Reclaiming My Voice, with kids

Let’s talk about trying to write when you have kids and a husband. And there’s dinner…

I get an idea, I ponder over it while busy with life, then I find a moment where everything is calm, sit down with my iPad, get a few lines in- a story just taking shape…

No, you can’t have ice cream. Stop kicking your sister. Can we talk about this in, like, 10 minutes?

So, as I was saying,…

It has been absolutely marvelous to find I do still have things to say that people want to hear. We writers understand, that while it takes a lot of hard work, it is not really something you choose. At least it wasn’t for me. It has called and beckoned me my whole life. Even before I knew how to write words, I was writing on anything I could. Long, scrawling loops of imaginary cursive (always my favorite).

My mom enrolled me in this summer writing program one year. It was a week of lectures and readings and such. I was in heaven. Learning from successful writers and other kids of all ages who loved to write, like me, was one of the greatest memories of my childhood (that is all mine). From then on, I always carried pen and paper. I have so many notebooks filled with, mostly garbage, but there are a few gems hidden amongst all the muck. But that’s how it works, isn’t it?

Oh, yeah. Pizza. Kids. Kids who need to eat and go to bed. Which will begin the nightly two hour battle. It’s a wild time to be alive!

I journaled almost everyday for most of my youth. I kept at it through college, and when I dropped out (not enough money), and when I moved back in with my parents. Then I met my husband and I was too busy being enamored. I jotted things down here and there. I still used it as a therapy tool, but I didn’t have the same flow. Then kids came and that was all consuming. Most of my interests were put on hold and being a mom was it. Which was wonderful and rewarding, and not something I ever planned on loving so much.

I used to scratch out poems spontaneously all the time. As I got older, the words began to stick. My flow was getting dammed up…

Can I have a turn on your iPad? Mommy, when are you going to be done?! Please, don’t put that around my neck.

Right, poetry, dammed up. As the kids got older, there came some clearing of the fog in my brain. I began having ideas and opinions on issues people were talking about. I managed a few epic Facebook posts when the girls were napping, or sleeping, or I had somehow managed some alone time. I began keeping a notebook in my purse again. And not just for those random grocery items I thought of while out, or as something for my kids to doodle in when they were bored, but as a place to scratch out my ideas and save them for a later date. I’m not sure when that date is yet, but I think it’s coming soon.

As I continued to jot these things down, it was like the dam began to crack. Some days chunks broke off and I wrote as much as I could. Then it would slow down, until another crack began, and then another chunk of the dam gone, letting the ideas gush out.

It’s a wild ride trying to figure out what your voice is again. The essence of who I am has always remained constant with me, but I am not the same person I use to be when writing was all-consuming. I have a lot more to say and a whole lot more fear of sharing. But I also know that if I keep it all in and don’t try, I’ll be worse off. It’s one thing to take a break while raising babies and little ones, but entirely another to continue ignoring my voice when I am being presented time to give it a try.

Wonder Woman Wrap

This wrap has delighted me the whole way through. As I said before, I have always loved Wonder Woman. Her strength and conviction in the power of love, truth, and justice has kept me going in some of my harder times. Especially when there were/are those who would rather I conform to the narrative that people are inherently bad and should not be trusted. I have always found the opposite.

I also appreciate her femininity. Growing up in a time when you had to be the same as, or better than, the boys to get ahead, she proved being a feminine woman was a fierce thing to do. She was always true to herself and what she stood for. It gave me courage to be myself at different points in my life.

This wrap has also given me the opportunity to bond with my father. I don’t often make sense to him, try as he might to figure me out. We have had our difficulties, which I have been able to make peace with now that I am an adult with my own kids. Talking to him about my art and seeing the artist in him come out is really quite wonderful. Letting him know that he did, in fact, pass down a lot of his more lovable characteristics helps us both. (Basically, he’s the one that told me it should be blue at the bottom and red at the top. And he was absolutely right.)

Short rows are something I can do now. It’s always fun to learn a new knitting skill. Especially when it just clicks. I admit I watched a YouTube video. It’s rare that I can’t figure it out from pictures, so I am grateful to have those videos. I mean, I’m the only knitter I know.

It all felt so right in my hands. Making this wrap brought me so much joy. The child in me was tickled to be making something representing a character and a belief that I have had since I can remember. The nerd/geek in me began reading more comic history and Greek mythology while creating wearable fan gear. The knitter in me loved combining passions and creating something just for me. The woman in me loved thinking about all that she represents and what kind of a woman I really am.

Had to take a picture outside because no matter what I do, my house is just too dark.

And then I finished it. I couldn’t be happier. I thought my bind-off was too tight, but it actually helps the wrap stay in place. Which is good because this is definitely going to be getting some use!

A Little Impressed

I am actually pretty impressed with how much we accomplished around the house yesterday. Especially considering I didn’t wake up at all until eleven o’clock! Once I got out of bed, it did not take long for me to get motivated. My oldest has gotten really helpful with chores and took care of quite a bit. It feels really good.

We definitely have a lot of cleaning to do before we leave. It can feel fairly overwhelming, but I’m in energy mode right now, in spite of the heat. And, in spite of the usually overwhelming state of this country right now. So we all pulled together and we’re almost halfway done. I even had time to take a break and knit. And I blocked a wrap I finished a few days ago.

Today has been a little less productive. I’m ok with that. I did a few chores, packed my knitting bag, decided I was going to make a camping shawl for my sister, my mom, and for myself, packed some beach stuff, packed most of my clothes. Well, maybe I’ve done more than I thought.

I’ve also realized I’m going to have a lot of yarn to wind because I’m going to start each shawl in the car on the way there. I’m just trying to decide if I should make us all asymmetrical ones, or if I should make a different shape for each of us. Decisions. Decisions…

Maybe a Shawl Can Tell a Story

My kids are getting really excited. This quarantine has not been easy and seeing Oma on the phone is not the same as seeing her in person every month. (I am so grateful she was able to be here right before shutdowns began.) We have remained pretty isolated throughout this whole experience and the girls are really getting restless. The excitement is because we have a camping trip coming up. Next week.

We usually go to a camp that has cabins, organized activities, and a dinning hall. It’s also a mini family reunion for my side. But since that is not happening this year, my mom and step-dad came up with camping where they can bring their trailer, my sister and her husband will rent a trailer, and we could use a tent. This way we will all still be together this year. I have never slept in a tent before. Neither have my daughters. My husband, the country boy, has. My step-dad has a few rustic conveniences included with the gift of the tent and I am definitely excited as well.

Maybe a shawl for my sister.

As we are planning this trip, it occurred to me that I need to sort out some knitting projects. It won’t be a long drive, and a I’m not sure how much knitting I’ll get to do while there, but I’d like to be prepared. I’m also going to pack my needlepoint and some supplies for the kids. My mom always comes stocked with crafts and projects for them when we all need some quiet time, so I won’t need much.

Recently, a friend gave me some vibrant and beautiful yarn before heading across a few states for a move that had been in the works for a while. I did not know her long, but she is one of those people where we felt like we had known each other forever already. As soon as I saw the yarn a shawl began to take shape in my mind. For her.

As I searched for patterns and stitches, I imagined telling her a story. Showing her the beautiful pieces of her life- each amazing chapter- and some of the wisdom gained along the way. As I began working on that, I got to thinking about how all the different designs could be used to tell a story. Might have helped that I had been looking at the Road Trip Shawl on Ravelry.

Possibly my camping shawl.

With that in mind, I’m thinking of using some of the yarn I recently bought myself and picking stitches as I go, using the asymmetrical design. Each section will reflect a part of our vacation in the woods. I’m pretty excited about it. Now I get to go play with my yarn to figure out what to bring!

The Magic of Sunshine

Finally found the motivation to have the epic battle of getting the kids out of the house for a hike. A few of our favorite places are currently under construction and so our choices are a bit limited, but Coyler Lake is always a nice spot.

It’s a bit hard to believe our youngest will be five soon. She is so fearless.

The fishing here is catch and release and all these little fish just swim around in the weeds, waiting to get caught. The girls love watching them. Especially with daddy.

It wasn’t long before we needed a break. The air was really stagnant today and while it did not feel hot, we were sweaty and tired with little effort.

It still felt really good to be out amongst the trees and by the water. I try to encourage the girls to breathe deep and enjoy it. Especially on a Tuesday afternoon when there was almost no one else around.

And of course, I worked on my current WIP in the car. As much as I love driving, I really love having time to knit uninterrupted.

The Epic Granny Square Jacket

This is the tale of the granny square car jacket. A technicolor vision that took almost a year of dedication from a person I barely remember at the moment.

It all began with a pattern in a magazine and some yarn that had been bought in bulk and set aside for a special project. My favorite hues of red, purple, and blue, with a few accent shades. The model’s jacket was done in that awful 60’s combination of yellow, orange, and brown. It takes me right back to the apartment that we lived in for years after my grandparents had moved out. The kitchen was done in those colors with those 60’s flowers. The counters were orange; the cabinets dark brown. They even left us their yellow kitchen table. (The dinning room had a glass chandelier and velvet wallpaper. One of the bedrooms was puke green. There had definitely been some interesting choices made.) Needless to say, it is a color scheme I do not like and they used black as a border.

And so began the granny squares. I wrote my own color code to use and decided to stick with changing the yarns as the pattern called for. After a few squares the pattern was memorized and I fell into a rhythm each time I sat down. It was quite the sensation to be creating such a large piece for myself. And out of granny squares! I always loved the granny square clothes and blankets. There are over 200 squares in this jacket. Then the weaving began!

This pattern, like many in magazines, was off in a few places, I kept changing how many of each square I should make based on the picture, then on the written pattern, then according to the guide, then the picture again. After several months of crocheting and a couple for rest, I began sewing them all together, but first, I had to lay it all out because my self-striping yarn gave me a varied color palette to work with. I wanted to get the balance of colors right.

This is also where I sewed all the ends in. Usually that would drive me nuts, but it just became part of the process.

So I get the front panels all sewn together while I’m finishing a few of the squares for the back. Next I started putting the sleeves together. It was so much more relaxing than I have ever recalled. Then it was time to lay out the back panel to make sure the colors were balanced.

Yep. Apparently I made 5 of the wrong colors and had to make even more squares. By this point I was beginning to lose my patience, but I am determined. I switched between sewing and crocheting for the next couple weeks. Everything was coming together. I was getting closer to done and I noticed something funny. The front was longer than the back by one row. One row. I had to make 5 more squares when I thought I was done with them. I decided to try my hand at steam-blocking to give myself a break and it definitely calmed me down.

And then… And then it was done. Buttons and everything. My posture was slumped. My shoulders tight. But it was all worth it.

See, this jacket was more than just a challenging, frustrating, and rewarding project. It was me coming back to my craft. Coming back to myself. Not only had the difficulties of our lives been exhausting, but it had left me shattered into dust; barely holding shape. Everything and everyone else was my focus because the thought of actually dealing with myself was more than I could handle.

Creating the jacket was part of putting myself together again. Reshaping and reforming parts that belonged and were familiar and comforting. Then learning what had changed and what was new. When I wear this jacket I can feel myself again.

Since then I’ve been pretty unstoppable. I keep working on myself- as always. I’m still a bit dusty, some crumbling bits, but I have found myself. Again. And it feels good.

Next Up

Just as I predicted. The wrap was not meant for me, but for my bright and moody middle child. She had her eye on it for a while and made sure I knew it. I am happy she enjoys it. It was fun to knit up and I’m bursting with shawl and wrap ideas from the experience. Besides, she always loves a good photo shoot.

I am really thrilled to be starting on my Wonder Woman wrap (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/wonder-woman-wrap-knit). I even bought a new comic volume and came across a Wonder Woman cooperative game that I’m trying to convince my daughters to give a second chance. The practice round had them writhing with boredom and they actually ran up to bed without being told twice! I’m sure I can get them to give it another go. Maybe a few alterations will help.

It’s funny to think I was going to do a different color scheme for Wonder Woman, but when I was showing the pictures to my father, he had me go back to one that I flew past looking for the one that I wanted to show him. As soon as he had me stop on that one, I said never mind. I’m doing that color scheme and he said it was the only one that was actually Wonder Woman. So now I’m doing blue on the bottom. The W’s are still yellow, and then the top will be red. Way to go dad!

I love talking about my knitting with my dad. I try not to talk his ear off about it, but I see him remembering his mother when I go on about color choice and skeins, and making yarn balls. I can see the little boy sitting by his mother holding her yarn for her, or wrapping it up while she worked on a sweater. They are some of his happier memories and it brings me some peace with her spirit. I feel a little more connected to my roots sharing my art and passion with my dad. Such a quiet man, but his eyes say it all.

Read This Next!

I have always been a bit of an optimist. Some people might disagree with me on that and I’ll admit there were times when I doubted my optimism. But life has done its best to show me the truth in humanity. People are, in fact, innately good.

Over the years I’ve been given examples or instances that prove the opposite. I have been laughed at, or ignored. The only thing those people have proven to me is how misguided we all are about who we really are and what our lives really should look like.

Then I heard about this guy that was speaking up against the wealthy and their tax loopholes at their own conference. Rutger Bregman. At this point I was intrigued. I watched an interview with him on The Daily Show and went out and bought “Utopia for Realists”. Incredible book. He definitely does his research and I love that he even tries to prove himself wrong as much as he tries to prove himself right. It was exactly the tonic I needed.

Then 2020 happened. Things have been feeling pretty hopeless on a grand scale. A friend of mine shared that his next book was coming out and I preordered it. “Humankind: A Hopeful History”. I cannot recommend this book enough. I’m savoring every chapter. Finally, proof that we are actually good. Proof that we are meant to be living life differently. Proof that I’m not delusional. It’s a balm to my soul.

Go check out “Humankind: A Hopeful History” by Rutger Bregman. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

Sewing Distractions

It seems I’ve been rekindling old skills from my youth. The ones I fell in love with and just made sense to me, but never lasted through the jumble of life. One of those is counted cross-stitch. I bought a unicorn pattern for my girls, only to find that it was blank, so now I’m working on the unicorns while my girls work on the new ones that are printed that I got them later.

The girls are really excited to work on their own and I love how quiet they are while working on them! I also love that they are getting into some of the things I like to do.

I also finally pulled out my sewing machine for the first time. My mother-in-law gave it to me years and years ago. She tried buying me supplies as a separate trip, but she’s not very direct and I’m not good at figuring these things out. So she bought me a bunch of yarn and some knitting supplies. Oops.

It’s small, it’s easy to use, and best of all it’s mine. So I picked up a few colors of thread and some fabric to start making some masks. I definitely do not have enough for both work and my days off. The ones we have, the ear loops are basically gone from wearing them just a couple of times. And now that we are taking the girls to stores for short trips, they need masks they like to wear.

I had each of them pick out fabric they liked and I found some flannel squares to use as liners. I made sure to buy some pins too. And the hair ties for the ear bands. It definitely took a few tries. I have no pattern and no printer to print a pattern. Someone I work with did give me one of her masks, which are so comfortable, so I wanted to make that shape. Using that mask I figured out what to do.

These were the first few. I started by trying to make the girls masks, as they use less fabric. I didn’t quite figure out the need for a hem stitch until later. And it wasn’t until the last couple I just made for my dad that I realized it helps to cut the extra fabric from the nose and chin fold I sew in.

The girls really enjoy their masks and I will be making more. It has been so much fun playing with my sewing machine! But that also means that my shawl that should have been done a week ago is still waiting to be finished. I have been working on it, but not much. My Wonder Woman shawl is just yarn skeins still and I haven’t finished copying over the pattern.

Oh well. I’ll get to it eventually. I really just want to finish making all the masks I have plans for and then figure out where and how I’m going to start storing my sewing machine and supplies. I really don’t want to put it back in the box.

Well, happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and hopefully I can help my husband have a good one.

Some Thoughts While Not Knitting

Monday nights are now the official start of my weekend. That means I’m currently end-of-the-week tired. My knitting sat right next to me. I even held it for a little while; enjoying the feel of the stitches I’ve made, the dips in the needle tips, worn in from use. I’ve stopped being upset with myself for these ‘wasted’ evenings.

With the amount of knitting I’ve been doing the last few months (even before quarantine happened) there will be nights when, as much as my hands and soul crave the work, I am simply more in need of the rest. Last night was one of those nights. It was also a night for me to get lost in one of my favorite shows: Good Witch.

I love the way magic is portrayed as being simple and more a use of personal will than spells and high ritual. I love the Earth based nature of it. I’ve also noticed that the older I get, the more I enjoy things taking their time. People enjoying the relationships they have without always trying to advance them. When those relationships do evolve, they are so much sweeter. And right now, it provides me with a comfort that leaves me smiling.

I’ve almost always been a more hopeful person, even in my darker years. I can’t think of a time when I ever really lost faith in humanity. Even when we fled our home due to violence and the police refused to help almost at all (I even remember one laughing as my parents explained what was happening to us and proudly tell them -in front of their kids- that there was nothing they could do. Nothing they were going to do) there were still so many people in our lives that came and helped us through that time. Even at great personal risk.

See, I grew up in an interesting city, and my perspective of it will always be a bit jaded to a child’s. We left our city shortly before I became a teenager. Not because we were fleeing violence, but so my mother could continue her education and pursue her calling. The city I grew up in suffers from crime, violence, drugs, racism, and the rest. Just like any other city. We also have roots from all over the world. Irish, German, Polish, Italian, African, Jewish, Arab, Greek, Indian, Macedonian, Puerto Rican, and Native American, to name the more dominant places of origin. I grew up learning how to celebrate all these cultures and differences, but at the same time, I knew that racism existed.

I watched it in my school. I saw how some teachers treated us all as individuals deserving of respect, and others who saw something different. I watched how our white-male principle tried to intimidate our black-female vice principle (who was an amazing influence on me even though I hardly knew her. Watching how she got things done in a broken system was inspiring, even to a nine year old). I watched it in the streets and at stores. Some places everyone was treated the same, other places I saw the difference. Even as a child, I could appreciate our celebration of diversity as a city, and still see the built in inequality. I could still see the faults in the system. I was raised to speak up.

This has been something on my mind lately. It can’t just be that I was raised in a city that showed me diversity working. I’ve even spoken with a few people about it and they do not remember the rosy pictures on tv that I do. Since that first conversation, I’ve caught a few bits and pieces of some of those shows and thought about what they were teaching. See, I grew up in the 90’s, a decade my mom and I have been referring to it as the illusion of peace decade. I remember that the tv shows I watched had a lot of diversity, and I don’t just mean a mix of black and white. I mean diversity. I watched shows that were predominantly one or the other too. These shows did not ignore that diversity, and instead the characters were often excited about it and wanted to learn from each other. They also addressed the hate and ignorance they would experience in their lives. Head on. Talk about it. Support each other through it. Make plans to help change things. I don’t see that in tv anymore. It all feels so divided these days. It definitely seems less diverse than I recall.

But back to that idea that I had this exposure because of city life. My parents were very deliberate about what they allowed us to watch. My mom made an effort to find these shows and we often watched tv together. Our mom made sure to discuss what we were watching with us. To this day, it amazes my siblings and I that other kids did not have this. Other people were never taught to critically look at what they were consuming and to fully appreciate the messages everyone involved in its creation was trying to convey.

So, not only did I have exposure to programs with diversity, but I had parents who talked about these things with us. Us being white didn’t mean we got a free pass on these issues. We were right in the middle of it. I also had a mother that wasn’t afraid to learn new things and encouraged our questions (except maybe on those end-of-the-week tired nights!). She was always as honest as she could be. My parents also had quite the community of people for us to grow up in. All these adults that respected each of us and our intelligence and our curiosity.

I have come to understand that I was given quite the rare gift of a childhood. We endured hardships, terror, upheaval, and been right in the middle of a lot of difficult things, but I was raised in a loving and supporting home with a lot of people to enforce my worth and personal power. I was teased at school, insulted, and verbally abused, but it didn’t leave the scar it could have because of the love I had growing up.

I was raised to know how to keep myself safe, but also how to stand up for what is right and how to notice when things aren’t right. I was raised to listen to others, because only they can tell you about their experience. Respect for other people and the earth was constantly reinforced. We were shown true love in action.

On nights like this, when I’m too tired to knit, but not enough to actually go to sleep, I remember that love and simply let myself relax into a wholesome and heart-warming show. I remind myself that good exists. All the ugliness can wait until tomorrow.