my favorite place, rediscovered

As a kid, the library was where it was all happening.

I loved everything about it, the stacks of books, the Dewey Decimal System, those small but very long drawers holding the card catalog. Even the shushing librarians. All loved.

Every week I took out huge piles of books. If I liked an author, I read everything they wrote. Books were a refuge and a means of mind-travel and the library contained an endless supply.

Even though I worked at the Boston Public Library when I was in college, I didn’t take out as many books as I did as a kid. Boston was filled with new and used bookstores so I started buying more than borrowing. I swapped a lot of books though. Back then you didn’t just read a book. You read it and then gave it to the next person who then passed it along again. Can’t do that with an e-book.

After college I got a job in publishing and the free book gravy train started. At Random House, piles of unwanted books lined the hallways—all free for the taking.

So I took.

But then Amazon and the internets came along and buying online quickly became a tic. If I wanted a book, I ordered it through them. I ordered and ordered and ordered, even the books I knew I didn’t want to keep. As the damage they were doing to my chosen profession started to become painfully visible in layoffs, I started buying in bookstores again, but was never totally able to kick the Amazon habit.

Until now.

The difference? Now we’re on a budget. The money isn’t flowing quite as much as it has in the past. I subscribe to a watery view of money. A tidal view. It comes in. It goes out. Sometimes disruptions affect these tides and the lows are lower. Or the lows last for longer than a few cycles. Nothing is forever but when the tide is low, it’s a great time to examine the ocean floor, look over all the stuff that lurks, unseen, beneath the abundant water.

So I’m taking stock these days and figuring out what really matters. What’s really worth it and what is just extra. Or fluff. Mostly I’m genuinely enjoying this winnowing process. What I’m discovering is this: something goes away, something else appears.

Spending mindlessly on books? Need to stop the Amazon habit? OK then, now what?

Two things: Start noticing all the used bookstores that are all around you, and remember an old love, the library.

Inspired, we took ourselves over to the local branch about 4 miles up the road — and while libraries have changed since I was a kid (not nearly as many actual books on shelves) they have also taken advantage of the internets and are now all interconnected. With our hot new library cards in hand, we logged on to the dozens of collections available to us. Within minutes I’d placed four books and three DVDs on hold to be delivered to my local branch.

All of them are books I would have ordered, or movies I would have paid to watch through Amazon. And now all of them are free. I just have to give them back when I’m done. Which for 85% of what I read or watch is exactly right. How many books do you re-read anyway?

And as an added bonus, I also discovered an amazing photographic bonanza in the library system’s digital archives, a repository of countless historical photos from New England. Feast your eyes upon this sublime image of a woman carrying her wares to market circa 1900 in my new hometown, Hadley.

I’m richer than I thought.

HadleyWinter

gluten-free apple crisp with walnut mulberry crumble topping

I grew up on that classic crumble topping made with flour, butter, sugar, and cinnamon blended together by hand. It made an appearance not only on fruit crisps but also on that special family dessert that no one else we knew ever had at their house: Blueberry Buckle. Butter-sugar crumble made every dessert almost painfully good and I even loved it straight out of the bowl, but the after effects were monstrous. Sleepy, crabby, crashy.

I haven’t yet managed to de-glutenize the Blueberry Buckle — the cake is so particular, dense and heavy and moist — but I have come up with a reasonably delicious gluten-free crumble topping. And since I prefer desserts that don’t leave me feeling like a bloated narcoleptic bitch, this recipe manages to ditch both sugar and gluten. A dessert-win just in time for Thanksgiving!

crumbs

Ingredients:
1.5 cups raw walnuts
1 cup dried mulberries
2 tbl dried cranberries (or other dried fruit, I like the hint of tartness from the cranberry)
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 tbl ghee or 2 tbl softened coconut butter. I prefer ghee, but if you use coconut butter reduce the amount because it has a strong (but delicious) taste. It will also BROWN more, so don’t be alarmed.
2 tsp cinnamon (1 for the topping, 1 for the apples)
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
6 baking apples
Lemon

Grind the walnuts, dried fruits, and spices briefly in the food processor. Do not over grind! Add the ghee or coconut butter and pulse. Taste and adjust as needed. It shouldn’t be super sweet, more nutty and rich.

Peel, core and slice apples. Mix lightly with a squeeze of lemon and about a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Layer apple slices in 8 by 8 oven proof dish. No need to grease the pan. Spoon the topping over the top.

Cover with foil and bake until the apples are tender in a 350 degree oven, about 30-45 minutes depending on your apple type. Remove foil and bake for another ten minutes to brown the top.

recipe for a poncho

Ingredients: 1 inexplicable desire for the poncho you see on display in a fancy yarn store; 2 skeins of bulky yarn and an equal amount of thinner novelty yarn; needles several sizes larger than the bulky yarn normally calls for; the usual knitterly accoutrements like tapestry needle, markers, blah, blah you have it all in your kit already.

Method: First, select yarn in a color that you wouldn’t normally wear. Let the French saleslady assure you that it’s flattering and that it’s ‘very much the color of the moment’. Convince yourself that you are ‘branching out’, trying ‘something new’. Ignore your natural aversion to yellows and what they do to your skin tone and choose ochre.

Then, select a light blue tendrilly novelty yarn that looks like fur to knit along with the odd-colored wool to add ‘sparkle’ and ‘fun’.

Without swatching and completely ignoring gauge, knit a large rectangle approximately 22 inches by 44 inches on big needles for a light, airy fabric that catches fingers but drapes beautifully.

Sew a short side of the rectangle to one end of the long side to form an opening for the neck. Sew it inside out so the outside is in reverse stockinette.

Try it on. Wear it around the house. Eventually take it outside for a walk. Decide it’s just ‘OK’ but the color is just too odd and ‘not you’ and the whole poncho thing feels somehow embarrassing out in public. Move on to one of the many other knitting projects currently taking over the living room and your life.

Forget about the poncho for three years.

photo 2

Decide to move to Southern California. Discover the poncho while you’re packing, flirt with getting rid of it but put it into the long-term storage box of winter clothes because there are no cloudy days in Southern California, or so you’ve been led to believe by the song (cloudy days = rain).

Leave the poncho in the box for five more years because it’s true—Southern California is on a thermostat: 72 degrees during the day, 56 degrees at night. Even though a poncho might be good for those cooler nights and somehow feel less ridiculous in the casual yet upscale faux hippie atmosphere, forget all about it’s existence.

Move to Boston. Rediscover winter. Find the poncho in the box of winter woolens that you haven’t worn since you lived in Portland, Oregon five years before— a place where you learn you always have to write ‘Oregon’ when you reference it’s name so no one thinks you mean Portland, Maine. Take a moment to be glad you no longer live there and have to do this all the time. Find yourself delighted to see your bulky sweaters, even the poncho.

Unpack the poncho, try it on. Decide it’s sort of nice. Notice that the color isn’t so bad now that your hair has turned gray but don’t wear it. Leave the poncho in a dresser drawer for three more years.

Move to a drafty old New England farmhouse in the country. Keep the poncho handy even though it’s still summer. Something tells you might want it in your new casual yet downscale faux farmwife life.

As soon as the weather turns, notice that you’re freezing while you sit stock still working at your computer all day. Go find the poncho and put it on over your sweater and revel in how warm it is. Discover how convenient the shape is, leaving your arms free to type and mouse. Feel affection for it’s blue fuzzy novelty yarn poking out like baby hair. Create jealously in your husband who also wants to walk around wearing a blanket all day. Suggest he knit himself a serape.

Find yourself wearing it all the time. Fall in love with the poncho eleven years after you make it.

Variation: Knit one in flattering colors and start wearing it right away.

photo 1

why I don’t write about my ashtanga practice anymore

For many years (note the thickly populated archives) this blog was only about my budding Ashtanga practice with a few other life events thrown in. And it was great! Ashtanga was such an all-consuming passion and there was so much to learn—it felt so important to document and share the experience. Through the writing, I also made so many amazing friends, more than a few of which have blossomed well beyond the yoga.

But then all the blogging started to feel increasingly uncomfortable. I went through a classic Ashtanga crisis (doubting, fearing, loathing), survived and rebounded but never found a way back into writing about it. Something was burned off during that crisis, leaving only the solid inflammable essence behind. And that essence isn’t something I care to write or talk about very much. It simply IS. There was a time, not too long ago, where I tried to make Ashtanga my métier, tried to marry my design skills to the yoga. It was destined to fail because it didn’t arise naturally. Deep down inside, I was getting sick of all the picking over and deconstructing of the practice. All the yoga selfies. All the knashing of teeth over the differences in how Ashtanga is taught. The more involved I got with the Ashtanga-only community, the more uneasy I became. It started to eat away at my own complicated love for the practice. Because the practice is for me, at it’s core, private. It was my mistake. Not the community’s. So I shut up. I took this site down temporarily. I disengaged and regained the rest of my life.

Nowadays I practice and then go home, eat two breakfasts (Ashtanga joke) and get on with my day. It’s been reduced to such simplicity that there just isn’t that much to say about it afterwards. Some days it goes well, others it doesn’t. Rinse and repeat.

The rest of my life however has become so much more interesting. The knitting, the fermenting, the baking, the looking for a house/farm to buy and once we do, the ducks! the garden! the fantastic failures we are sure to have!

And so I write about that, even though everything I do is influenced by my time on the mat. I suppose I should remove the word ‘Ashtanga’ from my tagline. But I think I’ll leave it up there because it’s fundamental to how I am in the world. Besides, it would be tedious to constantly make obvious connections about practice and knitting (learning how to fail for instance)—it’s enough to know that they are there. And you are smart enough to connect the dots on your own without any help from me.

Onwards!

Sometimes the knitting goes well, other times not so much. Cue the sound of frogging.

Sometimes the knitting goes well, other times not so much. Cue the sound of frogging.