Say “Hello” and Change Your Life Story

Photo credit: Jen Collins

I have always been a people person. While I cherish my alone time and am happy to amuse myself and relax, I usually thrive in an environment that requires me to meet new people, ask questions, and get personal. Perhaps that’s why being a writer was always top of mind for me; I recognized early on that everyone has a story to tell. Choosing journalism in college was a no brainer: it gave me a chance to pound the pavement and then write about what I learned.

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I love being a newbie knitter

knitting collage

Excitement. Nervousness. Enthusiasm. Drive. Curiosity. These are just a few of the feelings we may have when exploring a new hobby, topic of interest, job, or relationship. Think of the first few times you played an instrument, read books by a new author, or took surfing lessons or dance classes. There’s something about being a newbie to something that’s like no other stage — everything is bright and shiny and fun and you want to throw all of your time, money, and effort at it.

Nearly six months into learning how to knit, I’m still very much a newbie, and I’m loving it. While I look forward to becoming more advanced and being able to master intarsia and fair isle and bust out a pair of socks in an hour, right now, I’m enjoying the ride of being a beginner.

As a young girl, my grandmother taught me how to sew, and I’ve always liked to be crafty in that way. I made a simple baby quilt as a teen, and started one for me, with the idea that I’d give it to my first baby someday. That second quilt is still in progress (long story). No one in my family knits, although some crochet or do needlepoint. I bought a knitting kit at Michael’s circa 2008, and after an hour of attempting to cast on and knit one row, stuffed my kit and two beautiful (and not appropriate for newbies) skeins of yarn into a box. Last fall, I decided to give knitting another shot, and after studying the Stitch ‘n’ Bitch guide and a few YouTube videos, I finally figured out how to cast on, knit, and purl. My first piece was a swatch of course, as all knitters recommend. I got help with the bind off from my friend who loaned me the book, and then I was ready to tackle my first real project — a headband.

I spent a lot of time trying not to drop stitches so that I wouldn’t have to fix them (and sadly, I still don’t really know how), and figuring out the most comfortable position for my hands and the yarn. I went back to Michael’s again and again for new knitting accoutrement and other practice yarn. By Christmas, I had made two pot holders for my mom (one with one of those first skeins I bought back in 2008!), and headbands for me and my parents. But my real goal was ahead: a baby blanket for one of my closest friends. I was determined to figure it out by the due date in February. So I bought some fuzzy (too fuzzy) baby yarn and got to work in January. The yarn made a pattern or colorwork unnecessary, so I just knitted flat on circular needles in garter, and in the process got fuzz all over the carpet and couch for two months. I was totally over the project by the time it reached the desirable dimensions, but I was pleased as punch, and was able to ship it off to my friend and her new baby just two weeks after the birth.

The baby blanket wasn’t the only project I was working on: I also had (have) a running list of friends having babies, and have been making little hats as well. And in between all of this, I’m experimenting with new patterns (seed stitch), new yarns (check out Knit Picks for good deals), new techniques (Craftsy has some great, cheap video classes), and new needles (finally bought double pointed on the recommendation of my local yarn store). While I may not need to need a bunch of winter wear for myself here in San Diego, I’m on the lookout for other projects (“Mom, want me to knit you a placemat?” and “Mom, I made you an eyeglass holder with stash yarn.”) to keep my hands busy while watching Law & Order reruns at night or sports on the weekends.

One of the best things about being a knitter (new or not) is that there no shortage of advice, tips, and patterns — and a lot of it is free. I haven’t bought a single knitting magazine or pattern book because there is YouTube, Pinterest, knitting blogs, friends, yarn stores, and the mother of resources, Ravelry. So while I may still be putting off really figuring out how to fix a dropped stitch, I can spend too much time finding new patterns and buying way more yarn than I need (this is eerily like my addiction to books — you can never have too many!).

I asked friends and family who knit or crochet if they had any tips to share, or just general thoughts about their own adventure with the craft. Here’s what they had to say. If you have any stories or tips about knitting that you’d like to share, please comment!

  mary blanketAunt Mary Beth: My first prayer shawl after joining the Prayer Shawl Ministry Group at church. I had not crocheted for years but quickly remembered the relaxing art that it is. The plus is that these items go to cancer patients and are blessed by our priest during our meetings. I have not been to deliver any yet but I am told that they are very much appreciated by all. Also made by our group are both crocheted and knitted gloves, hats and lap blankets. I look forward to one day delivering them. I hear from the other members that it is a wonderful experience.

Molly: I’ve started incorporating knitting with my quilts. I’m working a quilt now with knitted accents. It’s so relaxing to do both at the same time. When one gets frustrating or I reach a creative block, I’ll switch to the other. I like to sit at night, when it’s finally quiet and just “Quit.” (Note: turns out that Molly (my friend since childhood) and I both used the same Bernat baby yarn to knit a nearly identical blanket/car seat cover, at the same time.)

  karin hatKarin: I crocheted this hat for Andy when I was preggo and he wore it pretty much the entire winter. Found the basic baby hat pattern on YouTube and added the eyes and horns. Was done in three hours.

  Linda: I was given two prayer shawls while my Mom was dying in the hospital. I felt so comforted knowing someone had made these items just to help buoy the spirits of people like me, a heartbroken daughter. To those of you who make these lovely shawls (like Mary Beth), please know they are most appreciated. (Note: Linda is my knitting mentor and loaner of Stitch ‘n’ Bitch!)

  Brianne: It’s on my bucket list to learn how to crochet a baby blanket just like the one that was given to me as a little, tiny one. My plan is to learn before I have a baby one day!

Celebrating one year in San Diego

san diego 1 year collage

This week marks one year since we moved to San Diego, which means I’m edging on two years since I moved to California (Remember that little stint up in Paso Robles? A distant memory for me, too.). In some ways, it seems like I have always been here, and in others, it feels like I just arrived and everything is still fresh and new.

While there are definitely areas of my life that I’m still looking to fill (a few more friends, a partner, a place of my own), when I think about what I have done so far in this past year in my new city, I have to say, I’m pretty darn fortunate – and when it comes down to it, I’m also pretty happy. Having a pity party about not having it all right now can only last so long, and I once again give credit to my parents for helping me to see the light – and for reminding me that for the most part, the only obstacle in my way is myself. To have the flexibility and the freedom that I do, to really try to be true to myself and focus on my writing…well, not everyone has that option. As people say, things don’t happen for you, you have to make them happen for yourself.

But back to what I have done, thanks to this journey I’ve been on. One of the things I love most about living in San Diego is the priority on a balanced lifestyle. While it looks like all people do out here is surf and hike and bike and play with their dogs, I know that there are a lot of hard-working folks out here. But they really walk the talk when it comes to that “work hard, play hard” mantra. People do their jobs, but they also make time for themselves, and for friends and family. It’s just as important to make sure that you get a trail run or kayaking trip in on the weekend as it is to finish that project at the office.

As I continue to find the operational mode that works best for me (while I’m working from home), I’ve been able to have a lot more time for other things that I shied away from committing to when living on the East Coast. I avoided signing up for volunteering, I didn’t join any running or tennis groups, and I didn’t take up any new hobbies. Sure, I went to sporting events, and happy hours, and visited museums, and hung out with friends. But there were so many things I didn’t do that are now feeding my soul, and that I feel are helping me to continue on a road of self-discovery.

Some highlights:

  • I’ve run several races with my mom, and supported her as she became a runner in her own right. Bonus: some new PRs for me along the way.
  • Volunteering at the library has introduced to me to some lovely people, and expanded my literary horizons even further.
  • Tutoring middle school and high school students in English has taught me patience, creativity, and a lot about my own learning style.
  • Helping my parents with various home and garden projects has made me realize how much I love working with my hands, and the sense of productivity it brings. Which brings me to…
  • Teaching myself to knit after first buying a set of needles and yarn several years ago brings me joy from crafting things that others appreciate, and the act of knitting is a calming and fun experience.
  • Participating in activities like trail running, kayaking, SUPing, and getting back to tennis means I can enjoy San Diego’s beautiful outdoors and maintain fitness.
  • Meeting new friends of all ages and backgrounds through my various activities means common threads and a diverse set of relationships –> quality over quantity.
  • Speaking of quality: continued focused time with my family has made us closer than ever, as we all support each other in this phase of life.

Here’s to another great year ahead here at home.

Oh, the places we see

Italy
A typical view in Tuscany

The topic for this month’s blog round robin is: Does travel change you? 

Everyone says they love to travel, or want to travel more. I don’t think I know anyone that’s actually anti-travel; they may just be anti flying or staying in hotels. But who doesn’t love exploring new places and adding new experiences to their life lists?

I first began traveling as a young girl, when I would fly alone from Texas and then Ohio to visit family in Louisiana each year. That was in the days when you could be brought all the way to your gate and picked up when you arrive, instead of having to drop someone at the curb. I collected multiple airline pins and buttons, and once I got to visit the cockpit in a small commuter flight. One summer, I met this wonderful lady, also from Louisiana, who eventually became my pen pal for many years until she died. Traveling was already a big part of my life by the time I hit 12 years old, and that’s when I went to Europe with my parents.

We spent most of our trip in Germany, which probably majorly influenced my decision to visit again when I was 25, as well as to study German in high school and college. We hiked and visited small towns, and then also went to Dachau and Hitler’s mountain hideout, Eagle’s Nest. At the time, I was in the midst of my fascination with WWII and the Holocaust, so it was a great learning experience, at just the right age. (Although it did spur bad dreams for years after that.) After that trip, my parents and I went to Canada a couple of times, took a Caribbean cruise, and and visited the Grand Canyon, American Revolution and Civil War battlefields, Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, DC, and more. (DC was the trip that made me decide to move there someday.)

Then in 2011, I went to Costa Rica by myself on a G Adventures tour, and met up with a group of other young folks looking to enjoy the rainforest and beaches on a budget. It became my new favorite vacation ever, what with the surfing and the waterfall rappelling, and the ziplining. I even made new friends out of it that I remain in touch with today. In 2012, I joined my parents on another G Adventures tour, this time in Southern Tuscany. Then that  became my new favorite vacation ever, what with the wine and the food and the old ruins and the countryside (did I mention the wine?).

Looking back on all of the places that I’ve been, and thinking about the places I have yet to visit, I realize it’s not so much the travel that changes you — it’s the creation of new memories with all five senses, connecting with family or loved ones or new friends, and the realization that there is so much more to life than how we usually live it. And while things like ziplining and such are often quite exhilarating and memorable, what’s more awe-inspiring and a source of reflection are the other, quieter, simpler moments: standing over the rim of the Grand Canyon and marveling at nature, sharing a laugh with my parents while making homemade pasta in Italy, looking out over Antietam or Gettysburg and being thankful that our country survived civil war, walking through a concentration camp and mourning millions of lives loss due to hatred and fear. I am also changed by the moments that push my limits and challenge me in far off and unknown places, and then by the feelings of pride and independence after navigating through it all learning something new at the same time.

So many people will never have the opportunity to leave their hometown. I am privileged to have gone to some amazing places, and that I will be able to add to my travel experiences in the future. I am thankful to be changed by travel, and hope that get many more chances for it to happen again.

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To read the rest of the responses to this month’s round robin question, visit the following blogs (and come back in a month for the next topic):

Leslie Farnsworth: http://lesliefarnsworth.com

Joan Johnson: http://onefishtaco.blogspot.com/

William Pora: http://williampora.com

Rebecca Harvey: http://bayoucitypostcards.blogspot.com/

James McPherson: http://jalmcpherson.com/

Jon Lundell: http://therealmil.blogspot.com/

The ROI of having a pet (Hint: it’s huge)

Four amazing dogs
Four amazing dogs, and best friends

When my friend Leslie proposed the topic for the first round robin for a select group of bloggers, I couldn’t help but smile. It was a slam dunk: “Is having a pet worth it?”

Where do I begin?

Asking someone who has had dogs since she was six years old and who is known to many people as Corgi-obsessed if having a pet is worth it may be like asking anyone if they need air to breathe. You may think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Take one look at my Instagram feed, my Tumblr, or previous posts about the passing of two of my dogs (here and here), and it will be easy to see that my answer is an emphatic and absolute YES.

As my dad said the other day, “It’s why they say ‘dog’ is ‘God’ spelled backwards.” I actually hadn’t heard that phrase before, but I do believe it’s true. And I’m not religious. Despite what the research says, I firmly believe dogs have and express emotions similar to humans (I’ve seen my dogs laugh, cry, and grumble). I do believe they are our best friends, perhaps even more faithful and dedicated than humans. And I do believe that dogs serve a unique purpose in providing us with joy, showing us the depths of love, and serving us with loyalty and unconditional devotion. The number of times I have laughed while watching my dogs play, or cried to see them in pain, or hugged them fiercely when I needed comfort, are too many to count. Dogs are great listeners, and they keep us active. They don’t let us get too into a funk or lose track of time because they have to be fed and walked and put to bed. They are constant reminders of the simple pleasures in life, like laying in the cool grass on a summer day, lounging on our backs and dreaming, and making time for play. They are sensitive to pain, and eager to please — just as we are. At the end of the day, they are happy to see their loved ones, and grateful for a warm bed — also like us.

Studies have shown again and again that having a dog boost our mental, emotional, and physical health. And although it may seem like getting a new dog soon after one has passed would be too difficult, people commonly find themselves looking for a new four-legged family member pretty quickly (we have, more than once). I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that a beloved dog is not only a companion, but truly becomes a part of the family forever.

As I have never owned a pet other than a dog (a total of five so far), I can’t speak to the benefits of having a cat (I really don’t like them anyway) or a fish or rabbit. But I do know plenty of people who have also enjoyed owning these other animals. My personal opinion, of course, is that dogs reign supreme.

In case you still aren’t convinced, read 13 Reasons Why A Dog Will Make Your Life So Much Better, which is validated by adorable gifs of dogs, including my dream combination of Tom Hanks and a Corgi (Corgi count in this article: 3).

This post is dedicated in honor of Rocky, Harrison, and Casey, and to my current companions, McGee and Abbey.

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To read the rest of the responses to this month’s round robin question, visit the following blogs (and come back in a month for the next topic):

Leslie Farnsworth: http://lesliefarnsworth.com

Joan Johnson: http://onefishtaco.blogspot.com/

William Pora: http://williampora.com

Rebecca Harvey: http://bayoucitypostcards.blogspot.com/

James McPherson: http://jalmcpherson.com/

Jon Lundell: http://therealmil.blogspot.com/