Boredom Induced Crocheting

Roughly eight years ago I began teaching myself to crochet as a means of combating pervasive boredom. See, I had this job that was lacking in actual work for me to do. The days were painfully slow; I needed something to occupy my mind and help me feel like I was accomplishing something.

Over the years crocheting has been a creative outlet that is relatively cheap and, unlike sewing, portable. There have been busier times where significantly less crochet has taken place but even while finishing my undergrad, balancing classes, homework, work, & the demands of parenting, I usually had one or two very slow moving crochet projects sitting around.

One such project is a blanket for my daughter. I have been working on the stupid thing for three years now. Just this last weekend, though, I finally finished it. FINALLY! (That was my daughter’s actual reaction when I knotted that last stand of yarn off the hook.)

What started with one Mockingjay square turned into a hefty almost full sized bed covering monster. I’m not kidding, this thing is a beast. It probably weighs five pounds at least.

Some of the favorite themes covered in this blanket are: Doctor Who, Sherlock, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Night Vale, Hamilton, 4-H/horses, & the Princess Bride. There’s also a book shelf and a cactus. The large purple squares at the bottom were made by my daughter’s Great Grandmother (on her dad’s side) who passed away the year I started the blanket. Needless to say my girl loves this thing. And I’m pretty happy to have it done already. (haha)

(You can see the blanket in progress here, here, & here.)

Much like eight years ago my life is currently in a season of boredom. This one due to the time gap between getting accepted to dental school and actually starting it. I should point out that boredom is relative. I tend to thrive on a certain level of craziness in my schedule and life. Sitting around is not my strong suit and I’ve, more than once, been accused of not knowing how to relax. (I do think I’m getting better at it though.) Once again crochet has been helping to fill the time, keeping my hands busy and entertaining my restless mind.

Lately I’ve been all about the quick projects. Almost instant gratification is the name of the game here. And hats are where it’s at!

These two are a new baby gift for one of my sisters. Her two year old just got a baby brother. Hopefully I get these to them before it’s too warm for the tiny boys to wear them!

(You can find the free pattern for the aviator hats here.)

I picked up this variegated wool-blend yarn during my Christmas shopping with no specific purpose. I just really liked the colors, it was probably in sale, & I enjoy working with something other than acrylic yarn now and then. I first tried a hat pattern that had more detailed texture (the one following) but all the cool texture got lost in the colors of the yarn. This horizontal ribbing still incorporates some interesting texture but it doesn’t look overly busy with the constant color changes. There was no pattern for this one, just an idea for the texture and the basic hat shape. I’ve already  worn this colorful hat a few times but it’s really better suited for fall or winter. I’m sure it’ll quickly become a regular in my cool weather hat rotations.

I’ve had the “Ups & Downs” hat pattern in my Ravelry que for quite a while now. The different textures on the band of this hat made it fun and interesting to make. I first started this with the colorful yarn above but it was a little too crazy. This lavender soft acrylic that was in my stash is a much better match for this pattern. The braids on this one are a little wobbly. They’re made up of very tall stitches that are twisted together after the hat is finished; the last one is looped over the button to keep the braids in tact. Apparently my tall stitches could use a little work. I’ve got a whole other skein of this yarn and there’s a pattern for matching fingerless gloves. I might give those a go this week and see if my tall stitches don’t improve with practice. Why the heck not? I’ve got the time.

And, lastly, is this spring baggy beanie I threw together to use up some yarn leftover from a Christmas project. I’m planning to mail this one to a friend. It’s not her typical color scheme but it’s made from the same yarn as the hat I made for her daughter. A little mother & daughter matching is always fun.

So there you have it. A (finally!) finished blanket and a plethora of hats.

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Home Renovations continue

I have, very slowly, been working on updating my house. While I was in nursing school, yes, like the entire time, we finished our guest room. Before nursing school I painted my office and at that point decided I hated the previous owners. Like a lot. At some point I need to put up some photos of the finished products. After I finished it, my office became my favorite place in the house. I swear it gets the best light and it just turned out so pretty. But I digress.

We have a third bedroom downstairs that was sort of functioning as our junk room. Everything we didn’t have a place for sort of just ended up in there. The carpet is terrible because it’s also the room where we housed a kitten during her first arrival and she tore it up at the doorway. Also, it’s the room where our ceiling leaked which had clearly happened before. We did have all of our books in there on cheap bookshelves we got from Target. Now we are repainting, pulling up the carpet, finishing the floor, and setting it up as a library.

The room had the stupidest chair rail ever. It was stuck out a good 1/2 inch from the wall which didn’t allow for anything to sit flush against it.

I removed it with glee! There was quite the paint story behind it too. I’m going to have sooo much spackling to do.

Wow, look at that orange sherbet color!

There quite an ice storm in lower Michigan today so the plan is to turn on a podcast, rip up some carpet and spackle my little heart out. Wish me luck!

St. Paddy’s Day Fun 5k

The Ninja running in the middle is my little guy.

Over the past five years my enjoyment of and enthusiasm for running has grown in a variety of ways. This includes who I get to run with as well as where, when, & how far. These days I prefer the 10k distance over the 5; I like the level of challenge it provides and my regular running keeps me in basically decent 10k shape. Plus I feel less lame being whipped by a 6.2 mile race than by a measly 3.1.

For St. Patrick’s day 2018 I found a smaller fun 5k run for me, the boyfriend, a few of the kids, & one of my sisters to do. It was an out and back course at a county park in Lansing. The options for this race included a (free!) kid’s run and the 5k. It was early on a Saturday and pretty chilly so I did not miss having the option of doing a 10k.

Getting seven people up, ready to run, & out the door at 7:00 am is a lot of work. I didn’t hydrate well before the race and definitely felt it halfway through. Despite that I ran at what I consider my base level race pace (around 9:10/mile) and finished in just barely over 28 minutes.

My Garmin gave that run a “training effect” score of 4, stating that I probably improved my fitness with it. And I was pretty tired afterwards. My oldest son (who appears to be growing out of my head in the picture there) finished 18th overall (out of roughly 550). My sister told my middle guy she’d pay him five bucks if he beat her. He definitely did not (by a good seven minutes) but he did finish with a great kick; he really hasn’t been running lately so that was an accomplishment.

This St. Paddy’s Day run was a great start to the 2018 race season (a term used very lightly here). Everyone had fun and earned a delicious breakfast out afterwards.

Getting Stuffed

After going up north for a quick mini-vacation (if you can call three days and two nights in with a couple grouchy teenagers a vacation) it was back to (normalcy) reality which means back to making dinner three to five nights a week. Sit-down dinners are an important part of our family life and while I know it’s not what we have for dinner that’s important, I get tired of making the same five meals over and over again. I’m constantly asking the fam for dinner suggestions. Sometimes I actually get some.

This past go-round my boyfriend suggested stuffed peppers. And maybe stuffed mushrooms. I’ve never made either. Well, not true, I’ve made stuffed peppers at work but never for the family to eat. I’ve also made an appetizer version of stuffed mushrooms with the cute little baby Bella mushrooms, stuffing, spinach, and cheese. The much bigger version of those have always been intriguing but a little intimidating. They’re a big commitment. Like, if I make them and don’t like em it’s a lot to either suffer through or waste.

Stuffed foods are one of those things that could go either way for me with my weird food texture/color preferences. I don’t like mushy or over mixed food. I’m very wary of sauces I don’t know and have a strict one-sauce-per-item policy. And anything pureed, especially if it’s green (really anything green that doesn’t have a very distinguishable solid shape) is definitely a no! But, really, I’m not a picky eater.

That being said…

Let’s start with the mushrooms: they were beautiful and delicious.

I knew the kids were not going to touch the stuffed mushrooms (no matter how much bacon and cheese I put on them) so I got a four pack of the large but not huge portobello. I popped the stems off, scooped out the weird fin things, brushed them with oil and put them in the oven with the already cooking stuffed peppers. I think the recipe I was very loosely following called for ten to twelve minutes of oven time before stuffing.

In the meantime I mixed the internal ingredients: just a little minced garlic, cooked bacon, diced tomatoes, uncooked spinach (see above regarding issues with mushy green stuff), and ,of course, cheese. It’s pretty easy to tailor this to your personal preferences.

After the requisite baking time the stuffing is heaped on the now fork-tender mushroom caps. I say heaped because the caps don’t actually hold much stuffing. It’s more a topping than a stuffing.

Return to the oven for maybe five minutes and Bam! Delicious, basically healthy food. The mushrooms alone probably aren’t filling enough to be their own meal but they are a great side and the leftovers were super delicious for lunch the next day.

For some reason I almost always have an excess of stuffing. A couple days later I got a spinach, bacon, & tomato omelette out of the leftover mushroom stuffing. It was also delicious!

There’s not a lot to say about the stuffed peppers. The recipe I followed was pretty standard. I tweaked the amount of sauce mixed with the rice to suit my texture issue based preferences and put cheese on top but other than that actually followed the directions. Weird, I know. Oh, I did not cook my peppers at all before stuffing them. I like a more firm pepper. (Yeah, that’s what she said!)

Unlike the mushrooms, everyone loved the stuffed peppers. One kid even took leftovers for lunch the next day. You know the meal is a hot when the leftovers get eaten without prompting. Seriously, “Put down that bagel and eat some leftovers!” is something I say often.

Speaking of leftovers, the stuffed peppers would be a pretty good way to use leftovers. Specifically leftover rice. Since the rice is cooked before mixing and stuffing you could make these with leftover rice from another meal, stir fry or something like that. It would make their prep quicker too. I’m all about quick prep and using leftovers.

Kindness is not the answer.

This has been a rough week.* Not just here in my own home & life, though definitely that too, but on a bigger scale. Nationally? Maybe. Regionally? Probably. Locally? Yes.

There was another school shooting in the United States, in Florida, and a rash of outcry and protest about gun control laws and who should be doing what and who is to blame and who should have a gun to stop the person with the gun. And so on and so forth.

As a parent every school shooting hits close to home. With every single one I can’t help but think “What if that was my kids’ school?” Just the thought freezes my heart with terror. My kids go to a smaller charter school so I feel like they’re a little safer. Smaller = statistically less likely to get shot; more people watching fewer kids, more aware and involved parents, etc. I feel lucky to have that option. But that’s not fool proof.

Nothing is.

Earlier in the week, right on the heels of the horrific school shooting in Florida, there were multiple school closings due to threats of violence. Facebook friends from different districts on different days posted about their kid’s school being closed because someone had threatened to go in and shoot it up. Here in America, the self-proclaimed Greatest Nation on Earth, we are keeping our kids home from school because they might get shot. Let that sink in for a minute.

And it continues. This morning (maybe this afternoon; I don’t know, I work nights.) the news broke that a teenager had fired shots in a dorm room at Central Michigan University. Two college kids were killed. IN THEIR DORM. Their home. By another kid.

I don’t have any personal connections to Central but my oldest son visited the campus twice last year. He really liked the school and was interested in going to it. His interest waned & he’s still at home. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so relieved that my kid didn’t go to college. At least not that one. But, again, this could be happening anywhere. It just so happens that it’s taking place in my home state right now. It’s way too close to home for comfort but kids getting shot anywhere is too close to home.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people? And how do we solve this problem.

Obviously something has to change. Maybe tighter gun control laws are the solution. Maybe not. (I have an opinion on this, I’m not going to share it because it’s irrelevant and detracts from the point of this post.) Either way that’s really not a solution.

The problem is bigger than guns getting into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. I mean, who knows if those kids who threatened to shoot their schools had guns or not. They were still able to perpetuate the problem and stir up fear. They still made school an unsafe place to be on that day.

It has more to do with whatever causes people (young people, old people, whatever. Any people.) to see shooting or threatening to shoot or bomb a school as an acceptable course of action.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. They’re a good distraction from the mundane chores of life. I listen to them when I’m running, when I’m folding laundry, or doing dishes, or doing thoughtless tasks at work. One that I’ve delved into is the Art of Charm podcast.

I was listening to one episode, Episode 684 with Celeste Headlee, while making dinner a month or two ago when I realized I was hearing something really important.

Celeste Headlee is a journalist and radio talk show hosts. She’s spent years interviewing people and sharing their perspective. The podcast I was listening was about having conversations, specifically how to do it effectively. (And it’s not the way you think it is.)

What really jumped out at me was something she said (roughly 33 minutes into the podcast) about empathy.

Empathy is one of those woo-woo, popular buzz words, you might see it tattooed on the foot of some trendy young hipster. It gets lightly thrown around quite a bit, but what does it really mean? Why is empathy such a big deal? And, more importantly, how do you get it?

The Oxford Dictionary (online version of course) defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.

That sounds simple enough but it doesn’t really explain much about empathy (like why it’s important or what any of this has to do with school shootings).

Celeste Headlee tells us that empathy is the only known way to overcome our evolutionarily engrained biases.

While talking about conversation Celeste Headlee also points out that empathy has measurably decreased over the past some odd years. (Apparently there are legitimate studies that track empathy levels.) In other words we as a society are failing in our ability to see things from other’s perspective. More and more we are being governed by our basic instinct instead of our humanity. That’s kind of a big deal.

A decrease in the ability to comprehend how others are feeling, to put yourself in their shoes, is a deadly decrease. We’re seeing this play out. And it makes many parents feel helpless, like it’s near impossible to keep our kids safe.

So what do we do?

Sure modeling kindness, something that’s offered as a solution, is a good thing but it’s not the answer. Because, let’s be real, how many teenagers actually notice the small things other people do?

Having conversations might be a solution, though, a realistic and feasible way to make a change in our current culture. Even brief, seemingly meaningless interactions are more impactful and important than you’d imagine. In fact, according to Headlee, those are possibly the most important type and the biggest way we can build empathy. See, you can’t just choose to be empathetic; it’s a skill and skills, like those pesky toys labeled “some assembly required”, have to be built before they can be used.

If you don’t believe me you should listen to the podcast (linked up above) or check out Celeste Headlee’s TEDtalk or book.

And then go out and talk to people. Don’t pass up on the opportunity for brief conversation with a stranger, the more different than you the better. Make the world a better place one conversation at a time. Because we need something to change and public policy, laws and all that crap, take a very long time. This you can do every day. Sometimes the smallest actions can make the biggest difference.

*Please note that the time frames mentioned are relevant to when I was writing but not necessarily to when this was published. There’s a bit of lag going on here.

#michaelschallenge

Have you heard about the Hobby Lobby challenge where people were going in to create portraits that didn’t look like they were taken in a craft store? I thought it sounded fun and super cool. But apparently Hobby Lobby employees complained. Michael’s Craft store, seeing an opportunity, jumped in to say do the challenge here. I read this article a little while ago and decided I wanted in on the fun at Michael’s since they were welcoming the challenge and free advertising.

One of my friends decided she was willing to be my victim model. Here’s a few of what we came up with.

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Doing her best “Zoolander” face!

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It’s hard to make a serious face when you’re friend has just shoved into piles of fake flowers.

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There’s a few price tags showing but I like it. I’d like to do some Photoshop with this one but I haven’t started playing with that yet. 

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A very cute older customer was watching us and getting a kick out of this posing 

We had a blast and were laughing the whole time. We did put back everything we used! And Michael’s didn’t care at all. I also found a couple cute Easter decorations on sale. Bonus!!

My next goal is to start learning Photoshop to see what else I can do. Suggestions welcome!

Michigan Midwinter Break

The Divorced Parenting God’s have smiled on me this winter.

Not only have a good portion of the school snow days fallen on my parenting time, but I also got the kids’ midwinter break and the Friday they’ve got off school for parent-teacher conferences. In preparation for this boon of potential winter fun time with the kids I spent weeks running around, meeting various strangers from Facebook to collect enough snow shoes for a mini “up north” vacation.

Local City Park (without kids)

Two weekends ago we finally got a good solid dumping of snow here in lower Michigan. Okay, there’s already been some snow this winter but I was happy to have another heavy snowfall. (I think we got twelve to fourteen inches over a couple days.) While everyone else was complaining about it I was plotting and executing some snow related adventures.

Okay, maybe adventure is too strong of a word. Really we just went for a winter hike around the city park to try out our snow shoes in some deeper snow.

We trekked across the very frozen lake to a couple tiny islands and then around the oldest corner of the adjacent cemetery.

The verbosity of some of these old tombstones is truly magnificent. One of them simply said “MOTHER”. To be fair, almost all the lettering had eroded so maybe it had said more at some point. And people definitely did not live as long at the turn of that century so maybe they just didn’t have time to waste putting more words on their tombstones. YOLO and all that.

After about an hour of leisurely strolling around on the snow my guy & I sledded down the hill a couple times and grabbed some hot chocolate and dinner before I had to get to work for the night. I was a little tired later but it was worth it to get out and play in the snow.

The little guy tried out his new snow shoes in the yard.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

I had never seen or even heard of the “ice caves” that form in the Munising area of the upper peninsula of Michigan but my boyfriend visited them years ago & told me about them. As soon as I knew they existed I wanted to go.

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There happened to be a snow shoe race at Taquamenon falls (also in the Upper Peninsula) the weekend of the kids’ midwinter break. It was perfect! We’d go up Friday, stay near the falls & do the run then go up to Munising, see the ice caves & spend Saturday night there. Drive home Sunday evening. The kids still had Monday off school to …I don’t know, be lame teenagers.

Needless to say it did not go down that way.

First, that happen to be one of the busiest winter weekends in the U.P.; we couldn’t find a hotel near Taquamenon OR Munising for either, let alone both, nights. (Instead we stayed in Manistique.) Second, we left later than anticipated. AND third, my kids decided to be lame teenagers ahead of schedule and started balking at everything and complaining when we were trying to leave on Friday.

After dramatic pouting from the daughter we finally hit the road around 7pm and arrived Up North around one in the morning. We had to summon the hotel owner from their near by home (and bed) to check in; it was close to two in the morning by the time we were getting ourselves to sleep. In the morning a combination of getting to bed super late, being over an hour from the snow shoe race, & the crabby state of the teenagers (who we had planned to leave at the hotel while we did said race) dissuaded us from doing the race. Instead we decided to head to breakfast and then Munising for the day to explore some ice formations.

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They just exude enthusiasm don’t they?

Before we went Up North exploring I had done some online exploring and learned that there were two popular sites for ice “caves”. One was on a small island roughly a mile out into Lake Superior. The article I found cautioned against hiking over the frozen lake unprepared, it warned of hidden thin spots in the ice and crazy shifting waters stealthily weakening it from underneath. That was enough to scare me off; I was more interested in the safe inland formations of the Eben Ice caves that required a hike across firm (but also snow covered and frozen ground) to get to them.

I hinted to my boyfriend about my desire to avoid plummeting through the ice to our cold, watery deaths by keeping all our feet solidly on the earth and he did what any good boyfriend would do: Tricked me into facing my fears.

Just kidding. I did mention that I was wary of hiking over the frozen lake but when we left the hotel in Manistique Saturday morning I told him we should probably hit the coolest spots first. That way if the teenagers suddenly got crabby again we would have at least seen that.

We drove along a surprisingly crowded little road until it ended at a couple parking lots and got out to see this:

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(Actually this was taken after we started hiking; we were almost a third of the way out at this point.)

I questioned whether or not it was safe to hike across what I thought was a bay until my boyfriend pointed out the groups of other people coming and going and the well worn path through the deep snow that covered the ice. Obviously we went for it.

The snow on the lake was pretty deep and while there was a trodden path, the snow shoes still helped make the 0.70 mile trek out there easier.

He didn’t think it was easier with snow shoes but, trust me, it really was.

The frozen lake was impressive in and of itself. Before we knew it those sort of cool giant icicles were amazing shelves of ice, water that looked like it had been hit by Elsa from the movie Frozen and halted mid fall, suddenly finding itself a solid.

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Frozen waves. How cool is that?!?

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We abandoned our snow shoes and climbed around behind the ice shelves.

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This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen!

The kids were duly impressed, even the two teenagers. And remember the ice climbing festival that prevented us from staying closer to Munising? Well, it also gave us the opportunity to watch these random folks climb the ledges of hanging icicles.

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I’m pretty sure my youngest wants a set of ice hooks & cleats now. And it turns out this was the “dangerous” “mile” hike across frozen Lake Superior that that website had warned me about. I think they oversold the danger aspect a bit. And maybe the mile part too; Garmin GPS told me we hiked 2.13 miles in the two hours we spent exploring.

Munising Falls

After we left the main attraction of the ice cliffs we found another national parks site. This one boasted a waterfall and only an 800 foot hike.

The different textures in the ice were beautiful and amazing. Who knew water could find so many configurations to freeze in?

Frozen Lake Michigan

Our second and last morning of the trip started with a healthy serving of requests to leave asap. One teenager wanted to get home to hang out with friends and the other just wanted to be in her room. (Seriously, kids?) We did not acquiesce and instead went to the Lake Michigan shoreline in Manistique where we were staying.

Just breaking the ice a little.

Those hills are not sand mounds, they’re frozen waves complete with ingrained sand.

Lake Michigan was not as solidly frozen as Lake Superior. The inlet had almost a gradient of textures leading out to the active water.

Everything from frozen foam…

To slushy clouds…

And piles of frozen glass…

A few of us attempted a walk along the pier to the lighthouse.

Which ended up being an ice climbing alongside the pier.

This is as close as we got.

After an hour of playing on the beach it was time to head home.

Despite the teenage grumbling and complaining everyone had a good time and we were all blown away by the natural phenomenon of the Great Lakes in the winter. I will definitely try to make a winter up north trip a reoccurring event!