in a very complicated world, and the information overload can be overwhelming.  As the commercialization of Christmas is evident once again, I keep coming back to "simplicity" as a guiding principle in gift giving, some early spring cleaning I've been trying to do, and how I've been choosing to spend my time.  I think it might end up being just the right theme for me in crochet design as well.

So, as 2016 draws to a close, please accept my happiest wishes to you for a Merry Christmas, a Happy Holiday Season, and a New Year filled with new possibilities and adventures.  And meet back here in 2017!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Stitch House Dorchester

I'm so lucky to have gotten a chance to do a little traveling this year, and I'm just back from my first trip to Boston!  While there, I got the chance to visit the most awesome yarn store called Stitch House Dorchester



What a wonderful selection of yarns, and, in my efforts to design more baby items, I picked up a kit of local, Wonderland hand dyed yarns by Frabjous Fibers.


I also am excited about trying the Dreambaby DK by Plymouth Yarn (I'll be posting separately about some ideas I have for that luscious yarn!)

But the best part of the visit was getting to talk with the lovely Carrie ("just like in the Stephen King novel!" she says ;-).  Turns out she's very familiar with the DC area, so it was fun talking about LYSs and the fiber arts in general.



The shop really is a must-visit if you're in the Boston area.  Be prepared to do some serious shopping (no sales tax on yarn in Mass.!) and hanging out in the shop, you'll be glad you did.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

O Canada!

We just got back from a trip to Montreal and Quebec City.

It was just so wonderful. The people could not be nicer, the streets were so clean and safe-feeling, and the scenery was amazing. Though, the highway drive between the two cities seemed like "bizarro America" because it was just like driving through Maryland or Pennsylvania but with French signage!  I wonder if I could live with 8 feet of snow a year...

And, thanks to a wonderful and indulgent hubby, I was able to stop by a yarn store in each city.  The concierge at the Intercontinental Hotel in Montreal obviously was not a crocheter or knitter because she just pulled up a random shop that didn't quite sound right; thankfully I got my internet working and was able to do a little searching of my own (tried to do research before leaving home, but couldn't figure out on the map how close/far things were).  Hence, right before heading out of town, we stopped at La Maison Tricotee (The Knitting House).  Everyone there was so friendly and tolerant of my attempts at French (though French is definitely the first language, everyone switches to English as soon as they see a blank stare in response to whatever they've just ), and they pointed out a lovely locally-dyed yarn that I grabbed up (and it was very reasonable in Canadian dollars, and, with the exchange rate, was even better in US dollars!).  It's definitely a modern, hip yarn store, with a comfortable seating area, a cafe, and all the bells and whistles you'd want in an LYS.  The neighborhood in which it's located sure seemed like a nice place to live as well.




Then off to Quebec City!  We stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Le Frontenac; it was like a fairy tale castle!  



We wore ourselves out running around the hotel hallways to the indoor pool and spa and then through the quaint alleyways full of shops and restaurants.  In the afternoon, we went driving in search of a yarn shop.  The first one I pulled up in my search, Softi, now is a beautiful art gallery but not what we were looking for.  So, off to La Dauphine we went (and thankfully there was an organic boulangerie next door for the husband :-).  



Although when you first enter, it appears a bit unorganized with no sitting area, you soon discover the amazing selection of yarns they have, really good quality, reasonably priced beauties.  Again the ladies there could not have been nicer or more helpful to me as I stumbled around trying to decide what to buy.  As soon as I actually unpack (got back late Sunday night and had to go to work on Monday :-(, I'll be posting pix of my finds and my plans of what to do with them! 

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Trip to Knitlandia

As I'm working on a post about baby blankets and trying to figure out some technical issues about how to make a fabulous chart of measurements available to you all, I decided to take a little "trip."  I've been meaning to get Knitlandia by Clara Parkes (note: affiliate link to book on Amazon provided below) and had a digital credit on Amazon, so I got the Kindle version, though I'm tempted to get the hardback, actual book as well because, while reading her stories, it just feels like you should have a real book in your hands!  I've really only just started the book but felt the need to recommend it to anyone looking for an escapist read.  I'm in the portion where she's telling about her trip to Iceland.  I've always wanted to go to Iceland, and, after starting this section of the book, I want to go all the more.  Ms. Parkes' writing style is easy to read and very descriptive, so you really feel like you're there with her as events unfold.  But, in a way, her storytelling is deceptive:  she's sharing an incredible amount of technical information about yarn production from sheep to mill to store.  I'm finding myself wanting to read this book rather than crochet or knit myself, play games on my iPhone, or do a bunch of other things, and, these days, that sounds like pretty high praise for a book!