…You’ve Got to Be Kind

It’s currently the holiday season of the clusterbleep of the year that has been 2020. As I write this, Christmas is 12 days away and people are currently celebrating the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Let’s face it, this year has been one sad, stressful, heartbreaking thing after another. We’ve had to adapt to living with a pandemic and an extremely contagious airborne virus threatening our lives. Many of us know someone or had a loved one who contracted the virus or even died from it.

I myself spent the first half of this year trying everything in my power to help my dying mother, but even our best efforts couldn’t stop Alzheimer’s landing its final blow on her six months ago.

We had a presidential election that seemingly divided my country into even stronger divisions of “Us” and “Them” than ever before.

We had to learn how to live a new normal of cloth masks covering our faces, sanitizers covering our hands, and keeping our distance, even from ones we love. The first vaccines against COVID-19 are only just now being administered and it will still be many months before we find out whether the vaccine is effective at creating the herd immunity we need to stomp out this disease and resume some semblance of normalcy.

The Gulf Coast got smacked by what seemed like hurricane after hurricane (while Florida somehow miraculously escaped the brunt of hurricane season). Wildfires devastated Australia.

We lost notable names in all different fields: Chuck Yeager, Olivia de Havilland, Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bob Gibson, Helen Reddy, Neil Peart, John Lewis, Regis Philbin, Charlie Daniels, Kelly Preston, Ennio Morricone, Little Richard, John Prine, Kenny Rogers, Terry Jones, Chadwick Bozeman, and Don Larsen, just to name a few.

This world has seen so much sadness and negativity this year — especially this year — and I think we’ve forgotten how to be kind to each other. We’ve spent the year calling people names like “demon-rats”, “soy boys”, and “magats”, spent our quarantine time turning Internet comments sections into even more despicable dens of denigration, and have just all around been terrible people to those outside of our “bubbles”. We need to learn how to be kind to each other again, especially now.

It doesn’t cost a thing to show kindness to someone. But here are some ways we could spread a little joy in the world:

  • Wish someone a nice day.
  • Tell someone they’re beautiful. Doesn’t matter what the person’s gender is. Compliment them on their hair, their eyes, or their overall demeanor. You never know whose day one kind comment like that could make.
  • Give someone a bouquet of flowers (okay, this one may cost a little money, but it’s okay). I have yet to see someone without a smile on their face after they’ve received flowers. My dad used to send his mother (my late grandmother) flowers for Mother’s Day every year as a way to show his love and appreciation for her. I dream of the day someone sends or presents me flowers.
  • Help someone in need.

I know there are many other ways we could spread kindness during these trying times.

This is intended to be a somewhat short post, but before I post this, I want to end this with a quote from an author who’s becoming a favorite of mine, Kurt Vonnegut.

The following quote comes from Vonnegut’s 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, where the title protagonist (Elliot Rosewater) is preparing to deliver a speech for the baptism of his neighbor’s twin babies. There is slightly mild language, but I promise you he’s saying it for emphasis.

Kurt Vonnegut

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Damn it…we’ve got to be kind! I know it’s hard to do right now in times like these, but we’ll be worse for it if we don’t.

Where My Strengths Lie

I haven’t written on writing in a while. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

I used to think that I was a terrible creative writer. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have attempted to write fiction only to look at my work and feel absolutely dissatisfied with it. Every attempt I made at world building and character building seemed to be an epic fail, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was so terrible at writing fiction. And it made me feel bad about my abilities as a writer. I had this concept in my mind that a writer wasn’t worth their salt unless they could write fiction. It’s taken some insight from some fellow Ravelers for me to realize that I’ve been looking at my abilities in the wrong light.

I’m not a good fiction writer. And that’s okay.

I’m a nonfiction writer. My best writing comes when I can look at a set of cold, hard facts and weave them together with some well-thought-out prose. I can take information and turn it into a story. I can take a concept and write a full essay on it. I can take bits of my own life and find a way to share them with you, which is why I have stuck to writing this blog for three and a half years.

So what if I get frustrated with the characters I create? The characters that populate our own real world create themselves. So what if I can’t come up with my own fictional land? The land around me…especially the land around me (Florida is so crazy it’s become its own meme) has its own stories to tell. I can’t draw, so I might as well write and play with yarn, right?

So, yeah…today’s post is kind of short, but I just wanted to let it out into the world.

2018: The Snowless Knitter’s Year In Review

I know early December seems a little early to do a year in review post, but as the “review” part goes from January to November, I plan on ending this post with what’s been going on for me so far this month. I’m sure if anything comes up around Christmas and New Year’s, it will likely warrant a post of its own.

So, what’s been going on for me this year? I won’t bother to link to every single post I reference, as my archive on here is sorted by month and year anyway.

This is 2018: The Snowless Knitter’s Year In Review.

  • January: I rang in the new year with a finished project, the Unicorn Shawl (which was my first major crochet project in several years). I bought a copy of Hidden Figures and joined Goodreads. At this point, I have just a handful of friends on there, just about all of them people I’ve met through blogging or Ravelry, but it has been great for me to catalog and track my reading. I don’t really like reading on a deadline, so I decided not to do the Goodreads Reading Challenge, but I’ve done well enough reading at my own pace.
  • February: I entered a period of both blogger’s block and knitter’s block. I started a blanket, only to abandon it due to both lack of yarn and lack of passion. I ended the month with a day trip to South Florida to see a family friend. It took a bit of a toll on my mother because of the distance, but we did get a lovely picture of my mom and her friend out of it that is on the refrigerator, and my mom looks genuinely happy in it.
  • March: Our Keurig brewer went kaput, which resulted in my longest caffeine withdrawal in recent memory. We replaced it with a Ninja Coffee Bar (which itself has gotten temperamental, but nothing a vinegar solution can’t fix). I spent my birthday month trying to find things I loved about myself, and then celebrated my actual birthday with my biggest book haul of the year: Fahrenheit 451, A Farewell to Arms, Lord of the Flies, Catching Fire, and The Fountainhead. I closed out the month by observing my first blogiversary.
  • April: Not much of note.
  • May: My brother and my sister-in-law bought a house (and, if the math is right, christened it by conceiving a baby). I started “Rock Me on the Bias” and celebrated geekdom.
  • June: I paid tribute to one of the first female writers to inspire me (Anne Frank), extolled the virtues of air conditioning in Florida summer weather (you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone), and made my first real yarn run of the year. I also bought Looking for Alaska and All the Light We Cannot See, which I hope to finally begin reading in the early months of 2019.
  • July: I finished a shawl called “Close to You”, lost a game of yarn chicken on Rock Me on the Bias (but was quickly able to fix), and took an in-depth look at my love of The Golden Girls.
  • August: My blogger’s block struck again, I rediscovered my love of The Tribe (of which I am currently still rewatching the series from beginning to end, and about three-quarters of the way through Series 2), and slowly worked my way through A Fairwell to Arms.
  • September: I compared Ernest Hemingway to Marmite, dealt with our air conditioner breaking for the second time in three months, and publicly revealed my mom’s battle with Alzheimer’s.
  • October: I mused on solitude, talked a bit about a hurricane, made my first cheesecake (among other things), declares that “the future of literature is female”, and announced that my brother and sister-in-law were expecting another girl.
  • November: Talked about my experience at the voting booth and wrote a bit about Thanksgiving at my brother’s.

So, that brings us to December. So what’s been up with me this month?

Just a handful of things, really.

First of all, the knitting. I’ve gotten underway on a baby blanket that I am calling “The Bambina”, after my nickname for my unborn niece. As of this post, I have finished the bottom edge of the blanket and am on the last square of the right-hand edge. Once that square is finished, I hope to start filling in the rest of the blanket, one square at a time. The Bambina uses the same mitering technique I used for La vie en Rose et Violet, but this one is only using small mitered squares rather than a variety of shapes. I’ll also be working a border around it in soft white. I aim to have this done in time for me to be able to present it to my sister-in-law after she gives birth, hopefully right around when she’s due in late February.

I’ve also been making slow, but steady progress on my current book, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I’ve just started Part II (of four) this week. The plot so far has jumped back and forth between the experiences of rival architects and former college roommates Howard Roark (the book’s protagonist and the titular “Fountainhead”, as in he is the source from which all the ideals the book is wanting to perpetuate flows) and Peter Keating. I am not going to spoil the book’s plot here, but there is a lot of stubbornness and a woman involved as well. I am only three chapters into Part II and the plot is starting to thicken. I plan on writing more here once I’ve finished reading it. I’ve set a loose goal of trying to finish it by the New Year, but I won’t be punishing myself if I don’t make it by then.

We’re on our second cold snap in the last couple of weeks, connected with a snow system that has primarily affected Virginia and the Carolinas. An old school friend of mine who now lives in South Carolina did share that she got snow at her house, but it seems like North Carolina has ended up getting the worst of it. The front passed through here yesterday after a bunch of rain came through, and it’s not supposed to get out of the 50s F today. We don’t have the heater on right now, but the room temperature has stayed steady enough. I haven’t gone outside much the last couple of days, but my Wonder Woman Wrap (which I have written about on here in the past) has made a wonderful cover for my arms and shoulders when I’ve had to step outside with the dog or to take out trash, especially when I haven’t wanted to pull on a sweater. I’m debating whether to wear it when I go grocery shopping tomorrow just to give that little bit of knitted nerdiness a little public display! All signs point to “yes”.

I hope to post again when Christmas comes around in a couple of weeks, or if some inspiration strikes me. I hope you all are having a happy, wonderful, and safe holiday season! Tonight marks the last night of Hanukkah 🕎, Christmas is two weeks from tomorrow, and New Year’s Day is exactly one week after that.

Stay warm, everybody!

Ernest Hemingway: America’s Answer to Marmite.

It took me about four months and many fits and starts, but I finally finished reading A Farewell to Arms! I’ll admit that part of the reason why it took so long for me to read it was because my nighttime routine of waking up several times a night to check on or help out my mom during my dad’s work nights messed up my sleeping patterns enough that I was often feeling incredibly tired and would end up falling asleep during the day, which would take time out of my reading. And some of it did have to do with Mr. Hemingway’s writing style as well.

What follows is my own account of my experience of reading this novel. It is not a straight-up review, as reviews tend to nitpick the text itself more or less, while I like to include my own personal insight on the overall reading experience. This is not intended to be an academic analysis, so I may change subjects without much notice.

A Farewell to Arms is only the second Ernest Hemingway novel I have ever read, and the first I have read of my own volition. I have mentioned previously that when I was a freshman in high school, my English class studied The Old Man and the Sea, which I have also said is usually a typical teenager’s first exposure to the work of Mr. Hemingway. I believe my dad has said he also remembers reading it in school as well. My experience of reading The Old Man and the Sea took place so long ago that I barely remember any of it! Thus, I consider A Farewell to Arms to be my first real exposure to Mr. Hemingway’s work. I bought it on a whim at my local bookstore, as when I went into the shop that day, I had no list of any particular books in mind and just decided to go with my gut. (My local bookstore has a pretty extensive classics section and seems to have just about every notable novel you could think of! The ones I bought back in March barely scratch the surface of what was there, and I’d love to go back and add to my collection whenever I have a significant sum of money again.)

Ernest Hemingway may very well be one of the most polarizing authors in the entire American literary pantheon. This post is subtitled “America’s Answer to Marmite” for a reason: that is because just like the British delicacy Marmite (and its Australian cousin Vegemite), unless you’ve had a longtime exposure to him, you’re either going to like Ernest Hemingway and his writing style or you’re going to detest him. There is no middle ground when it comes to Hemingway (or Marmite).

Hemingway has a reputation of being the epitome of the American vision of manliness and machismo, and his writing style, as such, is not incredibly nuanced. His reputation, as such, could make him the literary equivalent of men like Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Teddy Roosevelt, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne. Any twists and turns that I came across while reading A Farewell to Arms came at me in a very straightforward manner. Hemingway has no time to paint the scene for you with his words: he tells you exactly what is going on as it’s going on and puts you right there with Frederic Henry as he experiences meeting and falling in love with the beautiful English nurse, Catherine Barkley. You are there with Frederic Henry as his knee is severely wounded while eating cheese in a trench with his fellow Army medics during a battle in World War I-era Italy (“I was blown up while we were eating cheese.”). You are there as he recovers in an Italian hospital and his relationship with Catherine becomes serious, and she eventually becomes pregnant with his child. You can see a pattern here. I won’t spoil the later parts of the novel for you.

In some ways, Ernest Hemingway’s writing style reminds me a lot of my own father, who I would consider to be very much of the same mold of personality of men like Hemingway and Chuck Norris and Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. (Any Hemingway readers may have just noticed I used a Hemingway trademark literary device in that last sentence, the polysyndeton: the deliberate insertion of conjunctions to break up the rhythm of a section of prose in order to make a point.) My father is also the kind of man who doesn’t like one to spin a yarn while telling a story (as I am one to normally do), he’s very much a “get to the point already!” kind of guy. Hemingway, I found, employs that same kind of attitude to his storytelling. His tone can be very blunt and succinct at times, but he also loves to insert as much detail into certain passages to try and set up the scene for you. He’s not really one for symbolism and the bigger picture because his style is so blunt. His descriptions of things are blunt. His recounting of events is blunt. His cynicism is blunt. It can come across as cavemanesque at times, but he was a minimalist by nature, from his time as a journalist into his career in writing fiction. His practice of “iceberg theory” (or theory of omission) is very much present in A Farewell to Arms, where he doesn’t tend to ponder very long about the meanings of things that have happened to Frederic Henry over the course of the novel. At times he leaves it up to the reader to fill in the blanks, and reading up on Mr. Hemingway’s life and writing style, these are techniques he would employ throughout his writing career (A Farewell to Arms was only his second novel, after The Sun Also Rises, which is Hemingway’s entry on the list of 100 novels being considered for the PBS series The Great American Read. It begins airing next Tuesday in the United States).

I can understand why a lot of female readers find him off-putting and consider him a misogynist. In A Farewell to Arms, Catherine is not really portrayed much as an independent-thinking or acting character outside of her relationship and interactions with Frederic, and he tends to treat her like a delicate object meant for adoration rather than an equal partner in the relationship, even before she becomes pregnant. A couple of teenage (?) girls that his company comes upon while his unit moves through the Italian countryside after he is kicked out of the hospital are seen as sex objects by some of Frederic’s men. This, combined with his no-frills, straight-to-the-point writing style tends not to appeal to the average female reader. The average female reader tends to rely a lot upon emotional reactivity during the reading process and also relies a lot on empathy, putting herself in a character’s shoes and trying to experience the character’s experience. Hemingway’s storytelling, by practice, tends to be the very opposite of that, which can make it difficult for the average female reader to put herself in his characters’ shoes. Thus, a female reader attempting to really read Hemingway for the first time is definitely taking on a challenge when she dives into one of his works. The most emotional part of the entire novel actually comes at the very end (again, I will not spoil it for you), and even then Frederic chooses to remain emotionally distant from what has just happened to him and resigns himself to walking back to his hotel in the rain, leaving it up to the reader to wonder what will happen to Frederic in the aftermath of what he’s just gone through.

So, did I end up liking Hemingway or disliking him? I ended up giving the book itself three stars on Goodreads (out of five), mostly because the readability of it did not flow as nicely as I would have liked and I didn’t find myself emotionally engaging with the novel…but that doesn’t mean it was terrible! For me, readability plays into emotional engagement and it left my own personal experience with it a bit lacking, but once I considered Hemingway’s writing style and put it into context with his life and his personality, I feel like I understand him a little better. Perhaps a different adventure would connect with me a little better than the foreign-to-me concepts of love and war did. I haven’t moved out of the gray area just yet, but I honestly would take the risk and read another one of his novels. Perhaps I should’ve started with The Sun Also Rises! But A Farewell to Arms wasn’t too bad for my first voluntary foray into an author as polarizing as Ernest Hemingway.

So, for those of you who’ve read Hemingway, did you feel the same way I did or did you get something completely different out of it? Have you ever come across any authors that challenged you and your reading preferences like Hemingway did for me? Have you ever gone out of the box when it comes to reading choices just out of pure curiosity? Share your experiences in the comments! I look forward to hearing your insight on Mr. Hemingway or any other author you feel like discussing!

June 12: Anne’s Legacy

The 12th of June marks the second anniversary of the PULSE nightclub massacre in Orlando, which I wrote about extensively last year in the entry “PULSE: One Year Later”. Two years on, we as region are focusing on how to live with the pain and sadness the events of that day has left with us, and those most deeply affected by it are continuing the healing process day by day.

Today I would like to focus my writing on another victim of hate, one who made her legacy by just trying to survive in the most difficult of situations and writing vividly and truthfully about her experiences. Anne Frank was born on this date in 1929 and would have turned 89 if she had survived to the present day. Of course, she is best known for the diary that she kept during the years she and her family spent in hiding in her father’s office building in Amsterdam in order to escape from the Nazi regime that had been occupying the Netherlands at that time. She began her diary just a few months before going into hiding, a diary which had been given to her as a gift for her 13th birthday in 1942.

Her family (consisting of Anne, her sister Margot, and her parents Otto and Edith) went into hiding in the summer of 1942 after her sister Margot had received a call-up from the SS (although Anne was not informed of this until they were on their way to their arranged hiding place). The Frank family were joined by her father Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels (who was given the pseudonymic surname “Van Daan” In Anne’s diary) and his wife Auguste (“Petronella Van Daan”) and son Peter (who also only received a change in surname in her diary). They were later joined by an eighth person, Fritz Pfeffer (“Albert Dussel”). All through their ordeal, their sole contacts with the outside world were a trusted group of employees of Otto’s and Hermann’s who provided them with food, supplies, educational materials for the three teenagers, and even the occasional stash of yarn. (Seriously! Anne Frank was a knitter! In one of her diary entries, she talks about asking one of the helpers to bring her some wool so that she can knit herself a jumper/sweater to help her keep warm in the winter. She begins knitting said jumper in September 1942. There is also a photo of her from 1941, aged 12, knitting. Based on the image, she was right-handed and a thrower.)

Anne maintained her diary from 1942 until just days before she and her family were arrested in August 1944, beginning the last tragic act of their fate as victims of the Holocaust for all but one of those eight. The group was detained at Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands for a month following their arrest before being sent out on literally the last train to Auschwitz, a notorious concentration camp in Poland. The men and women were separated upon arrival, the last time Otto Frank would ever lay eyes upon his family. Anne was spared from the gas chambers that day because she had turned 15 just three months before arriving; due to his age and his slight frame, Anne falsely believed that her father had been killed. In October 1944, Anne and Margot Frank and Auguste van Pels were transferred to Bergen-Belsen in Germany, while Edith Frank stayed behind, dying of starvation in January 1945, just three weeks before the Allies liberated Auschwitz. Both Anne and Margot contracted typhus at Bergen-Belsen, and the two sisters died within weeks of each other in February or possibly March of 1945. The Allies would liberate the camp in April 1945. As for their fellow annex-mates, Hermann van Pels was gassed to death in October 1944 at Auschwitz; Fritz Pfeffer died at the Neuengamme camp in Germany from illness in December 1944. Auguste van Pels was transferred to Buchenwald just weeks before the Frank sisters’ deaths, and then was (according to an eyewitness) murdered by Nazis during transport to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic, about a month before the Allies liberated that camp. The last to die during the Holocaust was Peter van Pels, who is believed to have died at Mauthausen camp in Austria sometime between 11 April 1945 (when he was listed as being transferred to the sick barracks there) and 5 May 1945 (when the Allies liberated that camp), at just 18 years of age. Otto Frank was the only member of the group to survive the Holocaust.

Otto received Anne’s diary from one of the helpers, Miep Gies, after the war. She had not read the diary in order to prevent it from being used to incriminate anyone. When he finally read her diary, he decided to translate it into German for some relatives in Switzerland. The relatives convinced him to compile his late daughter’s writings into a manuscript as a testament for those who suffered persecution under the Nazis, and so he compiled and edited the manuscript himself for publication. It was eventually accepted for publication in the summer of 1946 and released in June 1947 as Het Achterhuis. It would receive its first English publication in 1952 as The Diary of a Young Girl. Otto remarried to a former neighbor and fellow Holocaust survivor in the early 1950s, and would spend the rest of his life living in Switzerland. He made it his life’s work to honor his family and friends who had died in the Holocaust and to preserve the memory of his daughter as sort of a monument of what the Holocaust had stolen from her: not just her life, but also her ambitions and her potential.

Anne’s story is only one of millions whose lives were stolen during the Holocaust, but hers is one of the most widely-documented and also one of the most relatable. A lot of this is due to her young age. She kept her diary between the ages of 13 and 15, and in those two short years, she managed to grow along with her writing and it became much more introspective in the later entries. She explored a lot of issues and feelings that so many girls deal with at her age: boys (including a brief infatuation and a few shared kisses with annex-mate Peter van Pels), periods, sibling rivalry, and personality conflicts with a parent (in her case, her mother, with whom she had difficulty connecting with; Anne had an extremely close relationship with her father, who she affectionately nicknamed “Pim”), just to name a few. Although she loved movie stars and had pasted pictures of them to the walls of her bedroom in the secret annex, she had aspirations of becoming a journalist after the war (as written in her diary on 5 April 1944). She had such an astute skill in observation, even if the “story” she was observing was just her everyday life in hiding and her reactions to developments in the war going on around her. She probably would’ve made an incredible journalist, much like Nellie Bly before her and Christiane Amanpour after her (which would’ve been an incredible accomplishment as a female journalist). The Nazis took all that from her, and the only crime she was guilty of in their eyes was that she was Jewish. That is the only reason why Anne Frank did not get to live to fulfill her potential: she was Jewish and was under the rule of an oppressive regime that believed that the Jewish people were not worthy of fulfilling the ridiculous vision that their hate-filled leader had for his “Thousand Year Reich” that would ultimately last all of 12 years. In those 12 years, 6 million Jews (about two-thirds of the European Jewish population at the time) would be murdered at the hands of the Nazis (most of them systemically between 1941 and 1945). Millions more Roma (Gypsies), handicapped people, ethnically Polish people, LGBT people, chronically ill people, political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Soviet POWs would also die at the hands of the Nazis during that time.

Anne Frank’s legacy is not just a testament to the persecution she and millions of other European Jews faced as a result of the Nazi regime. She also left a legacy as a female writer, writing about her own truths and experiences in a way that became so accessible to readers all over the world, especially girls the same age range she was when she wrote her diary. I first learned of her story in an issue of Reader’s Digest when I was about 8 years old, and it has stuck with me all these years. Her story inspired me to keep my own diary as a tween and teenager, writing about my own experiences and feelings that I went through at that age and trying to make sense of news developments during my growing up. Even now, her story inspires my desire to keep blogging. Essentially, Anne’s diary was way ahead of its time, serving as her blog to her own experiences during World War II. The only differences between a diary and a blog are the medium and the audience: a diary generally is handwritten for an audience of one, while a blog is digitally written for an audience of many. Thanks to Miep Gies preserving it and Otto Frank compiling and editing it for publishing, what began as Anne Frank’s diary has become a bestseller and a forerunner to what we know today as the blog. And it is a work that continues to enlighten and serve as a source of inspiration for young writers everywhere. Anne Frank did not die in vain. And because her story continues to be told, the Nazis failed in trying to extinguish the voices of her and millions of other European Jews.

I know this post was a long one, but her story is one that has always grabbed me, first as a young person, and then as a woman, and now as a writer. I close this post with the picture of her I mentioned earlier in the post of Anne at around 12 years of age in 1941, knitting.

(I think Anne would’ve absolutely been amazed at how much knitting has skyrocketed in popularity these days. And also at how colorful a lot of today’s yarns are.)

My First Blogiversary

Yesterday, I came across this little message in my notifications:

And indeed, the first entry I posted here was posted a year ago as of this past Wednesday. For those of you who would like to read it, it is called “Dipping My Toes” and serves as my introduction to this blog and my philosophy on blogging in general.

So I figured that in observance of my first blogiversary, I’d talk about the things I’ve learned over my first year of serious blogging. And this is something I hope to keep doing every March from here on out, recapping things I have learned either about myself or my blogging in the prior year.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • People are actually, genuinely interested in what I have to say. This is a somewhat big deal for me because in my life away from blogging, I am actually quite quiet and at times I feel like most of the world around me ignores me or tells me that my words don’t matter. My audience is not very big compared to some blogs (as of now, I am only at about 60 followers), but the followers that I have gathered over the last year have had quality blogs of their own and have seemed genuinely interested in my writing. Some of them have been constant sources of encouragement and advice, and many of them have genuinely interesting blogs themselves, even if I don’t get enough time to read each and every single one.
  • Blogging is the new newspaper column. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have thought of Carrie Bradshaw and her newspaper column for which Sex and the City is named. Granted, I don’t post on deadlines like Carrie had to, but the process of coming up with a new post each time is very similar to her creative process. Ultimately, our best writing often comes from what we know and experience ourselves, and we often write these experiences into our posts. Sometimes I wonder if Carrie had actually existed, how would she be approaching her writing now? Would she still be writing for a newspaper, or would she be blogging about life and love and relationships and Mr. Big and growing older, while making some money by writing for magazines or lifestyle websites? Real or fictional, there are a lot of similarities between blogging and newspaper columns, and each relies on audience building for success. I hope to grow my audience even more over the next year, that’s for sure.
  • It’s okay to share some of your secrets and vulnerabilities. I have allowed some of my posts to delve into my insecurities and vulnerable spots in my life, and I’m glad to have been able to have control over just what I reveal before I let it out into the world. Like the saying goes, “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” I’ve had to explore some of myself emotionally in making certain posts and having to lay my thoughts out on the table. It’s been scary, but at times necessary.
  • There is inspiration in the mundaneness of everyday life. So what if I’m not a Fortune 500 CEO or an Internet celebrity? My life is still interesting and still worth writing about. This my little corner of the planet, and I like the idea of letting people into my own thoughts and insights, even if my everyday life is boring as hell. And boring though my life may be, at least others find my own experiences and reactions interesting. And of course, it always feels good if a post or a comment of mine made someone’s day. I’m not looking to shake the world to its core, I’m just looking to bring a little brightness to the people who live in it…and I like that.

Thank you all so much for sticking with me in this first year of The Snowless Knitter! I hope the year ahead for this blog will continue to teach me so much about blogging and life itself, and I hope you all enjoy the ride.

My First Love Letter 💌

Earlier this month, I saw a videoclip on The Talk where actress Laura Dern was taking part in a fragrance campaign for Kate Spade, in which several famous women compose “love letters” to themselves. Harper’s Bazaar has an article detailing the ad campaign here. Being that I have never received a love letter from another person, who better to write my first love letter to myself than me? So, today being my 31st birthday, I have decided to celebrate it by writing myself a love letter. And I encourage you out there to do one for yourselves as well. Just write what you love about yourself and give yourself a little encouragement or advice where you may need it.

Dear Crystal,

I know you have times where you feel like, for whatever reason, that you are worth less to those around you and that you feel like the world is turning a blind eye to you. I’m here to remind you why you are the amazing human being that you are. I’m here to remind you that you yourself are worth loving.

First and foremost, I love that you have always been fiercely independent and marching to your own drum. You may not have always been willing to do this in your life, but once you figured out that the only person you are sure to please 100% of the time is yourself, you took both drumsticks and ran to the hills. There were times when you yearned to be part of the “In” crowd, unsure of your own worth and identity and so desperately looking to others to validate you, to make you think you were normal. In the end, all that did was push those who truly cared about you away, but the ones who truly mattered always found their way back. It took a long time for you to figure out that normal was a subjective concept and that you yourself were not normal…you were one of a kind. And once you did figure that out, you embraced it. I wish for you to continue to do that for as long as humanly possible.

Secondly, I love your kindness. Even in the most trying of situations where your patience is tested (and I know you go through a lot of them these days), you manage to keep as calm of a head as you possibly can (even when the impatience starts to get to you). Whether it’s helping your brother cook his first Thanksgiving turkey for his young family or helping your neighbor’s daughter with her science project (despite the flaws she made in her experiment process beforehand) or helping your dad install a TV despite you not being the best lifter, you are unafraid to lend a hand to a friend or a family member in need. I hope you are able to carry that attitude with you through as much of your life as you possibly can.

I also love that you are an adapter. No matter what life, both the big situations and the small, seems to throw at you, you almost always find a way to make it work. And I know how much you hate change. When your mother’s condition started to show itself, you seamlessly transitioned into her caretaker, no questions asked. When you find that you are missing a major ingredient for a meal you were planning, you still find a way to make it work. When times were lean and we were short on money, you found a way to make $40 weekly grocery budget work, and now that times are better, you still find a way to make your current grocery budget work. Have leftover yarn in your stash? You can figure out what to do with it, even if you didn’t originally get the yarn for the purpose you end up using it for. You hate change, sure, but you are also willing to accept it.

Finally, I love that you are one of the best and truest friends a person could have. When you befriend a person, those you befriend deeply know who you are and love you anyway. Your closest friends are like family to you, and they have seen you at your most vulnerable and helped you through it. You have also seen your closest friends at their most vulnerable and have tried to help them through it. You and your friends have each other’s backs and are willing to stand up for each other in times of trouble or torment. When your head was way up in the clouds or you got too full of yourself, your friends were the voices of reason and brought you back down to earth. And you have learned from those experiences and have tried to become a better person as a result. With your ambitious mind, your friends taught you humility. And in today’s world, humility is hard to find.

I hope this letter finds you feeling more confident about yourself. I hope this letter reminds you of the many strengths that you have within you in the times when you are feeling weak. Sometimes when you feel that your life is going south on you, think of this letter and realize that you’ve got this. Think of this letter and find your grip. You are more capable than you realize. You’ve got this, and I love you for it.

Love,

Crystal

This felt good. Sometimes we just have to evaluate ourselves and put down what we love about ourselves in writing ✍️. It can be challenging, but it can be done. Happy birthday to me.

Up and Down the Road Apiece

Friday marked only the second occurrence in my entire life of its kind: I set foot in South Florida. See, unlike a lot of Floridians, I had never really explored the region that a lot of people like to refer to as “SoFlo”. South Florida to me has always been a bit of a mythical land, like Asgard, Shangri-La, or Dallas*. I had only been there once before, to visit one of my mom’s cousins in Port St. Lucie, many many years ago…when I was, maybe, 10 years old.

*= When you see somebody on “Undercover Boss” enthusiastically choose Dallas as their destination when said boss offers them a trip to literally anywhere, you might as well consider Dallas’ appeal to be as mythical as that of other, actual mythical places.

So a few days ago, we got an invitation to visit my mom’s best friend from high school at her place in Ft. Myers before said friend was scheduled to leave to bring her longtime boyfriend’s mother home to Massachusetts before spending the spring and summer in New Hampshire (which they used to call home full-time, but have now moved to their home in Florida). When my dad asked me if I wanted to come along, I jumped at it. You may remember me mentioning this friend in one of my earliest entries, “You Might Be a Floridian“. Over a decade ago, before my mom’s memory had started to cloud, she had found her friend’s ex-husband online and sent him an email asking about her. He sent a reply back saying that he and my mom’s friend had divorced years earlier, but was able to provide her with contact information. When she and her friend, who I will call L., talked to each other for the first time in over 30 years, it was as though they hadn’t missed a day. One of the first things L. said to my mother was, “You have an accent!” (This referred to the fact that my mom, after growing up in New England for most of her childhood, had long lost her New England accent and currently speaks with more of a Southern accent, although even now the New England accent will occasionally sneak back in.) We have met with her and her boyfriend, who I will refer to as W., many times over the years, even as my mom’s condition has worsened. (I still don’t feel completely comfortable talking about what my mom is dealing with, but I may do so at some point in the future. Only my closest friends really know the details right now, and I still feel like keeping it that way.) L. is genuinely one of the nicest people in the world, not a single mean bone in her body, and she has such a gentle, warm personality that welcomes anyone around her. She wears her blonde hair in a short bob with bangs, her slender frame tan from years of enjoying the sunshine and the beach. She greets everyone in a soft-spoken but friendly voice accented with the same dialect that my mother grew up speaking, New England (specifically northwestern Massachusetts). My mother’s face lights up every time we see her, a sight that is hard for us to see on most days.

We made plans to go down to visit her Friday, but it would be quite a trip. We’d make it a day trip, but it was gonna be around 400 miles round trip. So, we got into the Jeep (a Grand Cherokee that my dad traded in his truck for a few months back so that it would be easier for my mom to get in and out), and after having to leave the local McDonald’s drive through due to their card reader being out of order, we ordered some breakfast sandwiches and iced coffee from the Burger King across the street…but they forgot to put straws for the coffees in the bag (which meant that we had to take the lids off and drink them the old-fashioned way). I had sausage biscuit sandwiches, which were okay…but not quite as good as McDonald’s version. McDonald’s version has a nice, buttery biscuit that is not too moist and not too dry. The iced coffee was good, though; its flavor was a nicely-balanced blend of vanilla and coffee. Burger King’s version had the biscuit a bit more softer than I like, but it wasn’t terrible. I ate the second biscuit somewhere around Tampa. (Mom and Dad both ate sausage and cheese croissant sandwiches.)

We made our way to I-4 and then to the 417. Now, normally we don’t take toll roads (and the 417 is a toll road), but if you need to know anything about Central Florida traffic, it’s this: driving on I-4 through Orlando on a Friday can be hell. Taking the 417 around Orlando ended up saving us about an hour…or so we thought. That hour got eaten back up when we made the switch over to I-75 around Tampa. You see, there is no one particular driving style unique to Florida, and that is because Florida (being a popular tourist destination and retirement state) is a microcosm of the United States as a whole: it is a salad bowl of different states and states’ cultures. And much like the immigrants that have brought their traditions and incorporated them into American culture from the very beginning, the same goes for people who move to Florida from other states (and that includes driving styles). There are many people who drive like idiots on Florida highways, essentially treating Florida’s interstates like a game of Frogger, seemingly crossing into any open space in a lane and waiting until the last possible second to make their exit, which of course increases the risk of an accident. My dad, having driven in Florida for most of his life, has learned from this extremely well and is very well-versed in the Art of Florida Driving. Watching him drive and navigate his way through I-4 traffic, knowing I will at some point have to learn how to do this myself (and it scares the 😈 out of me at the thought of it), I have learned that the number one rule of driving in Florida is Expect the Unexpected. (Also known as “Prepare for Idiots”.)

It took us about two hours to get to Tampa, and then about another two or two and a half hours to finally make our way to Ft. Myers. We found our destination with help from the Jeep’s GPS system, and we were glad to be able to get out and stretch our legs when we saw L. and W.’s mother (who I will call F.), as W. was not there at the time; he was at the local flea market selling holographic pictures they had ordered in bulk. More on those in a moment. L. & W.’s House was located in a retirement park where the streets were lined with lots of small, trailer-like houses (not unlike the one that my maternal grandfather lived in up in New Hampshire for many years before his illness, although L. & W.’s house was a bit smaller than what I remember of my grandfather’s home). Their house was a light blue color, a favorite of L.’s, as almost every memory I have of her is of her wearing either pastel blue or pastel pink. The front door (on the northern end of the house) opened to two steps leading up into the combined living room/dining area; the living room section had a squishy armchair with a sky blue cover, a small white coffee table, and a couch that could seat three (and possibly also had a fold-out bed for guests). There was a Roku TV set up, but not on, in the living room, and a radio playing ’70s and ’80s music in the kitchen. At the end of the living area opposite the front door was white dinner table with white chairs that could seat four. The walls were decorated in all sorts of tropical colors and wind chimes present in almost every corner of the room. What caught my eye, though, was their Christmas tree (still up in February). It was not an actual tree, but lights strung up across a conical, Christmas tree-shaped structure, and in almost every space between the lights’ wiring hung a small, glass wind chime. Imagine these spread across an entire Christmas tree. A curtain of seashells separated the door between the living area and the kitchen. Their kitchen was actually the largest room in the house, with their stove and appliances situated on the southern end and a small, narrow hallway on the northern end that led to a laundry room, a bathroom, and the master bedroom. The bathroom was just as tropical in appearance as the rest of the house.

Outside, their front yard had a small palm tree 🌴 and a display out front with a witty message. Out back there was a coconut palm tree (one of two in the immediate area) which had at least a dozen coconuts in various stages of growth attached to it. To the right was an area covered in seashells (which L. had told us were gathered from the beaches of Sanibel Island, not far from the Ft. Myers area), in which sat a lime green lounge chair, some decorations, and several pots with small, round trellises inserted to guide the vines of cherry tomatoes that grew within them. While most of these tomatoes (planted and grown by W.) were still green, there were a few that were ripened enough to pick, clean, and eat right from the vine. We ate a few of the tomatoes, and they were juicy, flavorful, and absolutely delicious. I just wish she’d have been able to put some in our chicken salad that she had made for us. That was delicious, too. L. gave Dad a couple of the holographic pictures she and W. had been selling for most of the winter, one for his office at work (that consisted of three different images of eagles), and one for our house (a black and white image of a girl and a wolf that appeared incredibly three-dimensional).

All in all, we stayed for just three hours, as L. and F. were planning on going to bingo that evening for one last time before they were scheduled to leave for New England the next morning. I didn’t get to see any beaches. Then it came time to make our drive home. After a few moments of me falling asleep in the backseat after just barely leaving Ft. Myers, we stopped at a McDonald’s in Charlotte County to get some burgers, fries, and Cokes for the road. Barely a few minutes into that, one of the packs fries fell straight onto the floor. Back onto I-75, where I watched the sun set from the back seat of the Jeep, mused about the ridiculousness of a flat Earth (assuming such an Earth rotated on a vertical axis), and then hoped I could see stars through our moonroof. Sadly, I did not. My father, at the wheel, all the while did his best to avoid being stuck behind idiotic drivers, those likely to be out in full force on a Friday night. We got back to I-4 before 8:00, refueled at a gas station in Polk County, with ’70s and ’80s rock music blasting on our radio. We found our way back to the 417 and then had to take a bathroom break at a rest stop along the way. We stretched our legs while I consoled my mother, who got anxious. Dad cleaned the fallen French fries from his floorboard and then took his own bathroom break. We took a brief stroll back to the Jeep, and on the way I was able to look up and see both the constellation Orion and nearby, the waxing gibbous moon. We helped my mother back into the Jeep, my dad and I got back in once again, and then we set out on the road one last time, riding the 417 through the various toll booths until we found I-4 and were able to find those familiar roads back to my hometown. We arrived home at about 10:30, a bit tired, a little cranky, and to the greetings of our excited American Bulldog/Jack Russell mix, who ran to us with glee before proceeding to dart around the yard. She kept showering us with wet, sloppy canine kisses, even when we didn’t want her to. We finally settled down for the evening. I didn’t go to bed until 1:00 in the morning on Saturday, a full 18 hours after I had first gotten up. It was the end to what was for sure a memorable day in my mind.

Blog Wars, Episode II: The Blogger’s Block Strikes Back

I know it’s been quite quiet on my end since the holidays, but it’s not for lack of trying. Sometimes one just has to admit when the bug has bitten again, and unfortunately, I’ve been dealing with blogger’s block once again. Not even the Daily Post prompts have been enough to inspire me to write.

Doesn’t it get annoying as a blogger (or a writer in general) when those little monsters in your creative zone in your head like to take over and block any sort of inspiration or motivation to want to write? It sure does for me. And that’s been the main reason why I haven’t really been writing since Christmas. Everything else has been fine for me lately. Nothing major or catastrophic has occurred in my family or in my hometown. My reading of Hidden Figures is going okay, if not progressing as quickly as I’d like to, mainly because either I’m too sleepy at times or my iPad just keeps calling my name. I am trying to make an active effort to try and read it, though, when the minutiae of domestic life isn’t getting my attention. Knitting on Forestry has stalled a bit because I haven’t been able to get more yarn for it (I need at least a couple more colors for it to start progressing for it). Heck, my scrap yarn is calling to me to try and do something!

My life at this point has been just fine…I just haven’t had the motivation to write about it lately. However, my least favorite holiday of the year, Valentine’s Day, is just around the corner, which may finally give me some motivation to write, so…yay?

Simply put, Blogger’s Block Sucks.

The Pot of Gold

I was inspired to write this after a post I made on Tumblr talking about the relationship between Rory Gilmore and Logan Huntzberger on Gilmore Girls. For those of you who don’t know the story, Gilmore Girls is about a single mother and her daughter, both named Lorelai (although the daughter goes by “Rory” to differentiate), and their lives and relationships as Rory grows into a young woman in a small Connecticut town called Stars Hollow (where Lorelai chose to raise Rory, away from her Connecticut blue blood parents in Hartford, but she slowly lets her parents back into her life after Rory is accepted into a prep school called Chilton and the girls agree to Friday night dinners with the grandparents in exchange for Rory’s tuition). In later seasons, Rory attends Yale University and dates a guy named Logan, who comes from the type of Connecticut blue blood family that Lorelai was trying to keep Rory from their influence. Here is what I wrote in response to a post where a fan admitted that they did not particularly care for Logan:

Maybe because he came from old money and despite Lorelai’s old money upbringing, she made the decision to raise Rory away from all that influence. And just about everything that Rory has achieved, she worked for it (even though yes, her grandparents got her into Chilton, her graduating as valedictorian was 100% Rory’s effort, as was her decision to go to Yale). When she and Logan got together, it was as though she was betraying her roots to be with him. He spoiled her, for sure. (Not to mention his dad was an ass to her, and his mom looked down on her.) I think Jess was actually better for her, once he found himself and got his act together. Sometimes searching for that pot of gold is better than actually having it.

Note that last sentence: “Sometimes searching for that pot of gold is better than actually having it.” It gets me thinking. When we aspire to greatness or success, is it better for us to achieve our goals or are we better off constantly searching for more? Are we better off in a state of perpetual aspiration or settling for what we have?

Think about it. We all have had dreams and aspirations that have seemed to be out of our reach: I want to be rich, I want to perform at Carnegie Hall, I want to own a successful business, I want to marry that person I’ve had my eye on since kindergarten, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But of the people that have gotten lucky enough to achieve such things, why do we hear of people who’ve gotten the pot of gold and then squandered it (especially in the case of large-jackpot lottery winners), or married that person and then cheated with someone else, or became successful and then lost the drive to continue being successful?

I normally would not be one to quote German techno music, but here this makes sense. In the beginning of their song “How Much Is the Fish?” (hold your laughter, please), Scooter’s frontman H. P. Baxxter tells us that “The chase is better than the catch.” (And then proceeds to babble and rap before asking the title question, “How much is the fish?”) Now, sure, the song itself is a bit ridiculous, but I think H. P. Baxxter may have been on to something. The chase is better than the catch. Why is that? As the cliché goes, getting there is half the fun. Trying to pursue that dream, or woo that person, or making that money (if you’re doing it the hard way and working your butt off) is part of the adventure. We can’t reach our end goals without forging the path ahead first. This is what it means when you are following the rainbow 🌈.

But of course, the pot of gold at the end is only a myth, and many times our realities don’t quite turn out the way we fantasized about them when they were only dreams. Sure, some people who become rich are able to stay that way, but there are just as many tales of people who go back to rags through bad investments, frivolous spending, and irresponsible management of their money (either by themselves or others). Businesses go under all the time. Fame can be fleeting…how many ’80s stars still get airplay on Top 40 radio? How many of today’s pop stars will still get airplay 20 years from now? How many Hollywood stars are a scandal away from losing their entire reputation? And no matter whether or not you’re famous, marriages end all the time, even those between high school or childhood sweethearts, for all sorts of reasons. I’m not a nihilist by saying this…I’m just being realistic.

I think as long as we keep that drive and that fire 🔥 to want to be successful and happy alive, though, we can all come much closer to getting what we want out of life. So I say, keep chasing the pot of gold. When you find it, look for another. Getting there is most of the work anyway.

And to end this entry is the Scooter song I referenced, “How Much Is the Fish?” Yes, I realize the song itself is a bit ridiculous. That’s why Jimmy Fallon featured it on The Tonight Show’s “Do Not Play List” earlier this year.

https://youtu.be/cbB3iGRHtqA