Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I knew it had been awhile since I had done my last blog, but I didn't realize that it had been the day before my mother passed away. I have noticed some changes in my life these past 6 weeks, which may be unnoticeable to most everyone else -- a new sense of life and living and loving. I find myself reading about spiritual things, considering learning to meditate, and wanting to find ways to fit some quiet, alone time in to the beginning/ending of my day.
There was a baby layette, just about finished, that she had been crocheting for someone's baby. I somehow knew that I was supposed to finish this project and send it to the intended family. Tonight I finally finished crocheting the little afghan -- the only item in the set that wasn't finished . Tomorrow I'll finish off the ends and sew on the ribbons and buttons and send it all off to my cousin in Canada -- it was meant for her grandson's baby who is now over 2 months old. But there will be more babies, and just maybe this little set will still fit the intended recipient -- at least the afghan can keep him warm in his stroller or crib. My mother taught me to crochet when I was little and as I worked away at the little blanket I could no longer tell where my mother's work ended and mine began -- she had stopped when the blanket was about a quarter finished. It seems so appropriate that my mother would have been making something for a brand new life when her life ended -- and that she made sure that someone (me) would be able to finish it for her by having taught me when I was a child how to crochet like her. I think it was just meant to be this way -- such a beautiful, meaningful message in such a simple aha moment today :). My mother travelled around the sun 79 times in this life and blessed many people with gifts from her hands and heart. I am grateful to have learned from her also about giving and living and loving, besides crocheting.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Farm Boxes

I came across a brochure at our county fair for one of those services where you can have locally grown organic farm produce delivered to your home and although I had heard of CSA programs before, this one really got my attention. It was very customizable and there were lots of price choices/combinations to choose from as well as delivery schedules. I reviewed their website thoroughly and even read all the archived farm e-newsletters! The more I studied on this particular service the more I wanted to be a part of their program. So I signed up and the first week in September we received our first box. I was thrilled with the contents -- just what they had said would be in the box. Now, there was one item in there that we had never tasted before - Candystripe Figs. OMG! They were gorgeous and sweet as candy! I was definitely a happy farm box girl :). Yes, all the other fruits and veggies were good too. I ate the figs so quickly though (well I let a couple of other people have some too, and even my parrot got some), I didn't get a photo of them.

Fridays, the list of what will be in next week's boxes comes out so I eagerly looked to see what would be in the next box. Hmmm, mission figs the next time. None of the other boxes were scheduled for Candystripe figs either. So the next week's box arrives and it was a new variety of goodness -- a mix of fruit and veggies and greens and a bunch of fresh thyme -- all of this, except the thyme, grown on the same farm. I eagerly looked forward to the announcement of the next box's contents -- mission figs again, but wait -- if I change my order to the next larger box -- it would come with CANDYSTRIPE FIGS :). So I happily upgraded to a larger order. And now I have a photo for you.
The inside looks like raspberry jam :)
I already know that this week's box won't contain Candystripe figs, but I'm still a happy farm box girl -- I know that I'm enjoying all the food that comes in the box, and as it changes weekly due to what is in season and being harvested I can continue to look for new things to come in my box. This week there will be a Galia melon! And now lettuce is in season so there will be more greens to make green smoothies and salads too.
If you live in Northern California, and want more information on Farm Fresh To You, please visit their website at Wherever you live, please do support your local organic farmers by buying from local farmers markets or searching for a CSA program in your area.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sunset picnic

We had one of the unusually warm days here where it even felt muggy and so we headed for the coast. We stopped at the market to pick up items for an improptu picnic on the beach and we couldn't resist staying to watch the sunset. Then right at dusk, the shorebirds appeared and added to the magic of the evening. The colorful sunset is no doubt due to the large fires raging around California. The picnic was simple -- a selection of gourmet olives from the olive bar, some flax crackers, some fresh raspberries and some Gone Nuts! snack nuts. The music was provided by the waves breaking on the shore :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New beginnings

Finally released today is my new set of tools for hand spinners. I have been making the WPI (wraps per inch) tool since the beginning of KaratStix, but the diz and the plying templates are finally in production after having been tested and approved of by a very nice supporter of KaratStix - Destiknit - since I am not yet a spinner myself, although I desperately want to be :). She also has an excellent podcast where she shares lots of great information for knitters and spinners and reviews lots of good stuff. You can find her podcasts here:

Another item, which is still in R&D is a stand to hold interchangeable knitting needles. And, I'll be working on ideas I have to do something similar for DPNs and straights as well. I personally have a few glass vases that I store my non-circular needles in (OK, I confess, there is a couple circular needles stuck in one of them too) and it is annoyingly untidy to look at, and I'm always trying to dig around to find just the one I need (I use them all the time to test my needle gauges). It would be so much easier if they stayed organized with their mates and looked nice and neat too, and would be so much more efficient for selecting the right size. I have been wanting to work on this idea for years, but now a couple of interested people has suggested that it would be great if I would try to do this so I have finally begun.

This one is a team effort with my brother -- I did the disk layouts and gathered the materials together (the bottom is cork and the pillars are bamboo chopsticks) and Tom, my brother modified the layouts to incorporate the chopstick pillars and cut everything out and glued it all together. This one is sized for the Hiya-Hiya interchangeable needles (so it fits size 2 up to size 15 needles). The diameter of the disk (not counting the protrusions that support the pillars) is just 3" and the height is approximately 3.75". It's a needle gauge and a stand :). The cork bottom ensures that your tips are cushioned should you point them down, and protects your furniture. The top layer has the US size markings on it and the bottom layer has the metric size markings on it. Of course there is room in the center for a sheep :).

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Favorite Takeout Place

Que seRaw seRaw in Burlingame is our favorite little takeout place. Everything here is made from whole, fresh organic plant foods (vegan) and prepared in tasty, creative ways to preserve nutrients and enzymes (nothing is heated above 118 degrees). The owner Alicia and her staff are welcoming and eager to let you have taste samples if you want. Everything we have tried we have liked and friends that I have brought here are pleasantly surprised how much they like the food. They serve take away only, so plan to bring a sack (bring your own) or do as we do and enjoy your meal outside just a few steps away from their shop where there are tables and chairs and benches to choose from.

We had lunch here yesterday and ordered Beet Salad, Ceasar Garden Burger Salad, Lemon Cheesecake, Key Lime Strawberry Shortcake and Peach Sorbet. The beet salad was bursting with flavors from beets, apples, ginger and mint tossed in a little oil and vinegar. I had this and it was so refreshing. I couldn't resist trying the Key Lime Strawberry Shortcake which had a crust that I can't remember all the ingredients of but did include zucchini, the Key Lime cream was made with avocado and vanilla and agave nectar and lime (so delicious!) and it really worked -- the flavors and textures were just like strawberry shortcake but with the twist of lime! Was I eating dessert or my veggies? -- both :) so delicious and so good for me too. The peach sorbet was made (they make it themselves) from only fresh peaches! So sweet naturally you don't need the sugar that store bought sorbets add. My husband had the Ceasar Garden Burger Salad and the Lemon Cheesecake and enjoyed them as usual -- he usually can't resist the Chocolate Cheesecake, but yesterday went for the lemon -- it was such a warm day the lemon was perfect. We always come away feeling satisfied and refreshed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Garden Studio

It is too gorgeous outside to work indoors so I moved my work out to the garden today. I have everything I need at my fingertips: a nice large order that needs to be colored, some colored pencils, my pencil sharpener, and my netbook -- the wireless network helps me stay connected to my Etsy shop when I am in the garden. I use the containers left after eating organic spinach and lettuce for storage baskets and coloring trays. They are clear and stackable and don't end up in the landfill this way :).
And I even have someone to talk to while I work.
He is pretty quiet for the most part, and if it is warm out, he'll just go back to his cage which is on the other side of the window.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My Typical Day

My day begins with my friendly little alarm clock :)

He usually wakes up around 6:30am and will give a low chortle, and if I am not there within a minute he starts to chirp twice, loudly and sharply, to make sure I wake up. He's a Congo African Grey and he'll be 6 on November 2nd.

I am usually checking and replying to emails while having breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I like to have a bowl with a banana, blueberries, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and a little raw chocolate granola on top, with brazil nut milk I make myself. Hmmm, except for the chocolate, my little friendly alarm clock likes most of that too (he doesn't like seeds and chocolate is not allowed) :).

There are always orders to color and varnish and so I'll spend a couple of hours varnishing and/or coloring right after breakfast. Most days I have something that needs to be shipped so right after lunch I'll start getting things ready to ship. The post office is a short walk from my house just around the corner. If there isn't a lot of shipping to do, I'll stay in my studio after lunch and continue what I was working on in the morning.

I like to also color in the evening and work on new designs. I have a new design in the works at the moment that some of my customers have suggested. As the prototype comes far enough along I'll share more photos here.

After dinner my husband and I will sometimes go to the local bookstore and hang out for a couple of hours -- since I can't color or varnish there, I take along my knitting. Here's a photo of what I'm currently working on. It is the Heart to Heart beaded scarf designed by Sivia Harding and is from the "Embrace the Lace" club that I ordered through Woolgirl. Her kits are awesome! The yarn is Mama Llama Cashmere (100%!). It's a very pretty aqua color. I am now halfway done and the next kit in the series already arrived a week ago, so I'm eager to finish this one and start on the next one -- also lush!
After I get back from the bookstore, it's time to put the little alarm clock to bed. He usually is telling me "It's dark!" just around 9pm and "Want to go night night?" so it's easy to know when he's ready :). Then it's back to the studio until time for bed for me. If there are Etsy orders finished I try to post them before I go to bed -- which is usually about 11:30pm. I have to really pull myself away to end the day -- I love what I do so it doesn't feel like work and I know someone is waiting patiently for their stuff so I am eager to get it to them as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

baabi is here!

So I have decided to call her "baabi" (sounds like Bobbi). She's wee -- just one and a half inches long (not including the findings) and approximately 1.3" wide. Includes 12 holes -- the majority that sock knitters use most. And again she is reversible -- take a look at her tail side.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

New design

So I just had to make a little friend for "baa". She isn't ready yet but I can show you the drawing now. I'm hoping that she'll be available in about a week in my Etsy shop. The little versions are the charm/stitchmarkers that will be included. This pendant needle gauge is totally reversible (front has the US markings, back has the metric markings) and will come on a sterling silver lobster clasp with an adjustable 30" long black cotton cord.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A little respite

My working days are usually busy and I manage to work 7 days a week, but Saturday mornings I always visit my elderly parents who live about 15 minutes away. When I return, my husband and I sometimes go out on errands and grab a bite to eat. Today we decided to take a drive to Half Moon Bay. I love the name of that town! We live on the peninsula that separates San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean and it is just a 20 minute drive over the hill to the coastal town of Half Moon Bay. It is often foggy there during the summer months of June and July and today it appeared (we can usually see the fog as it rises up above the hills) that it was either not foggy there or at least partly sunny so we ventured over the hill to the coast.

Yes, there was fog, but for the most part it was high and mostly over the water, not so much in town. Those black dots are surfers in wet suits -- the water is cold in this part of California. We stopped at a little cafe and ate our lunch outside and then I popped into a rather new yarn shop, "Princeton Yarns" just to browse. I wasn't shopping as I already have plenty of yarn in my stash and projects on my needles -- which there isn't a lot of time to indulge in anyway :).

Next we stopped at a place called New Leaf Market, which is similar to a Whole Foods market. We had not stopped there before so I wanted to see what they had and I bought some new products -- have you ever seen green granola??? Well I never had either and it is wonderful and very good for you too. The brand is Living Intentions and the ingredients include organic buckwheat sprouts, local blackberry honey, organic coconut, organic golden raisins, raw brown rice bran and germ (grain free), organic sunflower sprouts, organic banana, organic sesame seed, green protein superfood blend (organic hemp protein powder, organic spinach powder, organic spirulina, chlorella, organic alfalfa leaf and organic dandelion leaf), organic vanilla and Himalayan crystal salt. We nibbled on this as we drove home and both my husband and I enjoyed it. I will definitely be stopping to pick up more of that in the future.

Then it was back home and back to work in my studio.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 4

Well this post should wrap up the story of 'How KaratStix Came To Be'. I must say that a lot of this couldn't have happened without the support of my brother Tom, and other family members too. He created the first prototypes of the needle gauges for me as I didn't have the tools. He helped me determine what equipment was required and was there for me in the early planning stages as I needed so much a sounding board who knew what it took to make these. We traveled together to a Woodworkers convention in Las Vegas in July of 2007 on the hunt for laser machines. We also learned of a really neat facility in our area, a business called TechShop.

TechShop's tag line says "Build your dreams here" and that is just what I did. For an affordable monthly membership fee I was able to use a laser machine to develop my products and refine them and determine really whether the laser machine would do what I needed it to, and which machine was the right one for my business. The machine at TechShop was similar to the one we ended up purchasing, but the one we chose was more powerful and does the job better. TechShop is opening up other locations so check out their website and see if they have one near you. They have lots of fun machines and equipment to use for those of us who can't afford them or keep them at home, and offer lots of classes. There's so much to choose from: vinyl cutting, 3D printing, woodworking and metal working equipment, embroidery machines, and much more. This was a fantastic way to test out the process, develop things more and make sure we had tested the market for my ideas.

My brother and I considered becoming business partners and he is still a big part of the business, but he has created a business of his own, which he operates on the side of his day job. His business runs the laser jobs for my business. I give him the files and he cuts them on the bamboo when he has the time. Sometimes I will cut them, but he does the majority of the jobs. I do the designing, the coloring, the finishing and various other tasks that go into making the items. And of course, the shipping, the online listings, the accounting, the ordering of materials, etc.

Several of my family and my husband and I pitched in the money to buy a laser machine and we took delivery of it in April of 2008. My brother has it set up at his work location. Sometime I'll take a photo of it and post it on here so you can see what it looks like. It works like a computer printer in a way -- you send a file from a computer to the laser and it cuts and engraves the various lines on the bamboo, sort of like printing ink on paper.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 3

So finally a prototype was finished after returning to the drawing board a few times and this was the result - almost 8 inches long and 4 inches wide, with a 2 inch stitch gauge at one end and a 6 inch ruler along one side and the metric ruler along the other. A lot of metric and US holes, and I had to put some sort of design on there, but this one isn't my own art -- that came later. I did sell a few of these to a store in Half Moon Bay, along with lots of my buttons. Fengari is wonderful little knitting shop in downtown Half Moon Bay. I haven't had time to stop in there in a long time so don't know if they have any buttons left.

This design evolved into today's Crafter's Rule. You can see more of my designs in my Etsy shop and at my Flickr page.

I had some other ideas too, some may still evolve into something. So now I had some wares to sell and I went around to knitting shops in my local driving distance and had success at the first three stores. I always called first to set up an appointment. Some stores weren't interested. I'm relieved now that they weren't as it pushed me to look for other ways to sell my wares and so I considered the internet. I had heard of Etsy from a forum I had visited on the internet which had also inspired me, and so I studied Etsy, opened an account and finally in the middle of December 2007, exactly a year to the day after I had left my day job, I posted my first listings and within 24 hours had my first Etsy sale!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 2

So buttons were born and I thought I was onto something here -- I was even able to obtain more coconut shells from a local restaurant that would have ended up in landfill. The process of making them was fun, but labor intensive -- and each one was unique, although I was able to make coordinating sets, no two would be identical, but I loved that about the coconuts. I made the holes big enough for yarn needles as I envisioned these being attached to felted handbags (I have a couple of those in my own collection of bags), and as focal buttons on sweaters, and I even made a few rings with copper sticks as shawl pins. Oh, I had lots of ideas in the early days. I have read that when people convert to eating living raw vegan foods, that their creativity reaches new heights, and I can testify that this definitely happened to me!

So I was sitting on the patio making buttons and had ideas for other tools too, and I also had a very supportive brother who is very skilled and crafty in his own way with wood. I wanted to use bamboo though and had an idea to try and make a needle gauge of some kind. So I made a pencil drawing and gave it to my brother and he worked on making a prototype for me. I was so anxious to see the end result but it took a few months before I saw it, or so it seemed. In the meantime I kept making buttons and thought about what to call my business.
Well, things were seeming a bit tropical, coconuts and bamboo would be the main materials -- natural, healthy for the planet, and strong. I love palmtrees, so coconut palm trees would be part of the logo. I wanted my business name to reflect the idea that I was turning trash (coconut shells) into treasure (buttons) and bamboo (stix) into gold (karat). My first name is Karen and my maiden name is Stixrud and the name then slipped into place -- KaratStix -- which felt like my own name even though different. And sounds like 'carrot sticks' which seemed so healthy too :). So now you know how the KaratStix name came to be and how it relates to coconuts and my raw food vegan lifestyle.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How KaratStix Came To Be, Part 1

After working in a technical job for many years, I took the leap in late 2006 to fulfill my very strong desire of building a new kind of lifestyle. My husband and I were in our early to mid-50s, and had just been married in September that year after having been together for 13 years. He had plans to retire in the not too distant future (he retired last October) and I wanted to see if I could build a stay-at-home business to help finance our retirement years -- before he retired. As I had no retirement income of my own (if you are reading this and in your 20s and 30s and you think you have lots of time to save -- start now), it was imperative to me to be able to help support a lifestyle that would allow us to thrive at this time in our lives, mentally, emotionally and financially. So I left my job in Silicon Valley (I was writing software installation programs) with the intention of figuring out what business I would have.

I took the first few months of my new found freedom lifestyle to explore ideas and at the same time I also started a new eating lifestyle -- a living raw food vegan. I have always loved food of all kinds and though I had been fairly slim most of my life, the sweets, fats, pastas, breads, etc. had taken their toll and I did not think that this was a healthy way to eat. I had always naturally gravitated away from alcohol, cigarettes, pills, etc., but I did love coffee (for a time I actually thought a venti decaf latte made with whipping cream instead of milk and sweetened with equal was healthy!!!) and so you ask what does this have to do with 'KaratStix'? It will become clearer :)

I started eating all of this amazing food that I had never experienced before -- in the raw anyway. Especially young thai coconuts -- I was making some amazing smoothies -- pina coladas to die for! (no alcolhol) and raw chocolate smoothies, and desserts without sugar that tasted like heaven! And they were good for me :). So one day I had just opened a coconut and was tossing this big shell in the trash (and another transformation had taken hold of me -- the 'green' lifestyle too :) ) and it dawned on me that many other people in the world were taking these and making things with them -- not throwing them away. I wondered what I could do with it. I still hadn't figured out what my business was going to be, although I did know I wanted it to relate to knitting.

So I took the coconut husk/shell out of the trash and decided to carve away the white husk to reveal the shell. What fun that was -- discovering what the coconut shell actually looked like under there :). And it didn't look like all the other coconut shell products I'd seen before. I cleaned it out real well and set it outside in the sun to dry for a few days. I didn't have any cutting tools, so I took a hammer to it to see how hard it was -- it was pretty tough. So I thought that was good, and I did manage to break it up into odd shapes. I had a dremel tool so I started sanding on a piece, smoothing the edges and surfaces and I liked what was happening. And then I was thinking what could I make with this? Stitch markers? Beads? Buttons??? I drilled a couple of holes. I took out a woodburning tool and made some designs and then there were some colored pencils that came with the woodburning tool so I colored on some. Hmmm. This was fun! I then remembered that I had some koolaid packets that I had kept to use on some wool that I had wanted to try dyeing. So I jumped up and threw some of the buttons into some dye.