In the Kitchen | Let's talk about...

Let's talk about FOOD! I love food. I mean, I really LOVE food! I love cooking it and eating it and I even love reading books about food. Food. Is. Awesome. As you may know, these last few months have been insane in the most amazing of ways, but with the busyness of our lives, it's super easy to decide not to cook and just pick up take-out or eat something from a box a wee bit more than we should. I'm happy to report that has not been the case... thanks to Real Plans!

Real Plans is a subscription online meal planner offering a variety of options for dietary needs/restrictions that I discovered through one of my favorite foodies, Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo and I've been using it ever since. I was instantly in love, but I wanted to see if the love wore off over time. It's been more than 3 months now and I love Real Plans even more today!

"REAL PLANS IS A MEAL PLANNER WITH SUPER POWERS."

TRUE! I'm now spending a fraction of my previous planning time getting organized and cooking so much more for our family! Over the last 2+ years, cooking at home has become even more important for me with my celiac disease diagnosis, because in addition to it being rather difficult (and expensive) to dine out, we're also limited in options. I have yet to be bored with Real Plans and my 'to cook' list is growing weekly.

I've always loved cooking. My mom is a wonderful cook and shared the joy of the kitchen with me at an early age. I honestly can't even remember how young I was, but I do remember feeling right at home in the kitchen and it's the same to this day. I love the flavors, colors and smells of fresh food and making something delicious from scratch is one of my favorite past times. I enjoy it so much, that many times I'm at a crossroads of knitting or cooking and cooking can win that contest. I love cooking THAT much!

I also adore my cookbook collection (really, I'm a total sucker for pretty pictures of food and flipping through pages and putting on post-it notes), but getting organized for the week was time consuming and was expensive (really, I wanted everything) and I would much rather spend my available time actually cooking. But... I found that if I didn't spend the time planning, I'd toss whatever into the cart at the grocery store and so much of the food would go to waste over the next week because I lacked a plan. 

Now I spend about an hour each week planning things out and we're saving $ at the grocery store. Real Plans has paid for itself (and then some) with what we're saving. Wanna see how it works?

So... now I feel like this is an infomercial, but seriously, this has changed my life and I'd only share if I believed in it and I wholeheartedly do - I believe in it so much that I'm an affiliate now. I'm also asked frequently about how I plan food out and I've been so happy with Real Plans that I HAVE to share the joy! In addition to a HUGE library of recipes that are built in, there are some amazing additions that are really reasonably priced, including: Nom Nom Paleo, Whole 30, Well Fed, Cookie & Kate and more! AND... (yes, this is where I say... "wait, there's more!") you can modify the existing recipes (ingredients, portion size...) and you can add your own recipes. The latter is very important to me because I find so many delicious recipes online and it's as simple as adding a url to the recipe box or clicking on the Real Plans Chrome extension to add it. It's so easy and quite fun. 

That's all the words I have for you today. I'm passionate about cooking at home and healthy eating and I hope I've inspired you to get organized and into your kitchen. Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

CHEERS! 

 

On the Needles | West Coast Cardigan (#1)

I'm on vacation. Really, I'm ON VACATION! Well... technically, it's more of a 'staycation' but it's still pretty fabulous and I'm enjoying myself. As I'm a little past the halfway point of my time off, I've been spending time getting caught up around the house, cooking A LOT (food adventures are coming soon), knitting and I've been doing a little work - including what I'm sharing today, but it hardly seems like work. 

A year ago, Jane Richmond was experimenting with a Cowichan-inspired sweater in a super-bulky roving yarn and my needles were itching to cast on as soon as she started posting photos of her WIP prototype. In September of 2016 the West Coast Cardigan pattern came to life and the final version blew me away. Just look at this gorgeous sweater... 

© Jane Richmond

© Jane Richmond

As I was wiping the drool off, I purchased and read through the pattern and, well... my wheels began turning because my inner knitting-geek (well, really, my knitting-geek is pretty much front and center) was TOTALLY geeking out with the techniques Jane has packed into this single design. As you may know, I LOVE technique, so as I was planning the winter class schedule at Firefly Fibers I knew I wanted the West Coast Cardigan on the schedule because I *needed* to share all of the fun techniques with other knitters. But... planning a class isn't just deciding on a project, one of the first tasks is to decide on the class yarn and this proved to be quite challenging.

I really didn't want to bring in a new yarn line at the shop *just* for one sweater, so I tried to find a suitable substitution... my available options were going to be costly for a super-bulky project requiring so much yardage and one of the things I appreciate about Jane is her use of affordable yarn and that just wasn't happening. Also, the yarn in her designs is (generally) easily substituted, but after running numbers (spreadsheets and all that nerdiness) to compare cost and the overall weight of the sweater (because pencil roving is light and airy, so it therefore weighs less and no one needs a 10lb sweater), I decided to reach out to Jane...

After much discussion and enthusiasm on both our parts (many thanks to Jane for taking the time to brainstorm with me), it became clear that the Briggs & Little Country Roving is a unique yarn and perfect for Jane's sweater because of cost, the physical weight, and it's just quite lovely in its sheepy goodness. I contacted Briggs & Little and they are lovely folks at a small mill in Canada that's been operating for 100+ years and I'm so happy to be working with them. As soon as the yarn arrived, I understood why the math was telling me that I wasn't going to find a suitable substitute - there are other yarns that *will* work, but in this case, I strongly feel that the yarn and design go hand-in-hand. Now, I'm smitten with the Country Roving and I can't wait to try it in other projects, but for now... it's all about the project that introduced me to Country Roving and here's mine in progress:

 
 

I'm wrapping up my West Coast Cardigan #1 this weekend and getting ready to cast on #2 because clearly, Firefly Fibers can't be the only one to enjoy a new sweater this winter (besides, it's been in the negative and single digits here in Wisconsin and that's COLD). This first one (in Sheep's Grey and Dark Grey) was intended to be a shop sample, but I think it will be for me. So, I *have* to knit a second one. This sweater has been so much fun to knit that I'm excited to knit another version and I hope you're inspired to knit your own West Coast Cardigan.

As luck would have it... Jane is hosting a KAL for the West Coast Cardigan! Woot! AND... Jane is offering 25% OFF the West Coast Cardigan pattern now through the cast on date of January 10th with code 'WCCKAL' on Ravelry! Full details are on Jane's blog right here. I hope you'll join the fun!

Need yarn? As I'm sure you can guess, I highly recommend the Briggs & Little Country Roving and we'll be placing an order at Firefly Fibers this next week. If you want to make sure you get the colors you want, you can special order from our online shop through Monday, January 9th at noon CST. We anticipate the yarn will arrive on Saturday, Jan 14th or Mon or Tues of the following week and we'll ship orders out as soon as it arrives (really, we'll have it out the door super fast) so you can cast on. Yes, it will be a week or so after the cast on date, but this sweater knits up quickly, so there's plenty of time and it will be worth the wait. And the yarn ships to us like this, and this is pretty cool:

So... are you in? I hope so! 

CHEERS!

Rambling in the New Year...

Truth be told, I'm not much for New Years resolutions or even much for reflecting on the past year. I do, however, enjoy looking forward and I feel like rambling a bit today, so you may want to grab a cup of tea (or whiskey or wine, if that's your preference) as I share some of what's on my mind... 

This time of year is especially busy at the shop, so taking a moment to slow down can be challenging, but with encouragement from Mr. Yarnista, I'm on day 2 of a 9 day Winter Break that is very much needed. With our brick-and-mortar shop closed for a few days, this time is for me to slow down a wee bit, get caught up on a few things that have been looming over me, take some time to really focus on some work stuff that needs undivided attention, but (under strict orders from Hubby) I will be taking a fair amount of time just for myself to re-energize. I have plans for knitting and binge tv watching and I can't wait! Yay me!

The last year has been amazing, humbling, and more than I could ever have hoped for professionally. It's been an awesome experience to see Firefly Fibers grow over the last 6+ years and I hope to continue enjoying this for many years to come - many thanks to all of you that have supported me and our shop over the years. We're also into the second year of the Alisa the Yarnista Podcast and I've really enjoyed this endeavor that once seemed so terrifying to me.

Personally, I know I've neglected myself with my focus on work and all 3 of my boys have been neglected. I'm always looking to improve and challenge myself and a few months ago I started the huge undertaking of implementing a new point-of-sale and I'm currently in the process of building a new website - alone, these are both huge projects, but I'm doing both at the same time *and* during the busiest time of year. I'll try not to bore you with the technical details, but basically... when completed, our brick-and-mortar and online shops will be integrated and that means some time will be freed up for me, along with relieving a lot of stress as I say "goodbye" to the current (very) manual processes. I'm so very thankful that I have a supportive partner that understands the end goal of working smarter, not harder and why I've been absent for many weeks. It's nearing the end, but WOW, this is a big project!

Owning and operating a yarn shop is about the knitting (that's why I chose the business of a yarn shop), but it's definitely not about knitting all day. I wish that were the case. Most of my days are spent doing bookkeeping, ordering, correcting incorrect orders (always a not-so-fun task), maintaining the website (I do geek out over this a bit), packing online orders, checking in orders, doing inventory, researching new vendors and products, planning classes, teaching classes, sorting through emails, marketing (facebook, instagram, ravelry...), and this is just some of what I do. And, all that is in addition to working with the lovely knitters and chatting with my awesome vendorsReally, if something needs to be done, I do it. Mr. Yarnista helps out when he can, but he already has a full time job, so he can only do so much. To be clear and very honest, these aren't complaints, this is just what I do and I absolutely LOVE everything (well... maybe not needle ordering, because that really just sucks). This is the best job that I've ever had and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to do something I love. Again, thank YOU for being part of this success.

As I look forward, I see the day where I've achieved balance between professional and "me" time (again, I'm taking steps so I can work smarter, not harder going forward). I'll be sharing (in detail) some of what I've been doing to maintain the crazy (and my sanity) in upcoming posts right here and I hope that at least some of it will be inspiring for you. I'm focused on continuing what's been working well for me and cutting out the excess "noise" and having a few days off to focus is going to be absolutely wonderful. It's only day 2 and I feel more like myself already and I hope that just improves over the next week.

I hope you're finding time to slow down and work on you, because we all deserve it.

CHEERS!