Last night, I did one of my favorite annual family traditions - only this year it looked different. On the night before the first day of school, I always write a decorative message for the kids to wake up to on their first day. Usually it’s a chalkboard and I try to get fancy shmancy with my writing. Only this year, the chalkboard was trashed because we had left it outdoors for too long. So I busted out my backup whiteboard for just this occasion. Except the whiteboard markers were all dried up. They were all I had, so I was determined to make it work - toilet paper entrepreneur-style. So I tried each one to eek out whatever faint marks I could. Next I tried breathing on them to revive them a bit. (I have no idea if this works, but it felt right at the time.) Then I tried pressing harder and then writing with the side of the tip. In the end, I got a somewhat legible message on the board. I’m glad I did it, but it’s a 50:50 shot whether the kids will be able to read it or not.
As I sat back and looked at my handiwork, setting it out for the kids to see first thing in the morning, I sighed and kind of chuckled a bit. It felt like a lot of what this past year had been like. Great plans, great ambitions, and the growing realisation that it’s not going to work out as planned. This is followed by quickly pivoting, trying something else, thinking you’re getting into a groove before you realize - nope - not working. So you try harder or try something else. You say goodby to what you had hoped for and make your peace with what has to be. It’s not awesome. Certainly nearly as awesome as what was planned. But it is still something. I put my not-lovely sign out for the kids to see because I want them to see I tried and doing your best is better than giving up when you fall short of perfection. I feel like that’s a message I want to keep front of mind as we enter this new school year.
It got me thinking about the first baby blanket I ever crocheted. I used the same pattern my mom used for made for me. It's Tunisian crochet in the center with a filet/granny square checkered border. The Tunisian middle went exactly as planned, but things fell apart when I got to the border. I’m not sure whether my gauge was wrong or if I was adding stitches, but the border started to ruffle like a loofah! I frogged multiple times and tried again, but couldn’t figure out what needed to change. So it sat in my parent’s basement for longer than I like to admit.
Fast forward several years later and I was expecting my first baby. I just new I wanted to tackle that pattern again. I was on bed rest, but crocheting was one of the only activities I could do. My mom came out to help out while I was on bed rest and I knew it would be perfect to get her help with the border when I needed it. Except this time, the border went without a hitch. My mom helped me more with the main body (because I got a bee in my bonnet about knitting the middle), but I didn’t have issues with the border. How did that happen? It happened because in between those two baby blanket attempts I had done oodles of other projects with mistakes I had to rip out. Trying different things over and over got me to the point where not only did I know how to troubleshoot issues, but also how to avoid them in the first place.
More than that, it taught me how to shape things. So now I can add ruffles when I want (like the Olivia Ruffle Headband and Getaway Spa Set) and avoid them otherwise. Learning what works and doesn’t work helps me to come up with new ideas and make them into finished products. The screw ups and perseverance taught me not just how to read patterns, but how to improvise. This skill is what brings me the most joy with crocheting now. It feels incredibly empowering, though most of it was learned through struggles or painstaking hours of trial and error.
This makes me cautiously optimistic we may find this sort of growth on the other side of the pandemic. It can’t make up for all that we’ve lost, but we may get some pandemic power-ups to show for it. I learned how to multitask distance learning and working from home at the same time. I learned new ways of having fun as a family. I learned it is possible to do a big Google Hangout with families spread across the globe. I learned how to BBQ. None of these things is earth shattering, but they expand my repertoire and I’m grateful to have these newly acquired skills.
As my kids enter the year ahead, still filled with ridiculous amounts of uncertainty, I really do hope they will learn how to troubleshoot when things don’t go how you want, the value of perseverance and the new power ups you can unlock when you’re forced to learn and adapt. Pushing through the challenging is so so worth it because you unlock new abilities and a vast amount of untapped joy on the other side and that's the thing I hope the kids learn above anything else this school year.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kind of Sliding Doors moments of my life. This means a lot of “What if” scenarios playing out in my mind. What if I never got rheumatoid arthritis, would I have started Gray Day Crochet? What if I hadn’t left my last workplace for a job with a train commute, would I have been one of the former employers rounds of redundancies? What if we hadn’t moved back to Australia, would my joints be able to cope with Minnesota winters? What if we had more kids? What if I never met Nic? What if… I’m guessing this is one phase of a mid-life crisis of sorts. Being able to look back at all the incredible influences that have shaped your life. Is there anything you’d go back and change, or do you appreciate the good and the bad because it brought you to where you are today?
I finally got around to seeing Avengers: End Game. I’ve also been watching The Man in the High Castle, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that my creative juices are leaning toward time travel and multiverses. You find yourself wondering which scenario, branch, multiverse is the best and start thinking about the wider purpose and meaning behind existing in one place at a certain time. But this pondering can be somewhat crippling. With so many possibilities, how can you ever choose? This is often how I feel with a new skein of yarn. It is positively bursting with possibilities, but sometimes I paralyze myself with not being able to choose one. I have some skeins of yarn that I have had for more than 10 years without working into something because I just couldn’t choose. It’s like a form of writers block. It’s either like I’m waiting for a lighting strike epiphany and if that doesn’t come, I set it aside until that thread in the multiverse is obvious.
The opposite is to just lean in to (or lay back in) the laissez faire of it all and disconnect. If whatever will be, will be, then you’d think you just make whatever and it was what it was always going to be. Like each project is an inevitability. Yet, I’ve found that ends up in me thinking, “I’ll get around to it someday.” Those ‘someday’ projects end up collapsing under the weight of their own inertia. The longer you go before starting, the harder it is to try and pick it up.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I really do feel like a project was a lightning strike of creativity and it all just flowed out of me. Or some are carefully planned and are executed as if they were inevitable. But certainly not all, or most of my projects. Do you know what happens when I assume they will happen by spontaneous burst of creativity or a foregone conclusion? Nothing happens. They don’t happen. I categorize them in my brain as, “that will happen when…” and then they never do. I’m finding this more and more in my life as well, not just my crocheting. I spend much of my time either expecting something to whisk me away on the next great adventure or to form as a new mountain in front of me that I have no choice, but to climb. And while some moments of my life have been like a zephyr (meeting my hubby) or like an expedition (dealing with chronic illness), the majority of my life is spent in small, every day choices. These daily choices get set on a default course where once I've made the choice one day, it will be preset for the next unless I choose to flip a different switch or open a different door. So instead of choices, they become habits, which is just another word for assumptions. The benefit of habits is they relieve the mental load. But how often do we take a step back and assess where the habits are taking us. My mom likes to say that “practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes consistent.” We get pretty good at repetition, but how do we identify when there’s a note that needs fixing or a choice that should be adjusted?
I think there are some ways to get perspective, take stock and even build in new habits to evaluate, but I find a couple of things make the biggest difference for me. Fostering my creative bursts, reflecting on the purpose in my big challenges and having unstructured mental time to allow my sub-conscious to do it’s thing. Actually, the unstructured mental time is essential to the other two. I can’t start playing with new design concepts in my head or finding perspective without having some time that is not filled up by a job to be done. I feel this a lot when I’m in a zone where every moment of down time becomes phone time. Everything I do on my phone is a job to be done, whether it’s checking emails, posting on Instagram or playing a game. They are all wired to give my brain a task to focus on. This is great for managing my chronic pain or just being efficient and on top of things, but it’s not great for growing me creatively or emotionally. Jobs to be done become more like a numbing agent. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary. Sometimes it’s helpful. But it can’t be always and all the time.
This doesn’t mean I’ve nailed this and am the shining example you’re looking for. On the contrary, I’m really bad at using my phone as a void-filler. In writing this, I’m hoping to let you know and remind myself that swapping the phone in my hand for a hook and some yarn is one of the best things I can do for my brain and also to double down on my resolve. I want to do this better and I want to be more present with the people I’m with. I’m not going to be perfect and I’m not going to quit using my phone cold turkey, but I do hope I will be more mindful in my use and - more importantly - my non use of it going forward. Hopefully this will help me to create space for those creative epiphanies for perspective seeking and for just free mental space to make room for some of the more important, non-automatic parts of life.
If you have any tips or tricks that have helped you to use your phone less or amp up your creative or reflective time, please let me know in the comments below.
I’m thrilled to unveil the pattern for another one of my “Velveteen Rabbit Potential” projects from my big yarn buy last year. The Herringbone Haze Infinity Scarf was my first project in super bulky yarn. And it was. Super. Bulky. When I was getting testers for the pattern, they kept trying their super chunky yarn, but it was never chunky enough. I didn’t realize that once you hit the super bulky threshold, yarn weight measurements go out the window. Everything is lumped together, whether it’s 25 or 250 yards for each 100g hank.
I designed this scarf to accomplish 2 things. 1) Make good use of the chunk factor to lift and define a stitch pattern that would otherwise be small or get lost. 2) Play up the fuzz factor to celebrate how close it is to working with straight up wool roving. I’m really happy with where I got to. The fact the yarn was so huge that the scarf was lightning fast to make was an added bonus. In the process of making this, I realized a couple of things about why I love crocheting so much.
Firstly, I was looking into entering a project into the Royal Easter Show, but decided against it. For my Stateside friends, this is the equivalent of a state fair. An autumnal celebration of agriculture, arts, crafts and all the food you could possibly wish for. (Sadly, no cheese curds here, but since Aussie potato scallops are a regular at the Minnesota State Fair, I think it’s just a matter of time before cheese curds cross the Pacific.) The Easter Show has an enourmous range of arts and craft entries with a significant crochet contingency. You need to submit your entries more than two months before the show. I had factored this in for 2019, but as I read through the 40 page rules, I was surprised by one of the requirements. Anything you enter must never have been worn or used. I’m sure the rationale behind this is to hold the high standards for exhibits and to ensure entries are not soiled or stretched. Imagine if a pie entry was already partially eaten. Not a great way to shine. This is probably similar to what they’re trying to avoid. But this was one requirement I just didn’t feel comfortable with, but I wasn’t exactly sure why.
The second and more full revelation occurred while our family was at the Powerhouse Museum. The full name is the Museum for Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS). They have everything from electricity experiments to old performance costumes, a giant steam engine and an Apple II E computer (complete with floppy disk drive). I feel a connection with the exhibits at this museum more than most and I found myself wondering why. As I walked through a section of vintage Chinese home decor I realized that it’s the “applied” aspect of the art that grabs me. It’s one thing to create soaring, provocative art that makes you think, but it’s a different thing to make something meant to be touched and interacted with. The ability to marry form and function adds a layer of meaning and engagement that resonates with me. The fact the museum sells crochet earrings in their gift shop was just further confirmation that I am definitely an applied art kinda gal.
This is what I love about crocheting. It is hands on and creative at the same time. You take the abstract and make it relatable. You layer color and texture not just for the aesthetic value, but for different uses and purposes. And I think that’s the crux of something in my mindset. What value is there in having all the deep and profound thoughts in the world if they don’t impact your life? Application is critical. Application makes art inviting and engaging. It infuses a purpose and role into something that would otherwise be vague or esoteric. At the same time, it takes something that could be only functional, but elevated it and imparts beauty and creativity.
This lines up with how I want to live my life. I want the places I go to be touched with color. I want to spark creativity in the mundane and joy in all activities. Once I recognized this, I realized that my love for crochet was far from accidental. It was the natural overflow of my applied creativity. Once I realized this, so many other things made sense. The reason I'm drawn to vintage, worn brown leather over brand, spanking new - or why furniture that's a bit distressed makes me feel more comfortable. I like things where you can sense it was lived it, that it touched another life. And this is what I want my crochet to be all about. I want it to beg to be touched and I want my gifts to bring joy to the hands and lives of others. This scarf could practically be a family pet because you can just sit and pet it all day. And I think something magical really does take place when something gets worn out or rough around the edges. It can be pretty rare, but like the Velveteen Rabbit, that's when it becomes most "real" and I hope the Herringbone Haze Infinity Scarf can become "real" for you too.
For my birthday 10 years ago, my husband and I were in Morocco. We’re birthday people. Big birthday people. We both love making a big deal about celebrating - for richer or poorer - throughout our marriage. He surprised me by whisking me away to a city I had never heard of and I left convinced that everyone must go at least once before they die. I had never even heard of it at that point, but it took my breath away instantly. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a city so quickly and I’ve always wanted to go back since then.
Fast forward a decade and I found myself looking for self-striping yarn. For some reason, most of this yarn is either acrylic or an acrylic blend. It felt like searching for a unicorn. But then, I found the perfect 100% wool with a scrubby, rustic texture that looked like someone had taken their paintbrush to it and I was transfixed. The shift from teal to azure to white to mustard to terra cotta took me back to the Moroccan coastal town that captured my heart.
As soon as I hooked into it, I knew I was working on something special. As the shells, scallops and posts layered like sedimentary layers, beauty was building row by row. The color combo was like channeling the memory of a short, but powerful, experience. I remembered the intricate tiles on the wall at the restaurant where we ate tapas. I remembered the sounds of the bright blue wooden boats clacking together while they were moored. I remember the white and wood combo of the B & B with a center courtyard you could look down to from 3 levels up. There was a resonance between the creative stimulation of the yarn and the process of crocheting the wrap itself. As the layers progressed, it seemed to unlock forgotten memories and new ideas at the same time.
It doesn’t surprise me that there has been a resurgence in slow, applied creative arts. Technology isn’t bad, but the tactile experience of something is different from a digital rendition. People often ask how I have time to crochet so many things, but it usually isn’t so much about making a concerted effort to carve our crocheting time or tackle a project for a specific deadline. Rather, I just swap the fiddling I would do on my phone with fiddling with a crochet hook. And you know what my smart phone doesn’t do? Relax me. It can distract me and entertain me, but it never leaves me feeling more calm and peaceful.
But crocheting does. It takes my compulsive urge to fiddle with things and channels it into something. Not only do I end up with a usable product at the end, but I have been on a journey that melds stories from where I’ve been with blue sky thinking about possibilities. It flips my flippant need to fidget for a beneficial purpose. It gives me an outlet for more joy, generosity an color in my life. Sometimes you stumble upon something where the materials, creative process and meaning are so resonant that you unlock ethereal harmonica in your work. The Essaouira Sunset Wrap was that for me and I hope it can be that for you too.
I am so stinkin’ excited to get to share my latest magazine project with you at long last. My Zebra Bolster is in Simply Crochet Issue 79 and I love it! But guess what, I didn’t love it initially. I had an idea in my head for playing around with some zebra stripes, but I had to work through a few things to make it mag worthy.
I’ve never been a huge animal print kinda gal, but I do love bold patterns and colors. When my daughter got her own room, we embraced all things animal for her room decor. Even though we were on a shoestring budget, we were able to pull together pieces from Target clearance and secondhand items to coordinate with her warm color, stripy IKEA bedspread. For her 2yo birthday, she got a cozy, loungy mini-armchair with funky zebra stripes. This was, honestly, the first time I thought, “Huh - black and white, eye-catching pattern. What’s not to like about zebra stripes?”
When I thought of designing an animal print pattern - channeling my inner zebra seemed like a no-brainer. 🦓 You know what’s not a no-brainer? How to take orderly stitches and create an organic, varied pattern. Then having to re-insert regularity back in so that the maker a) didn’t go crazy from micromanaging stitch counts and b) could be bite sized enough to fit in a magazine.
My initial pitch was for a table runner with the stripes going the short way across. I thought this seemed like a good accent for some animal flair in home decor, but I had my creative blinders on a bit. I have only been in 3 places in my life where that would fit in. 1) the ridiculously posh and over-decorated apartment of the new divorcee for whom I babysat in college 2) the lux, grandiose holiday house in Birmingham we stayed at for my brother’s wedding and 3) a Rainforest Cafe franchise.
The editors sure know what they’re doing. They liked an element of the pattern, but identified it as a better fit for a decorative cushion. As soon as they said this, I felt silly for not seeing it myself. When they were thinking a long bolster pillow, we started workshopping various options. Which way should the stripes go? Border or no border? Zipper or buttons? It was one of those reverse hourglass dialogues where you start with a contained idea, branch out into all kinds of divergent possibilities and then home in on a far superior finished product.
And superior it is. It was a bit of a beast to get it to play how I wanted, but it was so worth it. I love this one! I love the large, long layout. I love how the horizontal stripes reach, stretch and lengthen. I love the long, easy sewed on zipper. And I love, love, love how the black border join is like a classy picture frame for your work.
So check it out! If you can’t access issue 79 of Simply Crochet, you can check out the pattern on Ravelry. Give it some love while you’re there and let me know if you give it a try!
Last night we watched a quintessential Christmas movie - Home Alone. As I was watching it this time, one thing stood out to me. Throughout the whole movie - the snow sparkles. In both nighttime and daytime scenes, the snow looks like a glitter bomb burst (not unlike the old Marshall Fields Christmas window and walk-through displays). I’m not sure whether the glimmer of snow indicates whether it was fake or real, all I know is that it caught my eye and I have never noticed it before.
I wonder if my state of mind has something to do with this. This year has been a tough one with lots of chronic sickness - especially for the kiddos. In my anniversary card to Nic, I wrote that I wonder if we will remember 2018 as the year of specialist appointments. A couple of weeks ago, Nic took Mr. 6 to the doctor because we had to pick him up from school again. His tummy was in a lot of pain. The doctor ran a couple of tests and I didn’t think much of it until we got a call back. It turns out that he likely has celiac (can’t eat gluten) - which would explain so. many. things. We saw a gastroenterologist earlier this week and we need a biopsy to confirm this diagnosis or to indicate if something else is going on. So, we’re waiting. If this whole year has felt like a slog, then this month in particular has felt painted in tar (imagery fresh in my mind thanks to Home Alone).
But in the tarry slog, some things sparkle through. I have found myself noticing more and appreciating more of the things that bring light and joy this season. In January of this year, I started Gray Day Crochet and this has brought me to some of the biggest sparkles in this Christmas season. One of my Facebook crochet groups did a crochet secret Santa and it stunned me with awesomeness. I’ve never gotten gifts from a fellow crocheter before and it is like if you could buy gifts for yourself, but keep it a total surprise. Squee! I just want to squish and snuggle everything.
But the biggest crochet highlight this year has been tapping into the creativity extravaganza called Gift-Along 2018. On Ravelry, 349 designers have joined together for crochet and knit frivolity. Sales, prizes, inspiration- but mostly - encouragement. Everyone is sharing their fun new discoveries and giving all kinds of new things a try at the most giving and gifty time of year. There’s even a ridiculously cute challenge called an Oopadoo for participants who complete at least 1 of the 6,000+ patterns in each of the 8 categories: Hats & Head Things, Baby Things, Arm & Hand Things, Foot & Leg Things, Shawls & Stoles, Cowls/Scarves & Other Neck Things, Toys/Home Things and Sweaters & Other Garments.
GAL2018 is the thing I look forward to at the end of a long day. The fun/funny discussion forums are an antidote to all the waiting and help keep me out of other medical research wormholes. I’ve already planned about 50 projects I want to do next year from all the fantastic new ideas. It has helped me to look for the sparkle around me. I find myself looking for things that twinkle without realizing it. GAL2018 is helping me to accentuate the positive and latch on to the affirmative.
Having these moments of glitter and brightness help so much. I’m big on Christmas, but the light is the thing I keep coming back to. It’s in the darkness and uncertainty that the light pierces through, giving focus, hope and direction.
So, as a reminder of all this sparkle and light, this is my 2018 Christmas ornament pattern. I hope it brings smiles, light and joy to the people you share it with.
With sport weight yarn in green, red and white
Hook: G/6 (4.25mm)
Foundation: ch 3, sl st in first ch to form ring.
Rnd 1: (With green) ch 2 (counts as sc) 11 sc in ring, sl st in top of 2nd ch of first st to join (12 sc)
Rnd 2: ch 3 (counts as dc) *ch 3, sl st in next st, ch 3, dc in next st* rep from * to * 4 times, sl st in top of 3rd ch of first st to join (6 points)
Rnd 3: ch 1, *sc in top of dc, ch 5, (sk ch 3, sl st, ch 3) sc in top of dc of next point* rep from * to * 5 times, sl st in top of first sc to join, fo (6x ch 5, sc reps)
Rnd 4: (With red) ch 2 (counts as sc) *5 sc in ch 5 sp, sc in sc* rep from * to * 4 times, 5 sc in ch 5 sp, sl st in top of first sc to join, fo (6x sc, 5 sc reps)
Rnd 5: (With white) ch 2 (counts as sc) sc in each sc around, fo (36 sc)
Finishing: Weave in ends. Tie 8” piece of yarn through one stitch to hang ornament.
My fave parenting wormhole of the moment? Growth mindset. Instead of viewing knowledge as a binary categorization (yes = I know this, no = I don’t know this), not knowing is an indication of potential to grow. If learning is trial and error, then each time I fail, I am discovering an opportunity to learn, grow, improve and get smarter. This is part of what I LOVE about coming up with new crochet designs. I am taking the unknown (how do I make ‘x’?) and making it known through strategizing, trying, failing, re-strategizing and trying again.
As much as I embrace this way of thinking, I still often find myself thinking, “Did it work?” and using the y/n answer as the final answer for a particular task. But this week I was challenged to revisit something that I classed as a “no” - I tried to finish a shawl, but I was running out of yarn. I played my usual game of yarn chicken and I came up at least 3 feet short :(
This was the last yarn I had bought for the shawl and the yarn was discontinued. I really, really wanted that last row, but it seemed impossible. So I set it down for a bit to focus on other things. I had honestly resigned myself to rip out that last bit, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. If anything in crocheting should fall into a binary categorization, it would be, “Do I have enough yarn?” Yes or no? 0 or 1? It turns out, I was wrong.
Crocheting, like all creative arts, is influenced by myriad variables. Weight, fiber, hook size - even humidity - all play a major role in your finished product, without changing any stitches. I had forgotten the one thing I could change in the final row of a project without changing anything else. This could magically multiply my available yarn. Any guesses? (Mom - I know you’ve got this already and you’re not even a crocheter. 😉) Tension. Of course! I know that others know this, but I had never done it before. You rip your last couple of rows and then re-work them with a tighter tension.
Well. I’ll. Be.
I had enough! I made it to the end and was able to work the last row I was so keen on keeping. *small victory dance of joy here*
Crochet hack #1: Yarn too short? Rip a couple of rows and try again with a tighter tension.
What did I learn? Well, other than the importance of considering tension, I was reminded that even things seeming like a final answer might not be. It is worth pausing, percolating and investigating further. In my yarn 🧶 chicken 🐓 moment, I exhausted everything I could think of, but I hadn’t actually exhausted everything - I just didn’t know it yet.
Another thing I was reminded of is the concept of “truthiness” - when something feels true regardless of facts. (Bonus points if you know who coined this term.) Not having enough yarn felt very true in the moment, but the yarn itself wasn’t the only factor. I could change, I could adjust and this made all the difference. I wish I could say that I’m like this in all my relationships, but I do have a tendency to double-down on my “correctness” when I’m convinced I’m right. My hubby and I joke a bit about the times we’re both 100% certain we’re correct - more times than not, he’s right. I think he’s better at knowing “just the facts” and I’m prone to jump to conclusions. It’s a helpful/annoying reminder that just because it feels true, doesn’t mean it is (but sometimes I can know this and I still don’t care.)
And here we have the reason I’m so into the growth mindset concept in parenting. Yes, I care about it in parenting my kids, but I am also parenting myself. Even though trial and error crocheting helps me stretch and grow, there is still a battle waging against what I think is right or wrong, possible or impossible. I want to get quicker at recognizing this tension and, when I feel like I’m jumping to an assumed, final conclusion, to pause and re-calibrate. It may or may not affect the final outcome, but it will help change my mindset and grow me through the process.
My October WIPs
I’m not intrinsically motivated across the board, I am intrinsically motivated when it is goal-directed.
I was on a bit of a YouTube clips binge and I heard a phrase that caught my attention: goal-directed activity. It was describing someone in a manic stage of bi-polar and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’m grateful that depression is one struggle I haven’t had to deal with, but I could definitely relate to the concept of extreme motivation from goal-directed activity.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to do things. I fancy myself a bit like Leslie Knope, if Leslie Knope has rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and crocheted instead of quilting. I will happily produce the most amazing binder you’ve ever seen to demonstrate the game plan for the next big adventure. (Yesterday I got to coordinate an event for about 400 people at Parliament House - that’s my kind of fun!) Do you know the episode of Parks and Rec where they had the emergency simulation? I’ve done that! Also, I was in model UN for several years. I don’t mean to big note myself, but I do want to paint a picture. When I heard “goal-directed activity” I thought, “Well that could explain so much...”
My husband and I joke about how he finds nothing better than being able to stay home and relax, but I find relaxing boring and it stresses me out. As a kid, my mom stayed home full time to look after the four of us, but she would often say, “Mari, I don’t think you could stay home full time.” She knows me well. I have always known that I’m intrinsically motivated, but I do struggle with the day to day grind. That’s why the concept of goal-directed activity stuck out to me. I’m not intrinsically motivated across the board, I am intrinsically motivated when it is goal-directed.
I need something to stretch for and aim for. I need to focus on something and it unlocks so much drive and energy that I can’t seem to access in any other way. You know how you can accomplish so much cleaning when you have guests coming over, but it is so darn hard to maintain? Or how having a deadline can finally make things get done? I’m only just realizing how deeply this applies to my psyche. Now that I know it, I want to know how I can make the most out of it.
Even as a kid, I grew out of the idea of “playing” much earlier than I wish I had. But, what I did love were projects and missions. I would play Maren & Maren & Maren Inc. (aka 3M) for my corporate side. Or I would decide to throw a stuffed animal tea party with my sisters. Or I would choreograph a talent show to perform on the ledge of the fireplace. This is one way that I see a lot of myself in my daughter. Give her free time and she is miserable, but give her an agenda or a task and she thrives. (This also helps explain her deep love of school, which she also gets from me.) Once I noticed this in her, I started responding to it. When she’s asks what to do, I help her work out how to set an agenda for herself. And there’s nothing she likes more than doing some kind of activity that will be special for others.
This need for goals to drive motivation and unlock my potential energy helps explain why my Gray Day Crochet adventure has been so wonderful. It gives me projects and activities to focus on in a way that taps into my creative and social inclinations. I am so much happier having a project to work on or a problem to solve than to just Netflix and chill. Don’t get the wrong idea - I do love streaming shows, but the chill part isn’t fun unless I have something to do. Crocheting gives me that. It gets my brain into that sweet zone where I am focused enough on something that I can actually unwind. Thanks to all the amazing supporters who’ve been joining with me on this fun adventure. Thanks for reading the blog, buying the patterns, liking the insta posts and looking for me in your crochet magazines. I never thought I would accomplish so much with it this past year, but I’m thrilled with all of the new places it has taken me to. I’ve hit all of my initial goals, so I think it’s time to set some new ones. Any suggestions?
When wheels have left a runway or driveway, that’s when I feel like a vacation really begins.
I had my first day back at work after a delicious beach vacation and I had no fewer than 5 people tell me, “You look so relaxed!” I’m glad to hear this, but what do I look like normally?!? It is remarkable what a break can do.
When wheels have left a runway or driveway, that’s when I feel like a vacation really begins. That sense of leaving my cares behind does seem to equate with physical distance for me. Even taking a day trip, where I both wake up and go to sleep in my own bed, does wonders. My husband and I joke about our differences. For him, a chance to unwind at home is the ultimate indulgence. I tell him he could be a shower salesman or advocate because he firmly believes in the power of “life-changing showers.” For me, showers are a chore. Another job to be done before you can go on with the adventure of your day. I’m much more likely to advocate for the influence of the “life-changing car ride.”
I think the physical space triggers a healthy process of getting mental space for me. This year, I’ve had an awesome mentor at work and one of the first things she talked me through were perspective exercises. She had me visualize holding a chocolate bar in my hand, unwrapping it and smelling it. I was salivating and felt the intoxicating desire of wanting to eat it. Then she said to imagine putting it on a table. How does this change my perspective of it? What do I think and feel? What if I move it across the table? And then move the table across the room? Now put it in a TV commercial across the room. All of the intensity and desire washes away.
As someone who gets 1000% invested in every problem I am facing, this is a radical shift in thinking of me. I am certainly not advocating we run from our problems, but learning how to set them down, get some mental space and then return isn’t just good for our mental health, it also leads to clearer thinking and better problem solving. I have been trying to practice my perspective taking this year. While it isn’t coming naturally to me, I am improving. I can even see this in my crocheting. The art itself helps shift my focus from other concerns and making up my own patterns is an exercise in problem solving. Sometimes I’ll spend a couple of hours straight, trying and ripping and trying again. I can start to get frustrated and feel hopeless, but guess what - if I put down the hook and come back to it later, that’s usually when I have a breakthrough!
On my vacation, I wanted to crack the code to a triangle shawl I wanted to create. I kept getting the angles wrong. Either too many or too few increases. Just when I thought I had nailed it, I would get further along and see a subtle slant. I went away from it for a night and then I realized - my corners were off! The fixing didn’t need to happen across the straight sides, I needed to tweak the corners. I quickly popped the loop on my hook again and - voila - I got it.
As I’ve started to notice the impact perspective taking has, I’ve been continually stunned by its power in helping my mental health and problem solving. Knowing the benefits makes me choose to seek out opportunities for mental breaks. I no longer view them as indulgences, but as essentials. Even small tips like when you are told to look up from your computer periodically, to look at something green or to just move where you are working starts to unlock these benefits. Since the physical act of moving to a different space unlocks this thinking shift for me, I am trying to seek it out. I want to do more road trips or mini adventures. I know my husband would rather have the time at home for some life-changing showers, so if anyone else wants to be my adventure buddy, let me know and we can hit the road together.
I’ve been pretty quiet for the last few weeks. It’s been one of those spells where life has been equal parts busy and dreary. I’ve been crocheting away, but too drained to post pictures or blog. And a couple of weeks ago, my Nana passed away. This feels sad, but also a relief that she isn’t sick anymore. She was my last living grandparent and it feels like I’ve crossed a threshold. There’s something strange about that layer of my family tree having all shuffled off this mortal coil.
I wasn’t able to travel back for the funeral, but I was able to Skype - so it feels like closure for saying goodbye, but my longing to be close to my family remains. I feel the urge to do something tactile and creative in her memory because I have such vivid tangible memories of her and time at her house. But I feel like I just don’t have the energy yet.
Joe Biden had a great line in his eulogy for John McCain where he promised that one day a memory would flash through our minds and a smile will come to our face before a tear to our eye. I’m not there yet with Nana, but when I am, I think my creative muse will give me the inspiration and energy to make something in her memory.
For now, I wanted to share the memories I wrote that my sister kindly read on my behalf at her funeral. Her life and story was remarkable and this is a slice of some of my memories.
My Nana was a school librarian. She had a clear love of books and learning, but don’t be fooled into thinking she was quiet or demure. She had strong opinions and she didn’t shy away from sharing them. As a school librarian, I pictured her like the hero in a movie about taking a ragtag bunch of kids and whipping them into shape - to win the state championship in a spelling bee or debate.
Sometimes grit and stubbornness are described as two sides of the same coin. I think this is very true for Nana. She could stick with things well beyond when everyone else would give up or think something wasn’t worth it. It seemed like the harder something got, the more Nana would dig in. I think I’ve got a bit of this in me, which means I have to actively try not to be too competitive in board games or I will win at all costs (and burn bridges along the way.) Nana had challenges and obstacles to overcome her whole life she and I think these only refined her inner strength. She was fiercely independent and one of the most strong women I have ever known.
Yet, as strong, stubborn, gritty and independent as she was, there was one consistent soft spot - she had a love of animals that just seemed to melt her. She always had animals in her life. I was only around for some, but the stories of the animals at Nana’s house became legendary - Pandora the poodle (and the frog leg oil incident), Tony the cat, Hammy the hamster. They really were part of the family and it seemed like she could never get enough of them. I remember being fascinated by the bird bath in the backyard and her hummingbird feeder (because I’d never seen one before.) She was always happy to share her love of animals with those around her and they always made her smile. She was like a mama bear - equal parts adoring and protective. And she would go to such great lengths to look after them. Including forcing Bompa to cut a hole in the furnace to rescue wayward Hammy.
She also had a great laugh. While she wouldn’t usually be the one cracking jokes, eliciting a laugh from Nana was like getting a standing ovation. It felt like such a validation. And there were moments of real joy, that I can’t imagine from anyone else. Her “hoo - hoo” meant you dropped your game of Hi Ho Cherry-o and ran to the table. And family gatherings brought out the storyteller in everyone. Everyone had their version of the classics, but Nana considered herself the true authority and made sure to correct any discrepancies between your recollection and hers.
I think it must have been her love of stories that wooed her to be a librarian. Her book recommendations were on point. I still can quote many of the Jack Prelutsky poems from heart (my favorite was “Homework, oh, homework, I hate you, you stink!) She would even get books signed by authors and illustrators and give them to us as gifts. I still cherish these and enjoy sharing them with my kids now and telling them about Nana. Many of my memories of Nana’s librarian days were book related. One of my first memories of Nana’s house was sitting in the den with Evan and listening to the Berenstein Bears on cassette (BOING!) And when I think of the White Bear apartment she lived in, I think of the string of cat mysteries she churned through.
She really seemed to love things with a bit of silliness or a humorous twist. She liked what she liked and there were so many things that must have brought a smile to her face that I found delight in as well. Even 30 years on, I have some visceral memories of things at Nana's house - playing with the jumping peg game, arranging the lights in the ceramic Christmas tree, cracking nuts in the nut bowl, winding the music boxes and playing around on the Casio keyboard. I’m not sure what it was, but there were so many things I only ever seemed to encounter at Nana’s house that they really left an indelible impression.
There were foods I would only have at Nana’s house - like grocery store sheet cake with big frosting roses for our joint birthday cake each year, or green salad (my Mom and Dad’s best shot at getting me to eat pineapple because it was disguised in mini-marshmallows and pistachio pudding.) And of course there was my favorite - KFC chicken littles with instant mashed potatoes! (I think instant mashed potatoes were informally banned in my house, but I knew I could get them at Nana’s and they still are a guilty pleasure of mine.)
Even some of my best childhood adventures were linked with Nana - like setting up the mish mash motel, or three wheeling and playing with model rockets in the field across from her house. She was a good sport for all kinds of shenanigans, but you knew that if Nana was around, she’d keep things reined in before they got too crazy.
It was really hard when she got sick after Bompa died, it felt so surprising and mixed up because Nana always seemed so strong. To see the way Mom and Dad needed to care for her was gut-wrenching. Not because she needed to be cared for, but because it seemed like the Nana I always knew was gone. But as time went on, it seemed like I could start to see some of the story-loving, animal-doting Nana come through, with some of the stubbornness toned down. Even after she started living in the nursing home, it was wonderful that not only could birds still be part of her life, but that when we brought Zoe and Noah to visit her there, they could all enjoy the birds together.
You don’t get to pick what kind of challenges you will have to deal with in life, but I think Nana showed how challenges mean you need to be strong, but you also need to have things that make you smile. In my own life, I hope that I can show this. Especially in sad times, where we have to say a hard goodbye, it is important to be strong, but it is also important to tell stories, celebrate the things you love and smile at the little things along the way.
I love you Nana and I am so grateful for the stories and smiles we’ve shared.