Category Archives: Domesticity

Southern-style pinched biscuits: trial and error

All of my adult life, I’ve been a bit phobic about making the pinched biscuits my mother made at least daily when I was growing up. She showed me her process (there was no recipe) repeatedly, and every batch I made was a crushing disappointment (to me, anyway).

Fast forward thirty years, and I’ve been making my own bread—amongst other things—for the last several months. At first, I had to. I couldn’t afford to buy groceries for a while immediately following my contract ending in June. But I’ve come to genuinely enjoy the process as well as the result.

So tonight, on a whim, I made biscuits. The term we used as kids was cat heads: lumpy, unattractive biscuits. Nothing at all like Moma’s smooth perfect little morsels. But you know what? The interior was perfect, and I learned a thing or two.

And there was no fear. None. I just went into the kitchen and made biscuits like there was nothing to it.

And truly? There was nothing to it. I needed to fail. I’ve said it a hundred times a hundred times to students in knitting classes. Adults hate being beginners, but it’s good for us. We don’t know everything. We can’t know everything. But especially as adults, we really have to work against thinking that because we haven’t done a thing that we can’t do a thing. We’re probably going to screw the pooch a time or twelve, and that’s ok. We learn from our mistakes. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot.

So tonight, I made cat heads. They taste good, and the crusts are fucking divine. The interiors are dense but fluffy. The taste was ok. The shapes definitely need some work. And the sizes were all over the place. Now I have ideas for how to improve them. For next time. Because practice may not make perfect, but it brings us closer to where we really want to be.

But what about Matt?

Ok, ok. So what am I doing now?

Well, I’m currently officially unemployed, but as a dear friend and fellow entrepreneur commented to me recently, entrepreneurs are never unemployed. Thankfully, I’ve found that to be true.

I’m working on a major “saw-sharpening” project that will hopefully pay off in a marketable skill in the near future, and as it comes along, I’ll be excited to share it with you. Yes, it’s knitting-related, and yes, it’s a logical fit. But I’m a beginner, and I—like the vast majority of the people I’ve worked with over the years—don’t care to share my fumbling first steps with the world. Yet. At some point if I’m very, very lucky, it will be something I can share entirely, and oh, that would be fun for a whole huge lot of people. But I’ll stop teasing.

Something I am at liberty to share is a by-product of recently downsizing to more affordable accommodations. I’ve had to unpack, resort, and reevaluate all of my stash and unfinished projects.

Now, if you’re the kind of knitter that I was prior to opening a yarn shop, you probably have at least a room dedicated to your stash and projects. You’ve likely got stitch markers in every upholstered piece of furniture in your home and possibly some in your pet’s bed. It happens. You have a kit that’s literally within an arm’s length at least most of the day every day. Now imagine that same person had access to one of the largest inventories of independent-market yarns in the country for a few years.

When you’ve regained consciousness after the aneurism that thought caused, let’s just say that I was conservative. My collection was limited largely to yarns that I truly loved and were one-of-a-kind opportunities (frequently as products were being discontinued) and projects that I either taught as a class or had planned for either classes or my own patterns. Luckily for me, I suppose, I’m also notoriously non-project-monogamous, so I have a lot of projects on the needles. Some will most assuredly be finished, and some most assuredly will never be. But that also means I have yet more yarn to incorporate into stash.

In the coming days, I’ll share some of the treasures that I’ve unearthed and that I’m going to be using in projects moving forward. But since I haven’t yet gotten much of anything in enough semblance of order to want flash photography involved, I’ll just offer yet another tease.

For one thing, any visitors to my home in the last year or so would know about the three-and-a-half foot tall Collins glass of various shades of Koigu KPPPM that I kept at the corner of the kitchen and living room. I’m a collector. What can I say? I love that yarn, and I absolutely love their dyeing. I’ve been an addict for years, and I expect there are quite a few folks out there still sporting Charlotte’s Web Shawls for which I put together colorways in the early days of ThreadBear. My God, we must have been shipping those things a dozen a day at the height of the craze if not more. I definitely recall many afternoons standing in the post office with tub upon tub of small double-fist-sized envelopes going to every corner of the globe (except Antarctica—I suppose if you haven’t knit it before you get there, you’re kind of screwed).

There’s a similarly tall blown glass vase full of various shades of Mission Falls 1824 Wool. I’ve always loved that original Mags Kandis palette, and of course, this is old enough product to have seen her tenure. In any case, I’ve got a project in mind for that whole vase, and it’s going to be amazing.

There’s a bag of multiple shades of Jamieson’s Spindrift and Jamieson & Smith 2-Ply Jumper Weight in appropriate shades for an old Alice Starmore Fair Isle pattern that I’ve wanted to knit since before the shop ever got rolling. I’ve got the pattern around here somewhere, but that will also have to be unearthed.

I’ve got sweater quantities of Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool (my favorite all-purpose worsted-weight wool on the U. S. market until it no longer was), Blue Sky Alpacas Suri Merino and Alpaca Silk, Classic Elite Bazic, and even a fine-gauge red cashmere that I’m still deciding on a final use for. I’ve blown the dust off The High Helen Sweater, my decadent and damned-near-unearthly Pyramid Sweater, and my Colour-Your-Own Philosopher’s Wool sweater.

And sock yarn? Sweet Jesus, I’ve got sock yarn. It doesn’t hurt that I worked as a sales rep for some of the fastest-selling sock yarns (at the time) in the country for several years, but I already had an extensive collection. And that doesn’t even count the Koigu, and yes, if you want a truly luxurious experience, make yourself a pair of Koigu socks. No, they don’t have an iota of nylon in them, and they’ll wear through like butter if you stomp around in them. But they’re like sex on your feet while you’re sitting on the sofa or really getting dressed. Seriously.

But enough for now. I’ll have the camera up and running before much longer. And I’ll have to toss in some gratuitously cute dog pics for those of you who know my penchant. I may have lost my own beloved mutt, but my roommate is the proud papa of four—count ‘em, four—adult Chihuahuas.  Life is never boring.

Happy New Year

It’s odd, I think, that we talk about coming to crossroads. One of the things that becomes clearer to me with each passing year is that each moment is a crossroads. We choose in each moment what and who we will be. We choose where we put our energy and attention. We choose to dedicate all that we are to one thing or another. We choose to direct ourselves toward our truest purpose—any purpose—or we do not.

I’ll be direct about this. I lost my purpose.

I had a life that fulfilled me in a great many ways, and in that life I found purpose. I enjoyed building the community that supported a thriving and active yarn shop. My customers were—for good or ill—like family, and I was grateful every day for each and every one of them. My students especially gave me a sense that I was building a future for something I hold dear. And I enjoyed building the community that built that community. The staff and instructors that came through that shop were some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. I know that a lot of people complain about sales reps, but I had some of the most wonderful and helpful sales reps; I had the other kind too, but I genuinely enjoyed seeing almost every sales rep that came through. The vendors that I met at TNNA and who made special trips to visit the shop were so good to us, and we had some of the most incredibly talented and wonderful guest speakers and instructors visit. I loved being able to do work that fed my spirit so much on a daily basis.

But there were issues.

Foremost, there were and had been monumental issues at home that only became exacerbated by working and living together twenty-four-seven. As suggested above, I’m pretty keen on choice. I stayed. I can make excuses, but the bottom line is this: I wanted to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d given the man I loved every possible opportunity to save himself. And I disgraced myself in doing so.

I looked friends in the eye and dealt in good faith. I signed contracts. I incurred debt. And did so knowing full-well that the business ought to have been successful. There was no reason it shouldn’t. There were huge bills certainly, but there was income aplenty. Or so I thought.

I don’t know what happened. It was never really spelled our for me. While it stings to have benefitted from DOMA, we never married. I had no legal right to anything under common law. Nor thankfully some of the liability. Almost exactly a year before it closed for good, I walked away from ThreadBear. A couple of months later I found out my mom’s cancer was back and left Michigan for Georgia.

I had under $500 in cash, a storage unit full of what was left of my life, and a mom.

God bless mothers. And God bless my momma.

We got to spend about six month under the same roof, and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a better roommate. And not because she did my laundry. Well, not just that.

We could talk about anything. We’d both gotten out of relationships that weren’t working. We both had regrets and joys and faults and a truly amazing grace that somehow pulled it all together. We were friends. She was still a parent, but she became more. But she did really want me to find a job in Atlanta. I’d be glad to be corrected if I’m wrong, but there aren’t a lot of household-sustaining jobs in the independent fiber arts industry to be had in the Greater Metro area. I interviewed for web development jobs, but after the incredibly tempting third with the team that builds and manages websites for HGTV and Food Network, I placed a hopeful call to Rob Delmont. It wasn’t long before I relocated to Raleigh to take over a sales territory for Skacel Collection. I picked up other lines and built relationships with vendors and shop owners alike, but something wasn’t right. I thought it was the money, so I took another sales job on the chain side. As it turns out, it wasn’t the money.

I genuinely don’t enjoy or excel at sales. I’ve had excellent results for some products and some vendors, but the truth is that those were always—back to the days I was selling Mont Blanc pens and Tumi luggage—products and companies I believed in. I love many of the products that the various vendors I represented were selling, but selling to a hostile crowd is just not my strong suit. If you don’t want what I’m selling, you have your reasons. If you care to share those reasons, I may be able to help you find something you didn’t know I had. Beyond that, I’m more like a librarian than a salesman. (And trust me when I say that in general shop owners are a rather hostile crowd for every sales rep regardless of that rep’s skill, reputation, and history of successful interaction. I know there will be letters. Don’t get me wrong. There are exceptional shop owners out there; I just also admit to myself in hindsight that I wasn’t one.)

That’s why selling product to my customers at ThreadBear was so easy for me. I believed in the product. I was the one who’d bought it in the first place, and every rep who every wrote orders with me will confirm that I hate—and I use that word rarely—to spend money on anything I don’t think is good for the industry, my customers, and my business in that order. Yes, I sometimes chose to cut my own throat on a purchase because I thought it would be perfect for some group of customers. Yes, I sometimes chose not to purchase or discuss products with my customers that I thought were bad for the industry. And yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Let no one ever say that I didn’t do my very best to build that shop into one of the most diverse studios of media and libraries of learning for fiber artists I could make of it.

So now I’m officially unemployed. Fortunately for me, entrepreneurs are never truly unemployed.

That said, if I’m to draw unemployment insurance, I must search in person for work locally. I can get behind that. No, I won’t be abandoning my purpose. In fact, I’m doing quite the opposite.

Sure, if I find something that pays the bills here in Charlotte, I’m game for that. Where the money comes from isn’t terribly important to me. What’s important to me as I hear fireworks going off in the first hours of 2014 is that I have a purpose that needs serving. And as I said, I lost it.

Happy New Year, folks. I think I’ve found it again. Who’s with me?

Saturday Rediscovered

I’ll be the first one to admit that down-time is a good thing for anyone, but the fact is that I’m just not terribly good at it quite yet. After mowing not only my own lawn but the back lawns of the three adjacent neighbors (yeah, I’ve got a little nervous energy working), I did spend about two-and-a-half hours watching the second season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer because I hadn’t and a friend told me that it was necessary. In retrospect, I see her point, but that was all I could take before I had to get up and actually do something.

I sent out more resumes, and I followed up on a couple of housing options. I spent some time reading, I did some laundry, I did the breakfast dishes (oh, and the omelet was eggcellent), I folded laundry, and I did a little necessary shopping. While in the car with my mother on speakerphone, I was told in no uncertain terms that I must eat something other than the omelet today (a little tense tummy action working this week, and I’ve not been eating much), so I did finally stop at KFC for a sandwich and fries.

Now I’m back at the house, and I’m going to do a little braindump before I head to bed. This whole unemployment thing can be tiring.

Saturday Morning Fever

I rolled out of bed at 9:38am.  On a Saturday morning, I got out of bed at twenty-to-ten.  You don’t have to get how nice that was, but I do, and it was glorious.  Busby was still snoring in his crate at the head of my bed, and Tate was curled into his accustomed little fox roll at my knees.  I rolled over, powered up the Blackberry, and scrolled through several good tidings after last night’s posts.  Thank you to everyone.  I sincerely appreciate your concern and fond wishes.

As for today, though, I’ve just watched the morning fog lift off the river.  I’ve had my shower and powered up the laptop to wish the world a good morning.  I’ll be heading downstairs to mow the lawn shortly, but I don’t hear much activity up the block so I’m hesitant to rev up the mower.  For now, I’m enjoying the view over the river and Riverwalk and into the park across the way… the view that sold me on this house to begin with.  It’s been my little corner of pastoral life in the middle of central Lansing.  There’s a blue heron wading in the shallows, and I hear the ducks bickering from time to time.  The trees across the water are just starting to show the first signs of changing leaves, and I likely won’t be here to see them in their full autumnal finery.  I have, however, gotten a lead on a potential replacement.

I’m heading downstairs to let the dogs out, put on coffee, and start breakfast.  As I mentioned last night, I’ve got my heart set on a nice, fat omelet and crisp, buttery toast.

There’s a kayaker on the river, now.  Good day for it.  Better days are coming.

What’s up

My mom’s had another cancer issue. It is being resolved as quickly and as effectively as medical science allows, but it’s still a pisser. She’s tough, my sweet Southern Moma, but I worry about her. And I try not to get her involved with drama here. That winds up meaning calling less, though, and she’ll string me up by the short hairs if I call her any less. Like I said, my sweet Southern Moma can be tough. So we stay in touch.

I haven’t given her the good news, though. I think we have a very strong candidate for the new great grandbaby’s knitting project. Kathy came up with it, and I think it’s great. Unfortunately, it’s at the shop, and I’m at home. So, that will have to be revisited.

For today, though, I’m home at the dining room table with Busby baking into the carpet at the screen out to the deck. There’s light traffic on Oakland, and the mowers have been out in the park across the river. A young woman’s walking a chocolate lab up the Riverwalk path, and a jogger in State shorts coming the other way has slowed to a walk with his jersey over his head catching his breath.

I’m forty, now. We had a party and everything. I was delighted by the black balloons particularly once I realized that I was still nearly if not the youngest person in the room. Since, I’ve had a stomach virus, picked up a taste for Gatorade G2 Strawberry-Kiwi, picked up smoking again briefly (don’t comment… my mother’s already been all over it), and am now still kind of trying to put a diet back together. Not a Diet, mind you, but a diet. A food plan. A sustenance plan with room for delight.

I like food, and I miss cooking. I just recently uncovered a copy of How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I’m hoping for great things, but a decent meal every once in a while would be satisfactory. In the meantime, I’m glad it’s summer. Produce looks fantastic at the local shops. Even my favorite Asian market appears to have some fresh seasonal offerings. I haven’t a clue what several of them are, but maybe I’ll get a chance to find out. Maybe not.

I’ve been working on getting a new ThreadBear website up and running over the last several months, and we’re hoping to get that open to the public soon. Of course, given the time of year, we’ve been meeting with sales reps from various yarn, pattern, and accessory companies in anticipation of the fall season and the TNNA Market in June. That’s always entertaining. I’m sure this year won’t disappoint. I’m most intrigued by the idea of getting to see what’s new coming down the pike. That’s this show for most yarn shop owners. There’s a fashion show the night before the Market opens, and vendors from all over show you when they’ve got. It’s very cool… and very tempting. We try to shop there primarily for chocolate jimmies to put on top of what we’ve already ordered with sales reps. It’s easier to browse if we’re not pressed for getting our fall orders in, and it’s helped us find some of the more interesting products that have graced the shelves at ThreadBear. Personally, I can’t wait.

For today, though, I’m going to finish up K1CToo and Rowan and see what else remains to get online at the new site.

Whirlwinds, Ruby Slippers, and Friends of Dorothy

Ok, yes, I did notice this week that Oz is back on HBO, and while there’s nothing quite like a men-in-prison serial for mature audiences to get my attention, that’s really not what I intended to talk about. After a few beers, oh, yeah. But not today.

Chaotic is a polite way of describing the last few weeks. A lot of it is boring technical stuff for anyone but the most die-hard web developer, but there’ve definitely been a few notable breaks. Most particularly was a visit and classes with Lynne Vogel of Twisted Sisters fame.

I do spin. I’ve been doing it for several years, off and on. But I’ve never really considered myself a spinner. It was a fun thing I did occasionally, but I didn’t really feel like I had the bug.

I got the bug.

My handspun from the Lynne Vogel classes

After two days of classes, a few very pleasant dinners, a wonderful visit to Elderly Instruments, and a little musical bonding, I have made a delightful new friend and gotten the spinning bug bad. God knows there’s no extra time for it, but my wheels (yeah, I actually have two already, though I supposedly didn’t quite have the bug) are out and loaded for bear. This bear, as a matter of fact. And I’m strongly eyeing a third wheel that I’ve had in the corner of my eye for about a year, now.

DOH!

I also spent a day totally rearranging the main floor of the house. We live in a two-story house right on Grand River in the middle of Lansing, and during recent (about six weeks ago, now) flooding, we had warnings to get everything we could out of the basement. That meant that for a few weeks, I had a dining room full of boxes of yarn, old patterns, and unfinished projects. On top of that, we’ve had unfinished projects behind both sofas, stacked in corners, and on shelving in the living room for the four years we’ve been in the house. All of that’s changed.

In anticipation of Rob’s upcoming birthday, a friend and I rearranged the furniture so that both the living room and dining room furniture are in our long open riverfront room, and what was once the dining room is now our yarn/project room. I still haven’t touched the upstairs, but we take our victories where they present themselves.