Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Flu...

Well, it's here. My once-every-winter, two-days-in-bed flu.

It's just very inconvenient timing. I'm supposed to be finishing the white cloth design, removing that beam from the loom and moving the entire studio to Wolf Creek. Instead, I'm sipping tea while sleeping in a 20 degree sleeping bag all day long.

Today I woke up just long enough to submit three show applications and pay my Washington State sales tax bill. Yes, it's late and yes, I have to pay a 5% penalty. I just didn't have the cash to pay it on time. Next year, for sure.

One of my roommates made a Greek salad and lemon-chicken soup for tonight's dinner. Thanks, Tien, for the lemons. Thanks, Harlan, for the salad and soup. I'm feeling better already.

Sleepy time tea with half n half. Extra calories, extra fluids, and a nice relaxing feeling.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Last Temporary Studio

The process of moving to the new temporary studio has begun! I signed the lease yesterday, got the keys and unpacked the loaded van that I brought with me.

I had a nifty realization as I started to think about the space. I travel with my own walls now. In order to set up a quick and dirty retail space with an "open studio" and storage in the back, I need to divide it up and make sure that customer-facing areas look nice. Well, that giant flexible baby gate will be beautiful if I stretch it out and hang canvas on the back side.

For now, it's just isolating the yurt parts into their own corner.

I don't know if I've really kept y'all up to date on what's happening... I'm renting the studio space in Wolf Creek while I finalize the details of getting a chunk of land and building a portable off-grid homestead. I've got one gorgeous sixteen-foot yurt. There is a second one, twenty feet wide, under construction by a semi-local yurt builder. I'm currently finalizing the platform plans and preparing to schedule with the builder to get it built. The target move-in date is June 1st. That leaves me three months to get the other little details like power and water nailed down.

Especially once the construction begins, it will be much easier to manage all of this if I'm in the town where the land is. Besides, there are tourists in this town who might stumble into my pop-up shop and pay my rent for me. It doesn't take much income to make a rural space pay for itself.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

California Bounty

I'm sure y'all are noticing a theme in these last couple of posts. I love citrus, the more perfumy the better.

When I met up with Tien for dinner, she got out the ladder and harvested a box of meyer lemons for me to take home. Since I'm not eating sugar, I decided not to make marmalade like I did last year with another meyer lemon gift. Instead, I am making moroccan preserved lemons. They are brined like sauerkraut and will keep for months this way.

You just slice them into quarters or eighths, leaving one end attached, and pour a little salt inside the sliced lemons. Mash them in a jar and the brine levels will rise all on their own. In a few weeks they'll be mushy and fermented, ready to use.

Years ago a friend told me about this technique and served me a dish called Moroccan Lemon Chicken. It involved olives and spices to make a creamy, extremely lemony chicken dish. I can't wait to try it!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Back from the Bay

I'm back from my trip to the Bay Area. It went very well, partly thanks to a shift in my focus. Instead of trying to find the places where great hordes of my friends would be congregating, I contacted a few friends and spent quality time with them.

My friend, Carrie, and I went to the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. It was amazing as always except for a strange display of Gold Rush memorabilia in the temporary exhibit room. So amazing, in fact, that I almost completely forgot to take photos.

This trip finally saw the return of my kefir lime tree to my own life. My friend, Tien had taken care of it for a couple of years before it went to live with another friend, Celena. Well, she's moving to Portland this year so I decided to bring the tree home with me.

Here are two shots of the tree wedged into the van. Poor thing!

And here it is in our living room, from which it will move in a week.

I don't know if people are familiar with this tree and why I would go to so much trouble for one. It's the fragrance. For people who are familiar with Thai food, it's the perfumy lemon scent that defines Thom Kha, the spicy coconut soup that starts many Thai meals. It's also a contributing factor in many, many other dishes.

I got this tree when it was about 10" high with only 13 leaves. Bringing a tropical tree to Oregon means that I will need to modify one of the yurts to add a sunny greenhouse annex that shares warm air with the main space. And it will share its fragrance with the house. Yes! I have a feeling Thom Kha will become my standard "welcome" dish for visitors. It's quick and easy if you happen to have one of these trees on hand.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Day Off, Mostly

I spent the last day before the big show hanging out with my best friend up on the mountain where he lives, near Santa Cruz. We laid around, ate barbecue and chatted all day long. Oh, yeah, and I cut the very last of the garments in the beautiful sunshine.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's Showtime!

[Makeshift Cutting Table]

And, as usual, I'm squeezing out the last few pieces in the hour before I drive away.

Can't sell it if I don't have it!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Primal Lifestyle

Last fall I started a journey that has changed my life. I decided to lose a bunch of extra weight and get into shape. And I did it. 35 pounds in 4 months with about 6.5" off my waist.

I wrote a bit about it as it was going on, but never really described the lifestyle changes upon which those results were based. I use the word Lifestyle instead of Diet, because that's what it is. Yes, there are changes in eating habits, but they go hand-in-hand with healthier choices in the rest of my life, too.

I haven't written about it because I am keenly aware of cult dynamics and fad diets. And, try as I may, I can be swayed by them as much as anyone. I wanted to be sure that the incredible claims stood up to the test of "real life" before I touted their effectiveness. My new lifestyle got me through the coldest, darkest winter that I've endured since childhood with fewer depression symptoms that I've experienced in recent years, so now I'm ready to recommend this lifestyle to others. I even survived the onslaught of the holiday season and its many special meals. And, in the ultimate test, I even survived over two months with no tracking of weight, calories, or exercise schedule without gaining any of the weight back. I just live my new life and my body seems to take care of itself.

And of course, just because this worked for me doesn't mean that it will work for you. Only you and your doctor know how you can make big lifestyle shifts safely and effectively. Why do I feel the need to give a medical disclaimer? Well, because we live in strange and litigious times. I feel like I'm legally required to let you know something that used to be common sense: I cannot be held responsible for your choices. Moving on...

The changes that I made were based on two books: The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas. Each of the books has its strengths and its shortcomings, but they give a wealth of information. Mark's book breaks it into simple "laws" that make it easy to follow, but he rarely misses a chance to alert you to his other products. Nora's book has every detail you could ever want, often presented in a shrill, condescending tone, but the information is good. Between the two is a middle ground of solid science and easy-to-understand lifestyle choices.

Here's my own version of the ideas, and what I did to achieve incredible results and feel great in just a few months...

1. The diet. The theory is pretty simple. Humans evolved over many centuries in hunter/gatherer societies. This meant eating lots of meat, nuts, eggs, (insects), seeds, vegetables, and seasonal fruit. When we developed agriculture capable of switching us over to a wheat-based diet, we stopped being nomads and banded together into larger groups, reducing the genetic "selection pressure" that our ancestors had while our species evolved. Darwinian natural selection all but ceased at that point, which means that we haven't really changed genetically since our hunter/gatherer ancestors were alive. Our bodies evolved to eat the way that they did. To emulate this reality, I now eat lots of meat, eggs, nuts, vegetables, a little fruit, and tons of fat. Ohmygosh, the fat. Everything is slathered or drizzled in coconut oil, bacon grease, goose fat, goat tallow, chicken fat, olive oil, sesame oil, and more. Oh, and butter, which isn't strictly primal since dairy animals came later, but it sure is good. Fat is a delicious, slow-burning fuel. When our bodies learn to burn it instead of sugar, weight loss and maintenance becomes simple and the mood swings and sugar crashes cease.

2. Exercise. Our ancient ancestors led unpredictable lives. They didn't follow a rigid plan of exercise. They did get exercise and lots of it. But it was natural, incorporated into life rather than concentrated into one-timeslot-every-day routines. That said, there were also bouts of intense exercise in their lives. Chasing game, running from predators, etc. Short, intense exercise is awesome, and more effective at improving health than drawn-out routines. I walk in the woods every day that it's feasible. Several times a week I run up and down hills.

3. Do real work. By real, I mean work as defined in the physics textbooks: mass x acceleration x distance. Move mass over distance. To do the same amount of work, move more mass a smaller distance or less mass a larger distance. Hunter/gatherer people routinely had to lift things like animal carcasses, children, water and fuel for fires. They also used their strength to lift themselves, like climbing into trees to pick food or escape a predator. And this is when they weren't carrying themselves, their food, and their homes from one place to another. We can emulate this by lifting weights (heavy, short distance), hiking with hand weights (light weight, more distance) or doing bodyweight exercises and yoga. And it doesn't have to be done consistently. It works even better if it's done intermittently. I sometimes do simple, intense weight lifting routines, but more often I carry decent-sized handweights on my forest hikes and wave them around in spontaneously invented ways. Yes, it looks silly, but the squirrels don't seem to mind.

4. Play. This is sort of covered by the previous two, but not exactly. Yes, we need exercise, but it doesn't need to be drudgery. I've got a secret in my exercise arsenal, my friend Sam. He's the wolf dog that "came with the house". His "owner", the landlord, says he's never been indoors, but let me tell you, he LOVES to go running through the woods. It's wild and fun! And research says that nothing is more effective at removing cortisol, "the stress hormone", from the system than light-hearted exercise in a natural setting. Fun, exercise, exposure to outdoors. These are key ingredients in human well-being according to scientists, and MY well-being, according to me.

5. Get enough sunlight. I have to say that I don't understand the research, but I trust the people who do and they tell me that some sun is actually vital to health. I am a lifelong sufferer of SAD, seasonal affective disorder. On the rare occasions that I can see the sun, maybe once every week or two during the winter, I RUN out to the meadow and strip off my clothes. Sun exposure on large skin surfaces is the quickest and most natural way to get vitamin D, which staves off depression and gives me energy. I don't know all the details, but I know that it works.

6. Get enough sleep. This is linked with the others pretty tightly. If I'm getting enough exercise and spending enough time playing in nature, my stress levels are lower and I sleep like a baby. When I find myself waking in the night frequently, I try to get more exercise, more time outside, or to deal with the source of stress. Like taxes, show applications, and business licenses. Better to get them out of the way than to have them keeping me up at night.

And then there are some extras that I incorporate as the moods strike...

- Caffeine Limitation. I stopped with caffeine for months and felt great. It is also related to cortisol, adrenaline, and other stuff. I'm back on it to get through some incredibly intense life changes, but I'll drop it again as soon as things settle down a little. (Sounds like an addict, doesn't it?)

- Natural Footwear. Our ancestors were barefoot for the most part. Our bodies are designed for speed, agility, and safety. Wearing shoes prevents one of the most finely-tuned support systems in our bodies from working the way it was meant to and can lead to all kinds of longterm wear-and-tear on the knees, hips, and up to the back. I've been a barefooter all my life, but not in the rain and certainly not in the snow. Water softens my callouses and leaves me susceptible to skin injury. And I don't fancy losing my toes to self-inflicted frostbite in the snow, either. I finally bit the bullet and got a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes. I HATE the way they look, like some kind of gorilla cyborg. But what they do is every bit as incredible as their advertising says it is. They allow the systems of the feet, ankles, and legs to work in the way they were intended. After an initial period of discomfort as I strengthened those muscles, they feel almost as natural as walking barefoot. And they've corrected subtle knee, hip, and back pain that I've had for years. Oh, yeah, and I now have killer calves from using those muscles to handle the impact of running instead of landing on my heels and letting my knees do it.

- Amber Glasses. I knew this already from taking a class on light and health, but our eyes have special cells designed to detect the sky and reset our internal clocks every day. These cells are sensitive to blue light only. By wearing amber glasses after dark, I can stay up for a few hours after the sun goes down and the light I receive is interpreted as "campfire at night" instead of "sky during the day". It really does make a difference to how fast I can fall asleep and how soundly I sleep when I get there. When I live alone I'll just go to bed with the sun, but until then I'll use the amber glasses.

And that's about it for this topic. I set out to change my body and my relationship to it. I've done it and shared the story of how I did it. From now on it's just a matter of maintaining these good habits. I don't think I have too much more to say on the topic. So, for those of you who follow my blog to read about production weaving as a means of supporting community, it looks like we'll be getting back on topic soon...

Friday, February 8, 2013

My New Yurt

Today's post is a photo essay of the most exciting day in my recent life, although it's hard to decide which aspect of this project is the most exciting. To save myself lots of work, I decided to jump on an opportunity that presented itself. I bought a yurt.

First, let me describe the concessions that are represented by this particular yurt and the mental gymnastics that I went through in order to follow my heart.

No, first let me tell you why I went through the gymnastics, then I'll describe them. Years ago my best friend and I were dreaming about our love of art, craft and design. We each set a flippant goal for ourselves, "Eventually I'd like my home and everything in it to be made by myself or people I know." This seemed like the dreams of starry-eyed kids, and it kind of was. But wouldn't it be beautiful to have such a strong personal connection to the items in your life? I've kind of dedicated my life to creating that experience for others with own art.

So I saw a yurt listing go up on Craigslist in a town only two hours away and followed the link. It was to a fledgling company called Artisan Yurt Project. (You'd better visit it quick and be sure to visit the link to their Facebook page, featuring a photo album of their construction process. I feel like those pages could go away at any time.) The most recent activity on the website was in 2011 when they were building two yurts to bring to market. Well, the end of the story is that it's way more complicated to start a business selling artisan build-it-yourself home kits than it seems at first. Building codes, legality, and other complications kept these guys from being able to really get this thing off the ground.

But, they kept their startup costs way down by using the family's industrial manufacturing plant to build an incredibly high quality yurt. Artisan, indeed, but offered at a bargain price. The definition of "closeout sale".

And here's where the concessions began. This yurt is only 16' (200 sq ft), and not the 24' (450 sq ft) that I want. It's tiny, just large enough to set up one loom and keep weaving. My plan is to squeeze my life into this little yurt and weave for a year. That will give me experience with all four seasons in a yurt before I design and build my larger dream yurt. In order to make this work, I think I'll build a platform that's large enough for the larger yurt and set up 2 or 3 10x10 canopies on it for functions like the kitchen, yarn storage, and booth storage. So, yeah, I'll have to go outdoors to get to these things, but it's just for a year.

Oh, yeah, and after I build the larger yurt, I might just move this one down to a secluded part of the property (whichever property I end up on), furnish it nicely, and make it available for personal retreats.

Enough on why and how! Let me show you what happened today. The order of the day was to evaluate the yurt to be sure I wanted to pony up the money for it and then learn how it all works so I can set it up myself next time.

One of the travails of living up so high and needing to cross the divide to go north. We only got 1-2 inches of snow last night, but it was after warm weather so it melted on the roads and created a 10-mile sheet of ice. I had to use chains and drive about 10 miles an hour.

Meet Sean, one of the two guys who designed and built this work of art.

I missed a shot of everything coming outside on a forklift. Just like a real factory. :)

This is the most important part of the yurt: the crown, the wheel, the eye of heaven, the roof ring. These guys did something that I've never seen, and built LED lighting into it. Those four white rectangles are small lights and the tiny dots that run on the inside of the octagonal hole are a strip of LEDs.

Here's the door frame. One of the tasks on my plate is to hang the gorgeous homemade door in this frame and install the doorknob.

Stretching out the one large lattice wall. Notice that the dark strips make an Argyle X pattern. That's some of the artistry I was talking about.

I did mention that this yurt isn't quite finished, didn't I? It's close, but there are a few little things to do, like cut off the extra ends on the lattice.

Here the walls are curved and pushed into their slots on the door frame. It just stands there, even without the tension band.

And this is the clever pulley/buckle mechanism that they created to let one person tighten the band easily.

Here is one rafter end with a fancy-configured loop to let it act as a hinge when putting up the crown.

And once the crown was up and rafters were going in, it was kind of a whirlwind. 5 minutes later the roof was done. Yeah, the rafter over the door broke while setting it up. It was engineered in a fragile way. They're going to make a new one and give me some spares as well.

And would you believe that I was so focused on learning how all the little mechanisms work that I forgot a shot of it with the walls all the way on. And we didn't put on the roof. It's just too much work and there's not really anything to learn. It's like throwing a table cloth onto a very large table. In slow motion, with several people to help.

This panorama shows the approximate locations of the vent, the wall portion of the ground-to-crown skylight, and the window. This arrangement is mirrored on the other side that's already rolled up. As far as I know the vertical skylight is an invention of these guys, and a pretty cool one.

Here is the crown with just a few poles left before we eased it down again.

And then, just like magic, the two of us packed my new home into my van. (That mess on the right is my dirty tire chains. I'm not packing them away just yet! I still have to get home.)

Overall, I have to say that I was as impressed with this yurt in person as I had been looking at photos. These guys had access to some incredible equipment and spent two years designing every little detail. I'll write more details about the roof and wall later. Instead of being stitched, every seam is welded to be water tight and super strong. And that's just the beginning of the care that went into this art home. I'll keep y'all posted on the beautiful details that I notice as I make this my home.

There is a lot of work left for me to do. There is a "Fan-tastic" vent system that can be installed into(and easily removed from) the ring, but I don't know how fond I'll be of an electrical thing in the place where a shaman's soul leaves to go wandering for the night. I may need to replace it with a small dome that can be lifted for natural convection-based ventilation. It also came with flexible solar panels for the LED system and the fan, but the electrical work isn't done and there is no battery. Before Winter, I'll need to come up with an insulated cover, install a wood stove, and more, but I won't have to take extra time away from weaving to build the yurt itself.

And that's one big blessing that makes the investment worthwhile.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

White Beam Is Coming Together

The upcoming month is going to be an utter whirlwind. It's already starting, really.

Yes, I'm moving the studio again. This time, however, the weaving doesn't have to stop dead while I do it. If I plan right, my apprentice in Portland will be able to do some weaving while I pack up and move.

For that to happen, I need to make sure that there is enough weaving prepared to keep him busy even when my studio is reduced to detritus in boxes. To that end, I'm winding another beam.

The last one was mostly black. This one is mostly white.

Here's the rough color layout: white to brown/grey.

And a closeup of the brown/grey yarn that's hiding in the back corner.

And here is my above-average sized collection of oversized "accent" threads. It's going to be tough to work them into the design, but the resulting cloth should be even more natural and organic than normal.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Momentous Occasion

Yesterday was a HUGE day in the development of my life. The loan paperwork for my new home was finished and approved, and the money is in the bank.

I am reluctant to write about it at all, but I know the kind of stories that have dogged me all my life: I come from money, my parents fund my little projects, etc. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.

Since I'm part of several communities who will try to guess how the next chapter in my life came about, I thought I'd just cut to the quick and tell y'all what happened.

For the first time in my life, someone else *is* funding one of my little projects. He's a friend who wants to invest some of his savings in projects that create deep community. Making ventures like this possible is a great gift, but the money itself is not. It's a loan that needs to repaid on time with the same interest that a bank would charge.

The only real difference between this loan and one that a bank would give is that a bank will not loan money to an independent artist with little credit history and no collateral. I've tried. Undeveloped rural land doesn't count as collateral for most banks and a yurt certainly doesn't count as a dwelling that they can repossess, especially a homemade yurt that can't be proven to conform to the state's building code.

The next steps are kind of tenuous, but the way will become clear as I go. Here are the main threads that will have me living in my new home this year. Obviously, many of these are parallel and many depend on others to be done first. I'm sparing you the details of the tangly logic for now.

  • Rent a studio in Wolf Creek, my chosen town. Done!

  • Design the yurt. Coming along nicely!

  • Look for a used yurt.

  • Design the platform. Also coming along nicely.

  • Look for a used platform.

  • Make the yurt parts. This can be done before the platform is in place.

  • Build the platform.

  • Erect the yurt with a summer-ready roof and stop paying studio rent. This is critical to my financial well-being.

  • Design and make the winter roof.

  • Design and install other systems: solar power, water catchment, heat etc.

  • Find land to buy. It's dirt cheap out here right now, so this is actually possible with my ridiculously constrained budget.

  • Find land to rent. Barring purchase, I could rent land to live on until I find a suitable parcel to buy. This lets me focus on creating the portable home even if land doesn't show up right away.

Oh, yeah, and this is on top of the extremely heavy workload of designing and creating cloth and bringing it out to even more shows than I did last year. Increasing last year's sales will make paying rent and loans much easier. Yes, I could make the same as last year and eat poorly, but I'd rather work harder and have life be a little nicer.

Here's a quick glimpse into the palette for my next beam. More details tomorrow...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

On Living A Successful And Interesting Life

(Today's photos have little to do with the text. They're snapshots from my forest hikes, mementos of some beautiful experiences.)

I am inspired to write this post after a few weeks of thinking about a "book review" written by my friend, Tien. You can read it HERE.

The book is called "The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World" by Frans Johansson and I'll be getting a copy when I'm in the city in a couple of weeks. This post is a reflection on some things that Tien's review brought up for me.

People constantly tell me that I'm very lucky to live such an unusual life. Yes, I am and I'm grateful for the opportunities that I have to modify my life more and more to my liking every day.

But there's more to it than luck. I resonate strongly with the idea that I have a strong "chaos field" that creates the random situations that form the background of my life. From these strange situations, which I wholeheartedly invite, I choose micro-steps that lead my life in the direction of my choosing.

One habit of mine is to spend much time in nature and in meditation. The subject of my thoughts is often the state of my life, my business, my spiritual practice, or my community. I often imagine what the next steps might be for the million projects that I have incubating at any one time.

This habit keeps my questions and my desires near the top of my mind. When a random occurrence points out a situation which fits a desire or fills a need, I often manifest my above average luck by making the connection and diving into that situation.

And this is how I define luck: recognizing an opportunity when it is presented and ACTING ON IT, even if it's not perfect. Lucky people, at least this lucky person, don't wait for everything to be line up perfectly.

Yes, each step is a little gamble. And lots of the gambles don't pay off. Some of them send me back a notch or two. But, while I'm sliding back a notch, I'm taking more little gambles. The net result is movement. It's usually a slow, but somewhat steady movement in the direction that I want to go.

Thinking about these things has special meaning for me right now because I'm engaged in some of the biggest gambles I've ever made. I'll definitely be writing about them as the pieces fall into place, but let's just suffice it I say that my life will look VERY different by the time this Autumn rolls around. Different for me, unusual by most people's standards, and much, much closer to how I want to live.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Today we celebrated Candlemas in a traditional way, by making and blessing the candles that will burn on the altar in the coming year. And it was a gorgeous, sunny day which traditionally means that we're in for bad weather until the equinox.

Each batch of votives takes about 2 hours to completely cool, including "filling the well" so we got an early start.

We're working with two types of wax: affordable but unexciting paraffin and expensive artisan beeswax from an apiary in Berkeley. It smells incredible and will get burned for special occasions.

The first pouring.

Second pouring, cooling outside.

Third pouring, wicks at the ready.

After the fourth pouring. Done!

And tonight, to celebrate the holiday, we're burning a little of the beeswax. The whole house smells like honey. Happy Candlemas!