Everyone Loves a Snow Day

I went to bed last night thinking the predicted storm might not be so bad for us. The meteorologists were calling for heavy wet snow for the nearby Catskill, Adirondack and Berkshire mountains – over a foot. But as of 10 PM, we were only supposed to get 2-5 inches.

Here’s what it looked like at 8 AM. When my Personal Assistant left, the snow was over her shoes. Side note – she’s a gem for driving here at 5:15 AM to get me out of bed and showered on days like this. She never calls out due to snow.

My office was closed today because the building lost power due to the storm. Even though it’s been 23 years since my last days as a full-time student, I am young enough to appreciate a snow day. Especially one I did not expect!

So far, I have been fabulously lazy. For the past 4 hours all I’ve done is crochet while binge-watching episodes of Bondi Rescue on Netflix. Yes, I know, it’s crap reality TV. But it’s sunshine, blue water and Australian (mostly shirtless) life guards. When this is the current view outside, I’ll take mindless sun and surf any way I can get it!

Winter scene of heavy snow on an apartment building with cars parked in a lot.
That’s my van Clyde buried under the snow.

How about you? What’s your favorite snow day activity?

30 Days of Thanks Day 19: Completed Crochet!

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about how I never finished crochet projects. Really, it was about prioritizing time, but really it was about my frustrations over not crocheting.

Last week, even though I have a living room full of boxes to still unpack, I started crocheting a new shawl. I bought new yarn last spring but had not done anything with it and was eager to get my hands into something. It doesn’t matter that there are at least 20 crochet projects  in my  apartment in various stages of development. I wanted to use THIS yarn.

Thanks to a day-long meeting and the six hour defensive driving course spread over two afternoon, I finally completed a crochet project!

Well, nearly done. I still have to sew in the ends and block it.

Right now, I am just grateful for time to crochet and finish a project. And thankful for my Personal Assistant who was willing to model it so I could show all of you.

Learning New Tricks

I have been very vocal about my identity as a crocheter. I love the feel of yarn in my hands as I wind it around the hook, creating a fabric from a single strand. Crochet makes sense to me. One hook, a strand of yarn (or two if the project calls for it) and I can amuse myself for hours at a time.

I admire other crafters, particularly knitters. I am not a knitter. I am a crocheter who understands the basics of knitting, but I cannot create anything beautiful with a pair of knitting needles.

I think it is partly due to the tools of the trade. One crochet hook is a tool I can manage. But two knitting needles? How am I supposed to managed two needles and maintain tension on my yarn and keep a uniform gauge? It’s not possible.

You can do it Denise. You just need to practice.

One “perk” of being stuck at home for five weeks is I have had plenty of time on my hands. Even though March is National Crochet Month, I decided it was time to make myself learn to knit. Plus, I’m trying to get rid of my yarn stash before it takes over more than one corner of my living room. And I am not allowed to start another new crochet project until I finish the works in progress already on my hooks.

Armed with an instructional book (I used I Can’t Believe I’m Knitting – Updated Edition by Leisure Arts), YouTube videos, and new knitting needles, I cast on 20 stitches. Casting on in knitting is easier than working into a chain to start crochet. Whenever I teach someone how to crochet I always warn them the start is the most difficult part. If you can work into your chain to make the first row, working into your subsequent rows is a breeze.

Since I am accustomed to holding my yarn in my left hand for crochet, I taught myself to knit using the Continental method. This felt more natural and efficient. I don’t say that as a dig against those of you who have successfully mastered the English method, where the yarn is held in the right hand. However, trying to adapt to new equipment was difficult enough without changing how I hold my yarn.

After a few calls to my sister Caroline, my knitting life line, I was satisfied with my attempts at the knit stitch and decided to purl. When you complete a knit stitch, you keep your yarn behind your work. When you purl, your yarn is held in front of your work. I managed to figure this out and switch appropriately. Then came the tricky part of maintaining proper gauge.

Gauge is the number of stitches and rows in an inch of knitting or crochet. Many factors can influence gauge, such as yarn weight, needle or hook size, and the amount of tension on the yarn. I know when I crochet during stressful times, my gauge is much tighter than when I am not stressed. My niece Erin received a lap blanket from me that perfectly illustrates what happens when life stress hits in the middle of a crochet project. The top of the blanket is loose but gradually the rows and stitches became closer and tighter together. Guess which part of the blanket was crocheted after I fell in 2007 and was out of work for weeks with an injury? I gave it to her anyway, telling her it was a good lesson for not letting stress get to you. Her son’s baby blanket is evenly spaced so far, even though it’s safe to say I am currently in a period of high life stress.

I practiced knitting and purling using scrap yarn until I was able to maintain consistent gauge over several rows. Once I was satisfied, I decided it was time to make something. Many new knitters try a scarf as the first project. Spring is coming, so instead of a scarf I decided to make a dishcloth. I dug out my cotton yarn, found a pattern which looked relatively easy, and started casting on. I counted my stitches every row, nervous I would somehow drop one even though I never mess up stitch count in crochet. I didn’t drop a stitch, but I did make a mistake following the pattern of rows. I tried to correct it by adding a stitch in a later row. I only needed to call Caroline twice for help. Her reassurance made me feel like I almost knew what I was doing.

The final product is not perfect, but looks good enough from a distance. I’m sure Caroline will be able to find all my errors when she examines it. I think it looks more like a rhombus than a square and my gauge is not as consistent as I would like. I have to keep practicing before I tackle something more challenging.

Crochet is still my preferred activity and feels more intuitive to me. I am far from the point where I would call myself a knitter. But I have moved up and feel confident saying I am a crocheter who now knows how to knit.

Photo of a purple knit dishcloth hanging on a hook.
The finished product.

3 Reasons You Should Take a Writing Vacation

On September 7, 2014, I launched this blog and declared myself a writer. I made a vow to write at least 500 words every day, a commitment I kept until last week (with the exception of this one day last January).

A week ago, I decided it was time to take a break. I was on vacation, relaxing at my sister’s house, and for the first time in over a year writing felt like a chore. I had ideas in my head, but lacked the discipline and desire to sit at the keyboard and give them life.

So, I gave myself permission to take a break. For the next seven days I did not stick to my daily writing schedule. I watched movies. I crocheted. I sat in front of my sister’s fireplace and played with her dogs. I ate junk food. I sang showtunes while working on a jigsaw puzzle. I visited with family and friends.

I wrote a grand total of 783 words in seven days. And I don’t feel guilty for not writing more. Along the way, I remembered why I loved writing, and recommitted to my daily discipline.

There are good reasons to maintain daily habits, but a hiatus now and then can also be beneficial. Here are the three lessons I learned by taking a writing vacation.

1. People are more important than writing.

I already knew this from my 2015 adventure to Australia, but this week was a good reminder.  During my vacation I visited with family and friends, laughing and reminiscing. We shared stories and jokes, making new memories as we remembered past holidays. It was exactly what I needed, and I am especially grateful to my sister Caroline for letting me use her house as home base this week.

2. Exploring other creative outlets is fun and inspiring.

Writing helps me process life and my emotional reactions to daily events. But it is not the only activity I enjoy. I love to crochet. Having time this week to sit with yarn on my lap, a new project on my hook, allowed me to express a different part of my creativity. I had fun exploring color combinations and pattern designs. Working on a project in silence allowed my mind to wander. I thought of potential new blog posts, new writing opportunities and projects I hope to accomplish in 2016. Even though I wasn’t writing, I was still engaged in mental processes which will help my writing. And because I gave myself a break from writing, I did all of this without feeling guilty for pursuing one activity while ignoring another.

3. Taking a break refocuses your energy.

Sure, a daily habit is important if we want to accomplish a goal such as writing a book, composing a symphony or completing artistic work. Meeting deadlines and maintaining a routine, self-imposed or created by others, requires discipline and determination. But my stamina for this discipline was waning. Writing was becoming work, an obligation instead of a release.

When I gave myself permission to take a writing vacation, I found myself eager to write again. Writing was not a “must do” but a “want to do” activity. Rather than being a chore, writing was a creative outlet once more.

Now it is time for me to go back home, resume my daily routines, and enter the real world. I am excited to write each day, eager to work on the projects I have outlined. My writing vacation was just what I needed to be ready to write again.

Photo of an empty wheelchair parked on the bank of a river with a dingy hitch attached to the back of the chair.
Vacation was fun but now it’s time to get back to work.

If you are contemplating a daily writing routine, but need some encouragement, you might want to visit My 500 Words. This online writing community, started by Jeff Goins, is one of the reasons I have been able to maintain my habit. The members are generous, supportive and sincere. They will welcome you with open arms. 


Priorities Over Time

It’s really clear the most precious resource we all have is time. – Steve Jobs

Yesterday I had a day completely to myself, with no plans. I spent hours working on an essay I have been writing on and off for several weeks, trying to get it just right. I didn’t get it right yesterday. Sure, progress was made and words were written. Actually, more than two thousand words were written. I knew as I wrote them, most would be temporary and would not make it into the final version of the article. But, not wanting to lose out on a day of uninterrupted writing time I just kept writing, enjoying the hours at my computer lost in thought.

In the middle of the afternoon I took a break and visited Facebook. One of my online writer friends posted a comment about completing her writing work. I made a comment about not completing crochet because I have spent so much time trying to complete my writing. And then it dawned on me.

I miss crochet. I have sacrificed my time with yarn for time with words. I have made scant progress on the many partially completed crochet projects stuffed in bags throughout my apartment. I have not even started working with the sumptuous yarn I brought back from Tasmania.

Because I was unhappy with my writing progress, I started a time study to investigate how much time I spend each day on writing and how I might return to the hobby I love. The numbers shocked me. Although I know I have very little “me” time, I never realized how few hours are mine and mine alone.

24 hours x 7 days = 168 hours (keep this number in mind)

I manage 49 hours/week of my personal care. This includes time I spend in the shower, preparing and eating food, in the bathroom, etc. I work a minimum of 37.5 hours/week and spend a minimum of 5 hours/week commuting to and from my job. I am in bed for 8 hours/day or 56 hours/week. I will do the math for you: 142.5 hours of each week are accounted for.

This leaves me 25.5 hours of unobligated time – on a good week.  Just a bit more than one complete day. When work obligations require me to work on the weekend or into the evening, I have even less.

Sure, there are moments during my 49 hours of personal care when I can make time for me. I can, and do, check social media while my Personal Assistant is braiding my hair. I often take my turn in Words with Friends while I’m eating. I respond to emails while supervising my Personal Assistant as she prepares my meals. I complete personal writing during my lunch break at work.

I have been so proud of my discipline at maintaining my daily writing habit (today is day 316). Until yesterday, I had not realized how much I had sacrificed my other creative endeavors to make this possible. I have not balanced my love for words with my love for yarn. And as the facilitator of our writing group said yesterday, “Writing at the expense of your relationships and responsibilities is not sustainable.” (Thanks Christine!)

I have pursued my writing without making time to maintain my other creative passions. I have committed myself to one activity at the expense of a hobby I love. My rekindled relationship with writing has damaged my long-term commitment to crochet. And that is not sustainable.

Today, I am publicly announcing a change in my time management, because if I tell all of you, you will become defacto accountability partners. I know you will because you have helped me remain faithful to my writing since September. Thanks in advance for your help.

Starting today, I am committing to carving out at least fifteen minutes each day for crochet. I manage to carve out thirty minutes each day for writing, so I will find at least 15 minutes of each day for crochet. Why fifteen minutes? It takes about fifteen minutes for me to complete two rows of a blanket, which is enough progress to make me feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have to recommit to crochet for another reason. After I finish writing the memoir about me and my sisters, I have to write a second book. The inspiration for this project came from my fellow writers Tonia, Roslynn and Stella. They know of my passion for yarn, and each of them made comments yesterday which helped me recognize the void in my life once filled by crochet. Tonia even went so far as to create a faux cover for the book, and gave me permission to share it at will.

Ladies – thank you for providing the encouragement I needed to set a new goal. I know I will learn important lessons from this new discipline. I promise to dedicate my second book (which Tonia has titled “Hooked”) to all of you.

Image of a crocheted tea set, complete with tea kettle, tea cups and saucers on a doiily. All items are made with pink yarn. Above the image is white text in a black box which reads "Hooked: a Writer's Guide to Completed Crochet by Denise DiNoto"
Full disclosure – I did not crochet these pieces! Image created by T. Hurst.

What about you? Have you sacrificed one passion for the sake of another? How did you make time for both? Share your experiences in the comments below!