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Real Deal Road Trip No. 6: Michelle Willey and Finnish products trunk show

January 3, 2010

Michelle Willey (classic ideas for modern living)

Boston, MA

I had a birthday recently.  On the way to a celebratory event, I invoked “birthday girl privileges” and requested a detour.  I wanted to see a special trunk show of Finnish products on a temporary display at Michelle Willey, a shop I really like in Boston.

I was drooling over the rich materials, bold forms, and reassuring Finnish simplicity.  All of the products I saw are new to the US and barely distributed.  I especially appreciated speaking with Timo Utter, who is single-handedly importing  these products from a tight selection of high quality family-owned enterprises.

Michelle Willey shop at 8 Union Park Street, Boston
Michelle Willey, herself. What a great eye this woman has.
Whimsical laser cut trees and ornaments, made from Finland’s abundant hardwoods
Wonderful thick wool items from a mother/daughter team; placemats, coasters, table runners
This line is designed in Finland and fabricated in Italy from recycled leather scraps. I loved the hardware and practical details, and especially appreciated the suede-like touch
Timo Utter, from Helsinki, and me. In front of Timo’s trunk show.

Some people wax poetic in bookstores, for others it is music stores.  I love those too, but for me a truly absorbing experience is to encounter products that have a perfect blend of form, function, material, and fabrication.  The Finns are so superb at that.

Everyday Hero: A guest post from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

December 23, 2009
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We spend every day here at Daily Grommet spotlighting the best and brightest entrepreneurs, but at this time of year we like to take the time to acknowledge another type of hero. These are people who are working just as hard, and even harder, to support others in need and help make mind-boggling breakthroughs in medicine and science. Today we’d like to introduce you to one of those individuals who we heard about through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Christen is a cancer survivor and volunteer with the organization, and seeing as it is her Miracle Baby’s 1st birthday today, we thought it would be perfect to share the interview with her on the Daily Grommet blog today.

Patient Story: Christen’s little miracle of hope

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Christen Reilert was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) when she was just 27-years-old. She took some time out to answer our questions on what it meant for her to be diagnosed with cancer as a young adult, as well as the fertility issues she faced.

LLS: How did you find out that you had NHL?

Christen: I found out I had NHL when I started having trouble taking deep breaths. Every time I took a deep breath it hurt which prompted me to go to my doctor. Twice I was misdiagnosed with walking pneumonia, given antibiotics and sent on my way. Two months later the symptoms returned and I ended up going to the hospital where they did a chest x-ray and found a large mass in my chest. That was the 4th of July in 2002 when I was diagnosed with NHL.

LLS: That sounds frustrating. Can you describe how you handled the diagnosis, as well as how it affected your day to day life?

Christen: The news was a total shock, being 27-years-old and a two-year newlywed with my husband, Josh. I was devastated. After the shock, I decided I was going to do whatever it took to survive. At the time, I didn’t want to know anything about the cancer, I just wanted to fight it. Every day I went in for my chemo treatments I had a smile on my face and I knew at that moment, I was a survivor. I went through six chemo treatments over an 18-week period and 18 days of radiation. I lost all of my hair on my body, got severe thrush*, became extremely fatigued and was out of work for seven months. Since that dreadful day of diagnosis, I look at every day as a gift. Every day I wake up, I thank God for letting me enjoy another day of life. There is nothing in life that be that bad. In my life, there are no bad hair days, no feeling sorry for myself, just living everyday as it comes.

LLS: Do you mind sharing if and how your diagnosis affected your plans to have children?

Christen: Just two months prior to my diagnosis, we had just started trying to have a family. I had always dreamed of becoming a mother and when I was told I had cancer, my dreams were shattered and put on hold. There was no definite answer if I’d ever be able to have children. I sought out professional advice from an infertility specialist in Manhattan. Josh and I traveled there by car and she told me I could freeze embryos but I’d have to wait until my next cycle when I ovulated again. Unfortunately my tumor was so aggressive I couldn’t postpone chemotherapy and I was not able to freeze any embryos to preserve my fertility. Needless to say, I cried all the way home.

LLS: Was there anything you could try at that point?

Christen: My chances of becoming a mother were slim. I took a chance and the doctor put me on a birth control pill to suppress my period for the duration of chemo (which was 18 weeks as well as 18 days of radiation) in hopes the chemo would bypass my reproductive system. The chemo I endured was very aggressive and harsh, and basically prayer and hope was all that was going to ensure any sort of fertility.

I was very ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant in April of 2008. When I took that pregnancy test, I literally did a double take. All the prior tests were always negative and to get a positive result was just shocking. When the doctor confirmed my pregnancy with a blood test I didn’t waste any time breaking the news to family and friends!

LLS: Congratulations!

Christen: Yes, on December 23rd, 2008, our miracle baby born. Our son, Jaden was born! My motto which I’ve been saying since I found out I was pregnant has been “CANCER SURVIVOR’S HAVE MIRACLES TOO”. We are so blessed to have him. What more could a cancer survivor ask for?

LLS: How is your health now?

Christen: I am currently in remission and have been cancer free for the last seven years now.

LLS: We hear that you’re actively involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Christen: After I completed radiation in early 2003, I ended up calling LLS to become involved in fundraising because felt like I owed the world a big fat thanks! For everyone who helped me beat this disease, I felt like I had to give something back. So in 2003 I started doing the Light The Night Walk and formed my own team, Christy’s “Cure”ators. I have been the team captain for the last six years and an honored patient hero for the last five years. Everyone who walks with Light The Night Walk has been following my story. Last year at Citibank Park I was speaking (as I do every year) and was able to announce my pregnancy. I unveiled my seven month pregnant belly in front of hundreds of people with a zip of my jacket and the crowd roared for me. It was so exhilarating. This year, I get to introduce my son Jaden to everyone at Citibank Park, I can’t wait.

In addition to being a team captain and honored patient hero I also volunteer my time anywhere I can. I am also a First Connection Volunteer for those who are diagnosed with similar diagnosis and who are around my age – I am like a mentor to them.

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* ”Some people may develop a white, shiny coating or white patches on their tongue, inside of the cheeks or on the floor of the mouth. This symptom may indicate a yeast infection, also called ‘thrush’ or ‘oral candidiasis.’” From the free booklet, Understanding Drug Therapy and Managing Side Effects.

An anonymous friend of LLS is offering to match all donations up to $100,000 made through Dec. 31, 2009 – click here for details and to donate. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

A Taste of the Holidays – Special Cookbooks Giveaway

December 22, 2009

The great folks over at the Hachette Book Group recently contacted us to tell us about two newly published cookbooks and offered us 2 extra sets to give away to our readers. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of each book and by lucky, I mean win the lottery lucky.

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The first book is written by Max Brenner and is titled, Chocolate: A Love Story. Even if you don’t like chocolate, you will love this book. Each recipe resides on the left page and on the right page is a graphic to go along with it. The graphics are phenomenal and the recipes are simply delicious. You want this book. Trust me.

I was able to send a few questions to Max and he was quick to respond with his answers.

I don’t know a soul who doesn’t like chocolate, but the difference in preference seems to be between milk (or sweeter) chocolate and dark chocolate. Which is your favorite?

I personally love milk chocolate with hazelnuts.

If there’s one tip that you think anyone who is working with chocolate should adhere to, what would it be?

Enjoy chocolate the way you always wanted to. Lick it, drip it into your hands and have fun with it!

The holidays are upon us – can you share one of your favorite traditions with us?

My wife, daughter and I watch a movie and sip on hot chocolate. Nothing is better in the winter!

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The second book they sent me was How to Roast a Lamb, by Michael Psilakis.

I am a woman who loves Greek food but apart from chicken souvlaki and Greek salad, have no idea how to prepare it at home. I obviously haven’t had time to try many of the recipes as I only received the cookbooks last week, but I made a few of the dips for a Christmas party and wowed my friends. Based on the photos in the book, I know that this is a cookbook I that will soon be dogeared and splattered with ingredients.

Michael was also gracious enough to answer my questions; here is what he had to say.

I’m a woman who loves to cook and loves to try new dishes, but for some reason lamb seems a little…exotic. I’ve always been afraid to try it. Is it an easier meat to work with than it appears to be?

No, not at all. Lamb seems exotic because it’s a protein that deviates from our familiar forms of red meat, namely beef. But the great part is that all red meat is cooked in the same way. The question when cooking any type of red meat is which cut are you dealing with? Lamb is no different. The only thing to consider is that it’s a much smaller animal, so the cooking occurs more quickly. I would start with the simplest cuts like a tenderloin, or the rack to get yourself acquainted, and cook them using the same techniques you would if you were cooking beef.

Do you have one favorite lamb recipe that stands out for you, or does it change with the seasons?

I think the best way to cook lamb is to simply grill it any time of year and finish it with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The garnishes will change with the seasons, but I feel that lamb really resonates in the spring time when the animals are older and gamier. Use the grill to develop a good smoky char and combine it with bright spring vegetables. That’s where it’s at.

Will you share one of your holiday traditions with us?

No matter the holiday, my father would also roast a whole animal on a spit –usually a goat or a lamb. My father built a special BBQ pit in our back yard when I was growing up specifically for this purpose. In the Greek culture, family revolves, literally, around food and gathering to eat it and enjoy one another’s company.

Thanks for joining us on Daily Grommet today Michael & Max!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we will be giving away 2 sets of these cookbooks today (that means two lucky winners will receive a copy of each of the books). I am so excited for you guys that it’s a little bit ridiculous.

The contest will remain open until 9pm EST and we’ll use Random.org to pick a winner. Leave a comment for Max or Michael, or tell us about your favorite holiday traditions to enter.

General contest rules: To enter, you must be at least 18 years of age and a resident of the U.S. and you must leave a comment below. No purchase necessary. The winners will be randomly selected by Daily Grommet and we will select two people to win a set of two books (one entry per person). Employees, contractors, and the families of employees and contractors of Daily Grommet, Inc. are not eligible to enter. Void where prohibited. Contest will run from 9am through 9pm EST December 22, 2009.

Grommet Gift Guide – Last Minute Gifts

December 18, 2009
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We’re a mere seven days away from Christmas day (!) and we’ve rounded up some great Grommets that can bail you out in a pinch.

41pounds.org, Stop Junk Mail and Catalog Delivery Take Back Your Mailbox 41 pounds (a nonprofit organization) is named for the 41 pounds of junk mail the average adult gets each year. The company was founded by the three DeVries brothers (on the right) who turned their own frustration with junk mail into a service that stops up to 95% of unwanted deliveries. Sure, it’s something anyone could do — but, honestly, who has the time? For $41, 41pounds.org will protect your mailbox from unwanted junk for five years, plus donate $15 to the charity of your choice. Total charitable contribution: $100,000 and counting. ($41) Learn more about 41pounds.org and learn how to stop junk mail here.



Pandora, Create Your Own Radio Station Online Radio Is New Again Enter the name of one of your favorite songs or artists, and Pandora quickly scans its database of analyzed music — new and old, well known and completely obscure— to find songs with interesting similarities. Pandora dishes out the tunes, and you sit back and enjoy a customized listening experience. Create as many “stations” as you want and refine them by hitting thumbs up or down on a song. (Free) Learn more about Pandora and how to create your own radio station online here.




Mokugift.com - Share the Inspiration, Plant a Tree CharityPlant A Tree. Good news: Yes, you can do something about global warming! And it’s surprisingly simple. Just plant a tree. Besides providing beautiful foliage and cooling shade, trees help trap ozone layer-depleting CO2 emissions, minimizing the effects of climate change. Planting is a cinch with Mokugift. You don’t have to dig deep into your pockets or even lift a shovel. And it’s as easy as sending an e-card. ($1 per tree) Learn about mokugift.com and how to plant a tree for charity.




Angelina's Crab Cakes, Buy Crab Cakes for Delivery, Let Them Eat (Crab) Cake  Let Them Eat Crab Cake It’s a pretty well-kept secret that most crabmeat in this country comes from Asia, EXCEPT the true blue lump crabmeat from the Chesapeake Bay where Angelina Tadduni once owned a popular Italian restaurant with her husband for many years. Though the couple passed on, and the restaurant is no longer, Angelina’s famous mouthwatering lump crab cakes can be yours for the asking. ($59.70 and up) (Order by December 21st) Buy Angelina’s crab cakes here.




Animoto - Make Your Own Video Slideshow, Make Your Own Video SlideshowQuick and Easy Memory Makers Animoto.com is a cool website that lets you create your own photo videos set to the music of your choosing. Imagine pictures of the kids set to your family’s favorite hits, or snapshots of good friends over the years with memorable tunes playing in the background. Just upload your photos and music, insert text, and arrange it all the way you want it. In a matter of minutes you can have something that looks TV-worthy. (Free and up) Learn how to make your own video slideshow with Animoto.com here.



Jeni's Truly Splendid Ice Cream, Best Gourmet Ice Cream, Premium Ice Cream GiftSimply Splendid. All of Jeni’s treats are delivered deeply frozen, so they’re easy to ship (in packs of six or nine flavors) just in time for a decadent holiday dinner or to your favorite food-lover for an unforgettable gift. One bite and your gift recipient will be hooked. ($70.00) Buy Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams gourmet ice cream here.



Wild Creations Frog EcoAquarium, Pet Frogs, Frog Aquarium,Frog Wild Finding a pet that’s exciting for kids but low maintenance for parents is a tough challenge. But we’ve found a really fun solution. The EcoAquarium from Wild Creations is an all-in-one aquatic environment that will thrill kids and adults alike. The kit comes with two frogs — excitable, jumpy creatures that are great fun to watch. The “living gravel” that comes with the kit acts as a natural filtration system, so no additional chemicals, aeration or filters are required. The frogs need to be fed twice each week (which kids love doing) and the food comes with your system. As for tank maintenance, the water only needs to be changed once every five or six months. Easy! ($3.99 to $30.00) Buy Wild Creations’ pet frog eco-aquarium here.



Kiva - Loans that Change Lives, Help a Global CharitySmall Loans, Big Impact. In times like this, it’s more important than ever to reach out to those in need. Kiva connects lenders with hard-working entrepreneurs from impoverished countries. Browse profiles on the site, choose who you want to lend to, learn the story of the entrepreneur and about the business he or she is creating, and then decide how much to lend. Donations can be as little as $25 and the loan cycle is typically six months to a year when the loan is then repaid. Learn more about Kiva’s loans that change lives here.




A Better Back - Lumbar Support Pillow, Back Support Pillow | Back Posture Support Called A Better Back, it’s a lumbar support pillow that can be worn like a backpack if you’re on the go, or strapped onto a chair if you’re working at a desk. You can use it everyday as a gentle reminder not to slouch. The pillow comes with two thermal packs, one for the microwave and one for the freezer. So when pain flares up, you can alternate between hot and cold therapy – a proven method to relieve all types of soreness and muscle tension. ($69.00) Buy A Better Back’s back support pillow here.




Cloud 9 Living Passage to Adventure Some might be seeking clarity, others might be seeking g-force. No matter the mission, Cloud 9 Living has an experience to match. Co-founder Adam Michaels and the team at Cloud 9 Living have done the legwork to find 1,700 activities across the U.S. that make for unforgettable gifts. You can send a friend bungee jumping or to ninja school, or have them ride shotgun in a race car. If you’re looking for something less physically challenging, you could choose a food tour, private DJ lessons or pottery classes. Or maybe you know someone who longs to star in a movie, play poker with pro Jamie Gold, or pull off a perfect crime? Cloud 9 Living offers so many experiences that the hardest part might be deciding which one to choose. ($50 and up) Learn about Cloud9 Living’s experience gifts here.



Switch Gear 2, Interchangeable Jewelry Kit
Go Go Gadget Earrings. You can give many gifts in one, with this super-smart earring kit from artist Lisa Monahan. A clever little collection of diverse jewelry options, the Switch Gear kit offers hundreds of unique earring combinations from one travel-sized selection of materials. How fun! ($65.00) Buy Switch Gear’s interchangeable earring kit here.

Grommet Gift Guide – Office Gifts

December 16, 2009
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It’s the week of office holiday parties! We have a few suggestions — some serious and some silly — that are sure to be a hit!

Kamibashi - String Dolls, String Doll Gang Keychain Collectible Characters Woven with Heart and Soul.  Each Kamibashi doll is handmade in Thailand, forged of a continuous piece of cotton string, resulting in 2″-3″ character keychains positively packed with personality. With over 90 different charming choices, you’re sure to find the perfect personality for any office mate. (Prices vary) Buy Kamibashi string doll keychains here.


Ever Bamboo - Purify by Nature, Bamboo Charcoal, All-Natural Room, Shoe and Sports Deodorizer Nature’s Deodorizer. Nobody likes a stinky office — why not banish box-lunch smells with Ever Bamboo all-natural deodorizers? Made from bamboo charcoal it has an incredibly porous structure that allows it to absorb odors and moisture. By the way, they’re also great for all your sweaty gear; hockey bags, gym bags, shoes, boots, and more. What better way to tell your colleagues you care? ($8.95 and up) Buy Ever Bamboo All-Natural Room, Shoe and Sport Deodorizer products here.


Animoto - Make Your Own Video Slideshow, Make Your Own Video SlideshowQuick and Easy Memory Makers. Animoto.com is a cool website that lets you create your own photo videos set to the music of your choosing. Grab your favorite work snapshots, choose a tune with meaning, insert text, and arrange it all the way you want it. In a matter of minutes you can have something that looks TV-worthy and will have everyone in the office singing your praises! (Free and up) Learn more about how to make your own video slideshow with Animoto.


Clocky - Run-Away Alarm, Best Bedside Alarm Clock Review Fall Back, Spring Ahead. There’s no shortage of alarm clocks featuring various gimmicks to get you out of bed, but our in-office test of Clocky confirmed why this alarm clock on wheels is the best: When the alarm began to blare, Clocky jumped off the desk and zoomed away, hiding around the corner. Got someone in the office who’s notoriously late? Clocky is a perfectly practical gift. ($16.99 and up) Buy Clocky the best bedside alarm clock and see our full review here.


GRID-IT Netbook and laptop case, Hard Netbook and Laptop Cases With OrganizerCocoon Your Laptop. The GRID-IT laptop case accommodates up to a 15.4″ laptop, and the netbook case can hold up to 11″ devices. Each has a detachable shoulder strap, so you can carry the case on its own or remove the strap and pop the case into any bag you like. This holiday season, why not give the gift of organization to someone who would appreciate it? ($44.99-$69.99) Buy a GRID-IT, hard netbook and laptop case here.



GRID-IT! Organizer-Portable Gadget Organizer, Cocoon Innovations Grid It Organizer Reinventing Personal Organization. The flat design of the GRID-IT makes it easy to slip into a laptop case or backpack, and if someone in the office is a frequent traveler, they can simply pull out their loaded organizer and send it right through the airport security scanner. Also a great way to keep that cubicle or desk drawer from getting out of control. ($14.99-$24.99) Buy the Cocoon innovations GRID-IT gadget organizer here.


Healthytoes Toe Stretchers, Healthy FeetHealthytoes Are Happy Toes. Know someone at work with achy feet? They’ll love  Healthytoes and could even slip these toe stretchers on under the desk while at work  (well, only if their feet aren’t stinky … otherwise, you might want to combine this gift with the EverBamboo – see above). ($27.95) Buy Healthytoes toe stretchers for healthy feet here.

MixMyGranola Custom Granola MixMixed With Love. Got someone at the office who always skips breakfast? Here’s a tasty, personalized gift that’s fun to give: MixMyGranola. Mix a custom, all-natural, 16-ounce blend according to your colleague’s preferences and you’ve got a truly unique gift. It’s that simple. ($4.99 and up) Buy pre-mixed and customer Mix My Granola here.


A Better Back - Lumbar Support Pillow, Back Support Pillow | Back Posture Support Sore No More. A Better Back lumbar support pillow can be worn like a backpack if you’re on the go, or strapped onto a chair if you’re working at a desk. It’s a gentle reminder not to slouch and even comes with two thermal packs, one for the microwave and one for the freezer. So when pain flares up, your office mate can alternate between hot and cold therapy – a proven method to relieve all types of soreness and muscle tension. Soothe office tension and make someone on your list happy. ($69.00) Buy A Better Back’s back support pillow here.

d ID - Personal Identification Gear To Wear Road ID, ID Bracelet, ID TagHang Tight. The Slackline is a new-age, bouncy tightrope, constructed of nylon fabric that’s roughly the width and texture of a seatbelt. The sport, which is sometimes called “jiblining,” was invented by rock climbers who would practice their balance by walking parking lot chains or ropes between climbs. Can’t you just see this at the next company meeting? Nothing like bonding over your inability to balance! ($79.99) Buy the Gibbon Slackline for tight rope balance and agility fun here.

Yurt Alert: Let’s crochet a home.

December 16, 2009
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It’s pretty near impossible to predict what’s waiting around the next corner here at Daily Grommet … whether it’s a company that’s reinventing water bottles or college kids turned entrepreneurs who developed a new kind of paint that lets you write on walls. The best part of my job is that I get to share those stories with you.

But Kate Pokorny has one of the most unusual stories I’ve ever come across. I found Kate just last week on Twitter. She doesn’t have a product to sell, but she’s embarking on a truly curious  and ambitious adventure: She’s going to crochet a traditional Mongolian yurt.

Here’s the first of what we hope will be many updates from Kate – we think you’ll be as inspired as we were to follow her progress.

by Kate Pokorny

The Yurt AlertThe last month of the year is upon us and for me, it’s an especially exciting time, as it’s the last month of fundraising for my yurt project. I’ve decided I’m going to crochet a full-sized Mongolian yurt using locally grown materials from New Hampshire.

The yurt, when complete [I’m aiming for Summer 2010], will be 10 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, and it will look somewhat like a wooly igloo with a small door and oculus for smoke release. We’re sourcing the wool locally from nearby farmers to my parent’s farm in Southern New Hampshire and using a local mill as well.

Unlike historic yurt construction, this one will be built out of one continuous “thread” of felted yarn. We built the prototype in August of 2009 and made 40 feet of this cording – it ended up being about 1.5 – 2 inches in diameter, making the crocheting nearly impossible, even with the special hook I whittled. I decided to use my arm as the “hook” from now on and it’s working perfectly.

ThTraditional Mongolian Yurte whole yurt project was born out of visit to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York to see their Fashioning Felt exhibit. The exhibit included some of my favorite knitters and felters as, in the last few years, I’ve been increasingly fascinated by oversized works by artists including Kwagho Lee and Christien Meindertsma. I also was crocheting quite a bit myself at the time, as I had watched the TED Talk by Margaret Wertheim on the crochet coral reed project, which proved to me that anything was possible when it came to crochet.

As luck would have it, the other large exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt was Design for a Living World, which paired artists and designers with regionally-specific, renewable materials. The artists were charged with using these new materials to create something out of them whether it was wool, wood, salmon skin, tagua nuts or other more obscure materials. The message I took away from that exhibit was the concept of exploring the potential of creatively using not only your local resources, but your renewable resources as well.

I also sit on the board of Build a Nest, a no-interest, micro-finance loan group aimed at elevating female artists and artisans out of poverty by creating a new market for the sale of goods that they’ve been making for generations. By building a unique, online marketplace for these women’s works, we’ve learned a great deal, and had many discussions about creative directorship and how much a traditional, heritage craft can or should evolve to serve markets. These issues are also important as I think about how the yurt willl come together.

In Mongolia, nomads have been successfully making felt for their yurts for years. The process I’m using probably isn’t viable for them, however, I like to think it does bring their traditions, styles, and culture to a new audience much as Nest does for the groups that we work with around the world.

Locally sourced woolAs a Skidmore College graduate I can safely say that sustainability and responsibility are things that I’ve been aware of for a long time. Our campus was notably environmentally conscious and active. With this project, however, I want to make a personal contribution, both to my growth as a crocheter and to the ongoing conversation on sustainable design. Interestingly, some people have criticized the project as not having enough depth – saying that it’s art without purpose and others have come to the yurt’s defense. What’s most interesting to me is the difference between sustainable art and art about sustainability and I hope that in time the yurt touches both of those areas.

In order for the yurt project to be realized, Kate needs to raise $5,500 for wool and materials by January 1st ’She’s getting closer with $2,899 to date, but is looking for help. To learn more about Kate’s ambitious undertaking, you can  watch this video or visit her Kickstarter page to make a donation.

Visit Kate’s “Yurt Alert” blog.

An Interview With Kate Inglis

December 14, 2009
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Today we’re thrilled to be hosting Kate Inglis from Sweet|Salty on the Daily Grommet blog, and we’re giving away a copy of her book, The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods (if you can’t wait to see if you win, you can pick up your copy here). (See rules for the giveaway at the bottom of this post)

Kate has graciously answered my interview questions. I loved reading her responses and I’m sure you will as well.

How did the idea of writing a story about pirates happen to come about?

Four years ago, I was hiking through an old woodlot with a 6-year-old who was cold and wet and hungry, and we still had a long way to go. I remember telling him SHHHH and “Eric, you need to pay attention when you’re in the woods, because they might come along and squash us,” and he said “Who?” and I looked around and saw trees and splinters and snowy moss and bogs and it just popped into my head: “The Wood Pirates.”

As we walked, Eric asked all kinds of questions that needed answering. “What makes their ship go?” And, “Why do they want junk?” And, “What do they look like?” And, “What do they smell like?” And, “What do they do for fun?”

I got home and felt a need to capture it before I forgot—a story about a pirate-tracker named Eric who lived in a very remote and old farmhouse in the middle of Nova Scotia with goats and peacocks and an old barn with a stone foundation and an iron hulk of a kitchen wood oven, all just like the real thing. Plus pirates.

Writers often talk about their “muse.” What does your muse look/feel like?

My muse is a plethora of voices that answer questions. It’s uncanny how those voices don’t feel like they’re coming from me. As long as I pay attention, they tell me everything I need to know. So I guess you could say my muse has maggots in his beard and horrible manners. That and a whole lot of Johnny Cash.

What did you find to be the hardest part of the writing process for the book?

When you’re a creative, work-at-home parent, everyone wants a piece of you. Your kids want you to play lego. Your supper is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Your corporate client wants a feature article on the effect of social media on mass brands in a fragmented market. Your husband wants you to curl up on the couch for an evening and watch a movie and have you be mentally as well as physically present.

In the midst of all that, a small girl—a pirate scout—climbs through a window and whispers in your ear I may be small, but I’m the fastest they’ve ever seen. And you’re entranced, and you fear she’s going to disappear back out through that window if you don’t drop everything and write about her. Then a small voice chirps from the other room HA! HA HA. LOOK. FUNNY POOP.

What did you find to be the best part of the writing process for the book?

For me, the most enjoyable aspect of writing the book was the process of editing. Mapping out the story—the task of getting through 40,000 words that tell a compelling story—that can feel like some unending epic journey. In comparison, editing is fish in a barrel. You step away from the finished first draft for a while and you come back to it with feedback and perspective, strangely refreshed. Revisiting sentences and paragraphs and chapters is so easy and fun, and the impact of good editing is so profound and instantaneous.

You write a novel. Then you rest. Then you return to it with a new eye, feeling less attached to your own cleverness.

This is critically important. When you finish a large piece of work, you’re left with this self-satisfied film, pleased with what you’ve accomplished. That film has to be peeled back or you run the risk of falling in blind love with your own words—words that would be so much stronger with a vigorous edit. You trim a sentence by half and it’s ten times stronger and it’s suddenly got cadence and feels artful and goes ZAP and it makes you feel high. It’s a drug.

Maybe I just need to get high more.

Are any of the characters based on people in your life? I mean, I’m pretty sure you haven’t encountered any members of the Dread Crew (Or maybe you have?) but are there glimmers of personalities that belong to people you know?

Absolutely. (grin)

Do you have a favorite character in the book? Or does it vary from day to day?

I love Joe for his hospitality, his sense of justice and for how he lives his values. And Eric for his earnest curiosity. And of course I adore Missy… and the pirates for all kinds of different reasons. Hector for his charisma. Johnnie for his grandness. Meena for her lungs. Some of them I love for reasons not apparent in the books, for aspects of their back stories that I’ve had glimpses of. Some of them were just kind of ‘there’ until I saw them sketched by Sydney, at which point I fell wildly in love with them and wished I’d given them more limelight. (Famous Amos and Ironbound Ike are two of those.)

Now that the book has been out for a couple of weeks, and you’re on the other (Published) side of it, is it anything at all like you thought it might be?

Every time someone pushes a book towards me and asks me to sign it, I feel like apologizing for spoiling such a pretty thing. That’s something I just can’t believe—how this book is so beautifully put together, and it’s mine. I watch as people pick it up and run their hands over the cover, and they pore through it giggling and marvelling at Sydney’s illustrations. Gives me butterflies every time.

I’m also flattened by how exposing it is to have people reading my story after holding it so close for so long. Every person who buys a book… I feel like I’ve made them a promise. I’m so honoured by the attention granted by every single reader, and that sense of honour can be unnerving. I want so, so much to make good on that promise.

Are there any plans in the works for a second novel? If so, will it be a continuation of the Dread Crew story, or something altogether different?

I started the next book a couple of weeks ago. It will be a sequel but will also be new—it follows the adventures of Missy. It will reveal more about where she came from, and will see her travelling the world until she gets embroiled in a mystery that has implications beyond piracy.

The Dread Crew felt like play—but with so much at stake, this next book feels a little more daunting. There’s a time pressure now, knowing that I’d like to have it released for a certain season. But with this first experience behind me, there’s so much that I just can’t wait for. I feel scenes coming to me and I can’t help but imagine how Sydney, our phenomenally talented Dread Crew illustrator, would draw them. I hear a conversation between characters and I have to hold back from emailing Penelope, my editor, right away.

This next time around, I’m simultaneously more nervous and more confident. I’m just doing my best to block out both those feelings, and just do my best to pay attention to voices.

Thanks, Kate!

Kate will be checking in throughout the day to answer any questions that our readers might have. You can also enter to win a copy of her book by simply answering the question, “What would your pirate name be?”

The contest will remain open until 9pm EST and we’ll use Random.org to pick a winner. What are you waiting for?

General contest rules: To enter, you must be at least 18 years of age and a resident of the U.S. or Canada. No purchase necessary. The winners will be randomly selected by Daily Grommet and we will select one person to win a book (one entry per person). Employees, contractors, and the families of employees and contractors of Daily Grommet, Inc. are not eligible to enter. Void where prohibited. Contest will run from 9am through 9pm EST December 14, 2009.

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