How to Crochet Your Own Weighted Blanket

A lot of people are talking about weighted blankets these days. They are said to ease anxiety, help you self-soothe and help you sleep better. And what’s more appealing than snuggling under a big, heavy blanket to help ease your worries? It provides deep pressure all over your body, mimicking a hug.

There seems to be some scientific evidence to support these claims of improved sleep and relaxation. And there’s definitely a lot of anecdotal evidence from people who say that weighted blankets changed their lives. Some claim that these blankets can be particularly beneficial for people with autism, sensory processing disorder, or anxiety.

And even if the science isn’t 100% there yet, well, using a weighted blanket (in addition to whatever you healthcare provider recommends) can’t hurt, right? It’s a low-risk, relatively low-cost, fairly accessible tool that has potential to help anyone struggling with negative feelings or sleeplessness.

If you struggle with any of the above issues (anxiety, sensory issues, troubled sleep), a weighted blanket is worth a shot, right?

My Story: The Hunt for the Perfect Weighted Blanket

When my autistic son was really struggling with sleep, I was anxious to try anything that might help. Naturally, I became interested in trying a weighted blanket. I did some preliminary research into different products, but ran into various problems:

  1. The options were all quite expensive. A child-sized blanket was typically at least $120 USD. That felt like a lot of money to spend on something that might not do anything. What if he didn’t respond to it?
  2. There weren’t any options available locally – they were all online. Which meant I couldn’t touch and feel the blankets myself before purchasing. I didn’t feel comfortable laying down money for something so intrinsically tactile when I had never been able to physically interact with it.
  3. Most of the options were made from synthetic materials. They used synthetic fabrics like acrylic and polyester, and were weighted with plastic beads. This sounded both uncomfortable (I hate to sleep on and under non-breathable fabrics!) and not ideal from an environmental standpoint.
  4. Most of the options were kind of ugly. Again, if I was going to put down that much money for something, I didn’t want it to be an eyesore. Most had childish patterns and/or looked like therapy tools, not bedding.

Ideally, I was looking for a relatively inexpensive product, that was made from natural, breathable materials, that was available locally, and that looked nice, too.

I came across one company that made a product which met almost all my desires: Sheltered Co, a small business in California that made gorgeous hand-crocheted blankets from deadstock (leftover) fabric (mostly stretchy cotton jersey). They bought bolts of fabric, cut them into strips, and crocheted them into densely-woven blankets that weighed 13lbs or more.

The resulting blankets were environmentally-friendly, beautiful, and breathable. They weren’t local, though. And the biggest problem? They were expensive. I’m talking $335 USD plus shipping minimum for a child-sized blanket (+$100 for an adult-sized). Yikes! We’re a single-income family, we don’t have that kind of cash to spend on things that might not work!

The moment I first saw one of their blankets, I was blown away by their simple, elegant beauty. And the moment I saw the price, I thought, “I bet I could make that.”

If you can single-crochet a giant rectangle, you can make one of these blankets.

Making my First Blanket

My journey towards crocheting my own weighted blanket had its own problems. I didn’t have access to deadstock cotton jersey fabric like the folks at Sheltered Co, for starters; and I didn’t have a way to easily cut fabric into strips if I had. So I decided my first step would be to find pre-made cotton jersey yarn (often called “t-shirt yarn”).

I spent a lot of time hunting down the right kind of yarn. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find yarn as thick as what I’d seen in those photos, but I thought I could still get some good results with a super-bulky weight. But just as with the blankets themselves, I couldn’t find a local source, so I ended up having to purchase the yarn online without being able to touch and feel it. (At least in the case of yarn, the cost was much lower than a whole blanket, so it was less of a leap of faith.)

I ended up going with Hoooked Zpagetti t-shirt yarn. It’s made from recycled jersey fabric, so it’s environmentally friendly. It’s generally made from at least 90% cotton, so it’s natural and breathable. (Because it’s made from leftover fabric, the contents vary). I got it from Lovecrafts, but a number of sites sell it. I continued to run into problems with the yarn, but I won’t get into that here — I’ll just share my tips when I tell you how you can make your own blanket.T

My first blanket was . . . okay. I tried mixing colours and discovered that when using recycled yarn, sticking with one colour is better to get a more consistent result. I also misjudged the sizing a bit, and ended up with a narrower blanket than I wanted.

I also learned that there is no attractive way to tie t-shirt yarn end together or weave them in. So for my next blanket, I would have to bust out my sewing machine and actually sew all yarn ends together, which added a step.

But gosh, it felt good to wrap around my body. And it looked pretty good, too! Even if it didn’t help my son sleep, it would make an attractive throw blanket for the family room.

I made three more blankets (one for my daughter, one for a friend, and one for my sister) before I finally felt like I’d hit on a good formula.

Testimonials

Here’s what one friend said about the one I made for her:

I use it every single day! I find it really comforting, especially when my body is feeling uncomfortable. I even feel like my sleeping has improved since I started using it as my blanket at night. Even though it’s summer, it’s still cool enough to use at night, and in winter I just double it up with my usual blanket. Plus it’s cute!

And her roommate:

[My friend] has used it more than me, but honestly I love it whenever I do use it. I find it really soothing, and because I tend to be really restless when I’m anxious, the weight is comforting and reminds me to relax. It just helps me feel more secure? Kind of like I’ve been tucked in, haha. And if I’m sitting up to read or whatever, I can double it over and lay it over my legs, which are usually the most restless part of me. We are often arguing over who gets to use it! So yeah, it gets a lot of use out of us!

I personally took my daughter’s weighted blanket with me when I got a root canal, and I found the pressure of the blanket soothing during the stressful procedure.

The Blanket: Details

These guidelines are for a child-size blanket. It will be approximately 3×4 feet in size and weigh around 6 lbs. This is generally considered a good size and weight for a child (weighted blankets are recommended to be about 10% of the person’s body weight). For an adult, you’d have to make adjustments (buy an extra ball or two of yarn and add chains/rows).

This blanket has a very open weave. You can put your fingers right through the holes. Some users like this feature, and find comfort in lacing their fingers through the holes.

It does not provide significant warmth (which is a huge advantage in a warmer season or climate). If you want warmth, you can layer it with another blanket/comforter.

Cost: a ball of Zpagetti yarn is typically around $11 USD. Five balls (what I recommend) then comes out to about $55. However, look out for sales, and check different websites for better prices. I got mine on sale once and only paid about $41 for all the yarn I needed for a blanket. If you’re buying a jumbo crochet hook for the first time, they generally run you about $5 each.

Construction:
The whole thing is made with single crochets through the front loops only. Crocheting through the front loops creates an attractive texture and also makes the blanket stretchier. (Click here if you need a refresher.)

Ready to make your own?

DIY Weighted Blanket Instructions

Important Note on the Yarn:
One thing I learned the hard way is that because most (all?) t-shirt yarn is made from leftover jersey material, every skein of yarn is different. The makers cannot guarantee an exact weight/thickness for the yarn, and the stretchyness also varies. This means I can’t give you exact instructions on what size hook to use, how many chains to start with, or how many rows it will take. I can offer general guidelines, but you will have to do a bit of experimenting to get the exact size and drape you want.

Also, even if you buy the same colour from the same place, you might get varying shades. I was disappointed once by mismatched yarn, all ordered from the same site. For this reason, if at all possible, get this yarn from a brick-and-mortar store so you can see for yourself that it all matches. Or buy directly from the manufacturer site (which is easier/cheaper to do if you’re in Europe).

You want to use a much larger hook than what the yarn manufacturer recommends, because they are expecting you to be making something sturdy (like a rug or a cushion cover), not something that drapes and hugs. A blanket is an unconventional/unexpected use for this yarn.

As I mentioned above, you will run into knots in your skein where fabric yarn ends were tied together. These do not look nice in your blanket. The best way to deal with them is to untie them and sew them together yourself. I will give a bit more detail in my instructions below. However if this is not an option for you and you’re not that picky about the look of your blanket, you can ignore them and leave them in. It wont affect the durability or function of the blanket.

Materials:

  • 5 skeins of matching Hooked Zpagetti yarn (or similar extra-bulky t-shirt yarn)
  • 19mm or 25mm hook, depending on thickness of yarn and personal preference
  • measuring tape
  • sewing machine (optional)
  • thread to match yarn (optional)

Step 1: Make a test swatch.

I would recommend doing a couple of large test swatches to gauge what size hook you need to give you the look and drape you want.

(The bigger the hook, the drapey-er the blanket. As a general rule, I’d say err on the side of bigger/drapey-er. If it’s too stiff it will feel like you’re sleeping under a rug.)

To make your test swatch:
1. Chain 25 or so.
2. For the fist row, single-crochet into every stitch, working into the bottom or the top of the chain — whatever you prefer/are used to.
3. For the next few rows, single-crochet into the front loop only. Once you have about 25 rows, you can stop.

Spend some time with your test swatch to gauge if you like the look and feel of it. You might decide to start over again with a different hook size until it’s the way you like it.

Calculating Size:
When you’re happy with your swatch, count how many stitches your yarn and hook combo take to make one foot in width. You’ll want to triple that to get a blanket that’s roughly three feet wide. (Feel free to round up — better to get it a little big than too small.) In my experience, it takes roughly 50-65 stitches to make three feet.

Next, count how many rows it takes to get one foot in length. Quadruple that number to get a blanket that’s roughly four feet long. In my experience, it takes roughly 75 rows to make four feet.

Step Two: Start Your Blanket!

You’re just making a bigger version of your test swatch, using the numbers you came up with above for the full size.

I start with a chain of between 50-65 stitches.

Then I single crochet into every stitch through the front loops only.

Then you keep going until you have your desired length!

When you come to yarn knots/end in your ball (and you will), you can leave them; but it looks MUCH NICER if you undo the knot and sew the ends together with a sewing machine. With matching thread and a zigzag stitch, just overlap the ends about 1/2 inch and sew together.

To finish off, just tie a really tight double knot, and trim the yarn. It doesn’t really work to weave in the ends with t-shirt yarn.

Optional: for a more polished look, once your blanket is your desired length, you may choose to single-crochet all the way around your blanket (i.e. across the top, down one side, across the bottom, and then up the other side.) I omitted this step in three of my four blankets and liked the look without. Tie a tight knot and trim yarn.

Postscript:
You may be wondering, “What about your son? Did the blanket help him sleep??” Unfortunately, he didn’t really take to the weighted blanket. He’s really teeny-tiny (at almost five years old he weighs only 32lbs!) and has poor coordination, so a heavy blanket wasn’t the right fit for him right now. He ended up requiring prescribed medication to help him sleep through the night. But maybe he will like it when he’s a bit bigger.

Maybe Someday.

Hi friends.

No, I haven’t finished my series on the crunchy community, and honestly, I don’t know if/when it will ever get done.

I’m just writing in to say that I haven’t forgotten about the blog, but I don’t know if/when I will ever continue.

Life has been hard these last four years, and has just gotten harder in the last few months.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years it’s that when things are hard, buckle up, because they’re only going to get harder.

Maybe someday things will get easier. Maybe someday I’ll be able to follow my dreams and create art and beauty and new life.

But today I just have to get through the day. And that’s probably how it’s going to go for years to come.

(To be clear, nothing dramatic has happened or changed in my life. Just all of the same — no sleep, no answers — but a little bit worse.)

If you want to know what I’m up to, I’m sometimes active on Instagram.

Why are we so drawn to alternative medicine?

Photo credit

The other day I began my story of how I fell in love — and then out of love — with the crunchy community. I said I wanted to explore some of the dangers and pitfalls of the wellness industry.

But before I spend too much time discussing the negative sides of “crunchy living” and alternative medicine, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that alternative healing practices definitely have their strengths and benefits, and I totally understand their allure.

Many of us turned to alternative medicine when conventional medicine failed us.

Because the truth is, the conventional (Western) medicine model can be very disempowering for patients.

The doctor typically holds all the power: it’s their office; you go in on their time. They tell you what to do. They decide your prescription and the dose, and tell you when to come back.

They often use unfamiliar, infantilizing jargon that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and belittled. And they often shame you if you admit to googling your symptoms or trying out alternative healing practices. It can feel like they don’t want you to have any agency in your own wellness.

No matter how old, intelligent, or experienced you are, you often leave a doctor’s office feeling like a child. It’s a relationship where the doctor knows everything and you know nothing.

We often come out of a doctor’s office feeling like we weren’t heard or taken seriously. We often feel like there is nothing we can do to aid in our own healing. And we feel like our doctors don’t take into account our whole selves: we don’t feel like our spiritual and emotional selves are acknowledged.

And that’s if we can even get ourselves to step through the door. Hospitals and doctor’s offices are often cold, sterile, unwelcoming places. They tend to be crowded and busy, and we feel anonymous. Monitors beep, we stand in lines, everything smells antiseptic. Most of us will do just about anything to avoid going there in the first place.

Compare that to many holistic wellness centers, which are typically more welcoming and empowering. The floors are often carpeted and you’re encouraged to take off your shoes. There is often soothing music playing, and diffusers bubbling with calming essential oils. The lights may be dimmed and there is probably a potted succulent on the receptionist’s desk.

Your alternative healthcare provider often listens carefully as you discuss not only your source of pain, but your daily routine, your diet, your emotional responses to you suffering, and alternative remedies you’ve tried. They take you seriously when you say you’ve tried acupuncture or cutting out gluten. They typically use language you understand. They often offer a number of options and encourage you to find a dose that works for you. They might give you their email address in case you have additional questions for later.

You typically leave a wellness center feeling like a whole person who is actively participating in finding a solution.

And sometimes you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home. The Internet offers an infinite number of ideas, suggestions, and solutions. There are millions of people out there telling you that you can take control of your own health. You just have to read the right books, eat the right food, do the right exercises, or take the right supplements.

Who wouldn’t want to go that route over the medical route if possible?

Well, unfortunately, I’ve discovered firsthand that there are some problems inherent in the alternative health model as well.

For one thing, alternative healthcare is not as well regulated, so a lot of nonsense – often dangerous — can slip in. There is often not enough accountability for peddlers of alternative medicine.

And sometimes the burden of figuring things out for yourself can become overwhelming rather than empowering.

And when alternative healing doesn’t work, you can wind up feeling like you didn’t try hard enough, or that you’re just too lazy, or any number of self-defeating things.

And it’s these problems that I want to explore a bit more in future posts.

Thanks for following along!

The Problem with the Crunchy Community: An Intro (My Story)

My crunchy journey started around 2010, when I found myself unable to get pregnant after a year of trying. I found my family doctor completely and utterly useless in the matter, so I turned to the Internet.

There, I discovered a world where toxins are everywhere, trying to sabotage our health. The Standard American Diet is leaving us sick and disordered. The medical community is keeping secrets because it profits from our lack of health.

I bought into it completely. Vibrant health (including fertility) could be achieved with knowledge, hard work, and and the right foods and exercises.

And, I mean, why wouldn’t I buy right into it? After another year of trying — this time armed with traditional foods, supplements, and nontoxic cleaners and body products — I did finally get pregnant. I gave birth (at home, of course) to a robustly healthy little girl. I fed her all the right foods (including breast milk, of course) right from the start, ensuring a healthy future for her.

It was an incredible victory.

I did all the same hard work to get pregnant a second time, two years later. This time I gave birth to a beautiful, nine-pound boy with blond hair. A miracle. My dreams had all come true. Because I had done everything right.

Until I found out that my beautiful baby had been born with a genetic, life-threatening disease, and would need every conceivable medical intervention to survive, from tube-feeding and antibiotics to genetically modifying his white blood cells. And even if we saved his life, he would probably deal with health and developmental issues for the rest of his life.

I learned something very hard in that first year with my second child: nothing can guarantee vibrant health. NOTHING.

* * *

To be honest, I still have a crunchy soul.

I still believe there is healing power in good food and nature. I still believe there is a lot of toxicity in our modern world, thanks to greed + industrialization. I still believe there are limits to what the medical community can offer, and that answers to real health and wellness may often come from outside that world. I still see incredible value in turning to more traditional ways of living for healing.

I still buy mostly organic food, I cook from scratch as much as possible, and I try to avoid pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary. I don’t use anything with synthetic fragrances and I avoid plastics.

But I have come to better appreciate what the scientific and medical community can offer us.

And even more importantly, I’ve come to see that there are dangers hidden within the crunchy community, too.

Three Major Problems with the Cult of Health and Wellness

Over time, I’ve noticed a few major problems that can arise from the being active in the crunchy community. These are all things I’ve experienced personally:

  1. It offers a false sense of control over our health.
  2. It puts unreasonable pressure on individuals to pursue unattainable health.
  3. It ignores and demonizes the very real and good gifts that medicine and science have to offer.

Over the next couple of weeks,* in a short series of posts, I want to explore each of these issues separately.

These issues around being “crunchy” are things I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years, and I just felt it was time to try to articulate them, for myself if for no one else.

I will be very interested in hearing your experiences along the way!

*Or months, if I’m being realistic. I have drafts written already but they are a mess. And I have no idea when I’ll get another good night’s sleep.

5 Things I Learned This Winter (2019)

Winter has always been hard for me.

Seasonal affective disorder runs in my family. Every winter we Friesens all turn into those sad, shriveled little plant creatures in Ursula’s garden in The Little Mermaid.

But it became doubly hard when I had a non-ambulatory child. Navigating a stroller through snow and slush is challenging on a good day; and when said kid fights every step of the bundling-up process the whole thing starts to feel completely futile. We end up spending every day indoors.

And winter became triply hard when said kid decided that sleeping at night was irrelevant.

No sunshine + no exercise + no sleep for months on end = not a good recipe for my mental health.

(The meds and respite care I was so excited about a couple of months ago both ended up not working for us so that’s a bummer.)

BUUUUT we did go on a vacation (which was a bit of a mixed bag — see below) AND we started getting a bit more sleep in these last couple of weeks so it’s not all bad!

Anyway, I’m joining Emily P Freeman to share a few of the things I learned this winter.

1. Family vacations are better with friends when you have young kids.

Last year we went to Florida for ten days to escape the miserable Canadian winter and it was wonderful. The only thing that would have made it better was friends (especially for Lydia, who got bored and lonely without anyone to play with.)

This year we decided to go again — but this time for two weeks, and with another family with young kids. And it was so great!

For one thing, when we all got hit by a violent stomach bug in the first week (EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US), it was really helpful to have another pair of adults to take care of things when one of us was puking our guts out or cleaning toddler vomit out of our hair.

There were four whole adults to take turns with dishwasher duty or to grab diapers from the grocery store, or to google the best route to the zoo. I felt it gave us all a chance to relax a little more than we would have on our own.

And it was so lovely for Lydia to have a playmate around the clock! She was so much happier with a friend.

(Also? We saved so much money! We were able to split the cost of the villa and groceries, making it a very affordable vacation.)

2. I love owning a Kindle Fire.

Our family has never owned a tablet or e-reader before this February, so I didn’t know what I was missing. (We tend to be very late adopters of technology, mostly for financial reasons.)

Anyway, we already owned two laptops and a smartphone each. What else could a tablet possibly offer, I wondered?

Turns out, a lot!

A sweet and generous Internet Friend intuited that I would enjoy having a device on which to read e-books, and decided to gift me a Kindle.

(She consulted me about other e-reader options, but we decided together that a Kindle Fire would probably be most beneficial because I rely heavily on the library and wanted to be able to borrow books using Overdrive and Hoopla. Most other e-readers, including the Kindle Paperwhite, unfortunately, aren’t compatible with those apps, at least in Canada. A Kindle Fire, I learned, is basically just a regular tablet, on which you can link to the Internet and download all sorts of apps; but you can also read e-books on it. I worried at first that it would be uncomfortable to read books off of a screen, but friends assured me they did it all the time and loved it.)

So I got the Kindle Fire. And I can’t believe what I was missing!

One of the first things I did was install Hoopla and download the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels I’ve been pining over ever since we finished the TV series on Netflix. And it worked so great! And looked so beautiful on the screen! I was smitten.

I can finally borrow e-books from the library! I can take advantage of those Kindle deals I’m always seeing! I can read with one hand while holding a cranky Felix! YAY!

3. A Kindle Fire (or other tablet) is an AMAZING resource for homeschooling.

So the NEXT thing I did after tracking down the Avatar books was to download a few free educational games for Lydia to play. And wow! They’re so great! She loves them, and learned so much within the first week! I am just blown away.

As you know, we unschool, and I believe the best and most meaningful learning happens in real life (e.g. the best math learning happens when you save and spend actual money, or take measurements for an actual project, etc). It also works best when it’s self-directed. But sometimes I still wonder if Lydia could benefit from practising traditional math equations and things like that; but that is just not something she’s interested in doing.

Well, there’s an app for that! Or more like, a few dozen!

For example, Pet Bingo has Lydia doing the equivalent of six sheets of math equations to earn a “pet” that she can name and feed and play with. She’ll happily sit and do math for an hour just to find out what cute pet she’ll get. She begs to play! To do MATH EQUATIONS.

These apps are so great for assuaging any worries that she’s not learning enough “school-ish” stuff. (What if she has to take tests for higher education in the future??) And they’re fun enough that she chooses to play out of her own free will.

I feel like an hour of Khan Academy Kids on the Fire is roughly the equivalent of a day at school. Throw in an episode of Wild Kratts and some time at the park/forest/pool/ice rink/etc, and BOOM: you’ve got a pretty well-rounded education for an elementary-school-aged kid.

They’re so accessible, too: the new Fire HD 8 costs about $100 CAD (or less in the US), and I haven’t spent a dollar so far on apps. For that one-time cost you get a whole world of educational material at your fingertips.

I can’t wait to see what else we discover together!

4. Salt Matters.

I guess this was the season that people either felt really sorry for me or just really appreciated me (HA!) because I got another gift in the mail from an Internet Friend: The book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.

It’s a beautiful book jam-packed with cooking wisdom, and so far I’ve only gotten through the the part on salt. And it convinced me to splurge on some more expensive salts. (She suggests that the two things worth spending more money on are salt and olive oil).

I’d been buying Real Salt for a number of years, but recently decided I should try to save money and just buy some generic sea salt. Salt is salt, right?? But I was surprised to find I was consistently dissatisfied with the results.

Turns out, not all salt is created equal. And different salts work better for different things. The texture of the crystals has a surprising effect on how we experience the flavour. Samin explained it all to me and I suddenly understood why I wasn’t loving the salt I’d bought. (It’s fine for some things, though.)

So I bought another bag of my beloved Real Salt (Really, it’s an extra $9 every six months or so, and it’s a saltier salt so it goes further; and also some fancy fleur to sel for really special occasions.

In fact, I used the fluer de sel for finishing some edamame last week and it elevated the dish from pretty good to sublime.

Who knew salt could make such a difference?

Well, that’s about it for today!

What did you learn this winter?

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Six Things I Learned This Fall (2017)

I’m joining Emily P. Freeman in sharing what I learned this quarter, from science to crafts to social media hacks. Here are six things I learned this fall, in no particular order.

1. The difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon.

cocoon vs chrysalis

This fall, Lydia and I started doing nature walks and nature journaling as a part of our homeschool. As a result, we’ve gotten to know a lot about the creatures around us. And one of those things has been the differences between moths and butterflies, and between cocoons and caterpillars.

We learned this sort of by luck. We happened to catch two different kinds of caterpillars within days of each other, and put them into our butterfly house. Both pupated within 24 hours of being caught. And that’s when we learned this valuable distinction:

Moth larvae make cocoons; butterfly larvae make chrysalises.

(“Larva” refers to the caterpillar stage.)

In the photos above, the image on the left is a chrysalis, made by a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. You will notice that it is smooth and hard. It is actually made from the shed skin of the caterpillar. Weird, right?! That’s how you know to expect a butterfly to emerge from it.

The image on the right is a cocoon, made by the larva of a white-marked tussock moth. You will notice that it is all fuzzy and hellish looking. (Just me? I dunno, it makes me shudder.) It’s made of silk. You can see the adult moth has already emerged from it!*

*(But wait, you say. How can that be a moth? It doesn’t have any wings!! Well, my friends, that is because it is a female white-marked tussock moth, and it doesn’t have any wings. It just sits there and waits for a winged male to come find it and mate with it, and then it will lay its eggs right there on its cocoon. I know, creepy/gross/weird. I kind of regret having kept that caterpillar, to be completely honest.)

I could tell you more about moths/butterflies/caterpillars/pupae, but I’m sure you’ve heard more than enough.

2. My homemade laundry detergent maybe wasn’t cutting it.

detergent

I’ve been making and using homemade laundry detergent for the last six years. You know, the kind where you mix washing soda, borax, and grated soap. Honestly, I was perfectly satisfied with it. It is SOOOOO cheap, and has no toxic chemicals or fillers in it. Yay!

So maybe my laundry didn’t come out perfect. My whites got a little dingy over time and my clothes weren’t as soft as they could be, but meh. I was saving so much money, and it’s so much better for the environment!

Then I came across this (kind of sensationalist) article on why homemade laundry detergent actually doesn’t work. And, well, her argument was pretty compelling. My clothes and linens were probably all holding onto years worth of build-up in their fibers, making them duller and less soft than they ought to be.

To summarize briefly: The reason that homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work is that it isn’t detergent at all. It’s just water softeners and soap, and the difference between soap and detergent matters. Soap works fine if you’re using really hot water and a really aggressive method of agitation, like scrubbing with a washboard. But modern washing machines don’t work like that. They just kind of swish the clothes around. For modern washing machines, you need an actual detergent. You can read more for yourself on The Trouble with Homemade Laundry Detergent. (<– a much more even-tempered analysis of the issue than the first article).

I didn’t bother with “stripping” any of my laundry like so many writers advise, but I did pick up a bottle of Nature Clean detergent* the next time I went to the grocery store, and I’ve been using it ever since.

*(I’ve been using their dishwasher detergent for years, and trust them.)

3. How to do a bobble stitch in crochet.

bobble stitch

Until recently, most of my crochet projects have been pretty basic and straightforward. Then I saw a textured cactus pillow that I just had to recreate. But I needed to learn how to do a bobble stitch. I turned to trusty YouTube.

For my fellow crocheters: you basically repeat the first part of a double-crochet 3-5 times in the same stitch, creating a bobble that pops out on the other side of the fabric.

It looks pretty fantastic, but it is time-consuming. (if you want to learn, I recommend searching it on YouTube yourself. I had to watch left-handed versions, which wouldn’t help 90% of you.)

4. You can save other people’s Instagram posts to Collections.

instagram collections

I had no idea. Before I discovered this, when I came across an Instagram photo that inspired me, I would take a screen shot of it. And then it was just saved in my “screen shots” folder on my phone. (I know. Adorable, right?)

Turns out, when you see a post you want to save, you can hit the little bookmark icon in the bottom right and save it. And if you hold it in, a “Save To” tab will pop up and you can save it to one of your collections. I quickly made collections of some of my current obsessions — Bread, Knitting, Watercolour Painting, and Home Schooling. I can refer back to them when I need inspiration. Yay!

I’ve been using this feature like crazy! It’s so fun!

(I actually learned this tidbit from Emily Freeman’s last “What I Learned” post.)

5. You can make pretty designs on your artisan bread using a razor blade.

basic sourdough boule recipe

I’ve been playing around with sourdough bread for the last few months. One of the fun parts of the process is scoring the top to make it pretty. I mean, you kind of have to do some scoring to prevent the loaf from falling all over the place, but you can be intentional about making it attractive while you’re at it.

Until recently, I just did a few diagonal slashes across the top. It looked nice. But after browsing (and saving! — see above) a bunch of bread porn on Instagram, I decided I wanted to try getting fancy. You can make lots of small, shallow cuts into the top with a razor blade and create intricate designs. It comes out looking awesome. The leaf pattern shown here is a pretty common one, and I can see why — it’s simple and gorgeous.

6. Taika Waititi directed Thor Ragnarok.

When I watched Thor Ragnarok in the theater, I couldn’t believe how funny and weird it was. The previous Thor movies had all been kind of boring and unconvincing. And I immediately recognized Korg’s distinctly Kiwi accent. I spotted a couple of familiar Kiwi actors, too. A lot of the dialogue just had some of that New Zealand flavour. So I did some digging and realized that the actor who voices Korg — Taika Waititi — is also the director. And he has directed some of my favourite comedies of all time, including The Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Flight of the Concords.

If you’re familiar with these other titles, you know that New Zealand humour is incredibly unique and distinct. (They refer to it as “the comedy of the mundane.”) I was thrilled that Waititi was able to infuse some of this amazing humour into a blockbuster film. The guy is awesome, I am crushing on him pretty hard. (He’s handsome as heck, too!)

That’s about it for now! Hopefully you learned something you didn’t know from this post! What else did you learn this season?

How I Went from Being a Thinker to a Maker

knitting edited

*Note: Please forgive this bit of shameless navel-gazing. Even though it’s completely self-centered, I thought I’d share this, in case anyone else can relate. It’s connected to my last post: Why I’m Not Writing a Book Right Now.*

A few weeks ago I was editing my Instagram profile — I think I was just temporarily changing the link to a specific blog post — when I was struck by my own description of myself: “Thinker.”

I’ve been using that word to describe myself since I started this blog six years ago. (You can still see it in my author description in the right column of the blog). I’d gotten used to it.

But all of a sudden, I noticed that it didn’t feel like it fit anymore.

For basically all my life, I probably could have described myself as a “thinker.” I’ve lived most of my life in my head. (My mom would attest to that. I’ve always been absent-minded, absorbed with my own thoughts.)

I ruminate. I imagine. I ponder. I reflect. I take things in and I dissect them with my brain. I’ve never been much of a talker or a doer.

That’s why my life has always revolved around the written word. Words are a thinker’s tools.

It made me rather clumsy and not very useful in the real world, but I thrived in an academic setting, which is where I spent the first 24 years of my life.

But that’s not the kind of person I was seeing reflected in my Instagram feed the other day.

My feed isn’t full of thoughts and words, like you would expect from a “thinker.” Instead, these days it’s mostly full of pictures of stuff I’ve made: bread I’ve baked. Hats I’ve crocheted. Artwork I’ve painted.

“Looks like I’m more of a maker,” I thought to myself for the first time.

Hmmm.

In recent years, my focus has shifted away from reading, writing, and thinking, to mastering new skills. Baking. Cooking. Painting. Knitting. That kind of thing.

I no longer read to learn new information nearly as much I do to learn new skills. And often, I find that watching videos is a more efficient way to learn these things than reading books. So I do a lot more of that.

In the last three years alone I have picked up crocheting, knitting, watercolor painting and sourdough baking. Before that it was gardening, preserving, cooking and blogging.

What changed?

Well, I graduated from university, for starters. When I stopped being a professional student I started to recognize the value of learning some life skills.

And shortly after that, I had a baby. I had to learn some additional new skills; and my brain got so worn out by the demands of caregiving that I couldn’t think like I used to. But in those early years of mothering I still devoured books and information, and spent a lot of time reflecting and writing.

And then I had a medically complex child who spent his first year in the hospital and everything came apart. Including my brain.

What exactly happened? What encouraged this shift from thinking to making?

Thinking became too difficult.

Having two kids in my care who never slept and who constantly needed my attention put a special strain on my mental capacities. I just didn’t have the brain space to think much anymore beyond what was immediately necessary for all our survival.

Making stuff is a bit easier on the brain, somehow.

basic sourdough boule recipe

Thinking became too painful.

Since the trauma of Felix’s hospitalization, and my family’s separation, displacement, and isolation, almost all thinking triggers pain. My brain became a stew of sadness and anxiety. To this day I have to carefully guard my thoughts at every turn to keep me from turning into a useless puddle of grief and worry.

Making and doing is much less painful.

Nobody gets hurt when I create.

I needed more beauty in my life.

Especially in the dull monotony of hospital life, I started to really notice what a difference beauty made in my life. The gorgeously-decorated Christmas trees in the halls of the pediatric ward somehow allowed me to take a deep breath and relax for just a moment. The carefully-tended flower beds at the Ronald McDonald House made me feel loved and cared for.

This need for beauty has carried on. I wanted not only to witness beauty, but to participate in it.

I get a feeling of peace and calm when I pull elegant loaves of artisan bread out of the oven. I love to lay beautiful liquid colours down on paper and watch flowers pop out of the flat whiteness. It energizes me. It brings me joy when everything else feels like crap.

watercolour lily

I needed to feel in control of parts of my life, when everything else  felt completely chaotic.

Ever since Felix was born, my life has felt largely out of my control. We weren’t able to pursue any of the parenting choices we wanted to make for him, from breastfeeding to co-sleeping and elimination communication. Doctors made all the decisions about how to treat him, how to feed him, and who could even see him. For several weeks, we didn’t even know if he would live.

I have felt so completely helpless in the face of his suffering and pain.

So it feels good to be able to pick out a ball of yarn in the colour of my choice, select a pattern, and knit a sweater, just the way I want it. At least I have control over this one little thing.

knitted pink pixie bonnet

I needed to feel productive, when I realized there was so little I could actually do to help my son.

This is kind of an extension of the first. When I couldn’t do anything else, I could knit my son a hat. When I can’t figure out why everyone in my family is so miserable, I can bake them some bread.

I can’t always solve my own or anyone else’s problems, but I can create something beautiful. That’s something, at least.

How about you? Have you experienced anything like this? Can you relate?

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I’m Still Here . . . Just Not Blogging

sidewalk chalkYou know that magical time of day, when your kids are all in bed and you get a couple of hours to yourself, either to relax with your spouse or knock out a couple of items from your to-do list?

Yeah? Is that a part of your reality?

If so, GOOD FOR FRIGGIN’ YOU.

That is not a part of our reality, nor has it ever been. If we are awake, you can bet our kids are awake. If we are asleep, there’s still a pretty good chance our kids are awake.

Our kids don’t sleep. So the only time I can blog is if the grandparents are able to offer free childcare. (I don’t really make a substantial income from blogging, so it has to happen at zero cost.)

And if the grandparents are either on vacation or working extra hours at their jobs, that means blogging (or reading or art or hobbies or fun) doesn’t happen.

So! I have a couple of months-worth of blog posts I fully intend to write, but it might be a while before my hands can hit these keys for any extended period of time.

I hope you are enjoying your summer (or winter, you southern hemisphere folks!), and I hope to be back here . . . eventually.

Why the LGBT community might not feel loved by Christians

Why the LGBT community might not feel loved by ChristiansPhoto credit

Note: I consider myself a recent but very imperfect LGBTQ ally and also a Christian. So if I say things that are hurtful or incorrect to those who belong to either/both camps, I apologize in advance. And I’m aware that there are affirming churches out there, so I’m not talking about them when I say LGBTQ people might not feel loved by “Christians.” I’m talking about those individuals and groups that express the attitude I’m describing below.

As many of you are probably aware, there has been much debate and discussion around the new Beauty and the Beast movie in the Christian community. Much of it has to do with the inclusion of what the director has called an “exclusively gay moment,” and whether or not parents should let their children watch it.

This post is not about that. (But I will say that I took my daughter to see the movie, IT WAS DELIGHTFUL, and that any hints towards homosexuality were very, very subtle.)

Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was something I read in one of those well-circulated articles by a Christian mom debating the merits of the movie.

Overall, the article is a very thoughtful, kind and gentle reflection on the kinds of things we want to share with our children. She doesn’t tell us whether or not we should watch the movie with our kids, — in fact, she seems unsure herself — only that we ought to be thoughtful about such decisions.

Here’s the part that stood out to me, though, and made me pause. It comes at the end of the post:

…if you are one of my gay friends, and you read this and heard me hating you or disrespecting you or looking down on you, hear me now: I love you. I love you more than you think I do. I pray for you – not to not be gay. I pray you have a good day, that your kids are protected and grow up kind and strong. I pray you are happy and loved. I pray you’ll know Jesus in an intimate and amazing way. I pray you’ll know His love for you. [Italics in original]

Outwardly, this seems like a very loving and respectful sentiment. She loves gay people! She wishes them well! She doesn’t even want to change their sexuality! Who could object to that? I’ve heard this sentiment repeated over and over by many wonderful, caring Christians, and it sounds really loving.

But something didn’t sit right with me, and it took a couple of seconds to figure it out.

The part that bothered me was this: “I pray you’ll know Jesus in an intimate and amazing way. I pray you’ll know His love for you.”

Future tense.

The author seems to assume the gay reader doesn’t already know Jesus in an intimate way, or already know Jesus’ love for them.

The author appears to assume that the gay reader isn’t already a Christian.

That’s what bothered me. How can she possibly know that they aren’t already Christians? Maybe the gay reader already feels perfectly aligned and in tune with God, in a perfect, loving relationship.

It seems really presumptuous to assume that because the person is gay, that necessarily means they are not already a Christian. Maybe that person has a different interpretation of Scripture which allows them to feel they are already in good standing with God . . . while still being gay. Heck, maybe they’re better Christians than the author!

After reading this passage, reiterating a sentiment I’ve heard a hundred times and even shared myself in the past, I couldn’t help thinking that LGBTQ people will always feel unloved and unwelcome by the church as long as we believe you can’t be gay and Christian at the same time.

(Of course I can’t speak for how gay people feel, as I’m not one of them. But when I imagine myself in a situation where the dominant group thought it was impossible for me to be one of them on account of my sexuality, I think this is how I would feel. I’ve heard from LGBTQ people expressing similar feelings.)

This isn’t about the author specifically, but about all Christians who say they love gay people but believe they are living in sin. I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying I’m not surprised if gay people aren’t flocking to their doors for church invitations.

If you think it’s impossible to be gay and also be in a good relationship with Jesus, I suspect you will never feel like a completely safe person for an LGBTQ person to be around.

I couldn’t help but think that if I was one of the author’s gay friends, I still wouldn’t really feel loved or accepted, no matter how nicely she told me she loved me. Because she doesn’t think I’m in a good relationship with Jesus!

It made me think of how insulted I feel when an evangelist comes to my door and starts trying to convert me to their particular brand of Christianity without learning a thing about me first. I’m already a Christian! I want to tell them. How do you know I need saving? How do you know I shouldn’t be teaching you about spirituality??

It reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago. Some friends were talking about Ellen Degeneres and her show, and how much she amuses us. Ellen is one funny lady! Then one friend piped up, “Too bad she’s going to hell.” And everyone nodded sadly in agreement.

Wait, what? I thought. How do we know anything about Ellen’s soul and her eternal destination? We’ve never even met her in person! And even if we had, how much do we really know about a person’s relationship with God? How can we possibly know if someone is “going to hell”? Who are we to say we know such a thing? But it’s fairly common among many Christian circles to assume that people living “the gay lifestyle” ( <– a really problematic phrase, BTW) are destined for hell unless they change something dramatic.

Again, if I was gay, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable hanging around people who “knew” I was going to hell. I wouldn’t feel loved. I would feel judged. Even if everyone was polite and friendly.

If you do believe being gay or being in a homosexual relationship is a sin, I am not trying to argue with you. I think it’s your right to believe that. I know it’s possible to hold that belief and be perfectly civil to people who disagree with you. We can live in harmony and hold different beliefs. I’m just saying, don’t be surprised or confused if gay people don’t really want to be around you or listen to you.

Would you want to be around someone who thought you were living in sin and going to hell? Even if they repeatedly told you they loved you?? I just don’t think I would. I would want to seek out people who thought I was their complete equal in Christ.

That’s all I’m trying to say here. You may think you love gay people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they feel it.

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What I’m Into: February 2017

crying CollageMy life right now

Remember when Felix used to wake up to play for two hours every night?

Yeah. We now refer to those as “the good old day.” His wake-up time can now be anytime between 11:30pm and 5am. The duration is typically three to four hours. He plays, drinks anywhere from one-half to three bottles, and throws a couple of tantrums. Every night.

I’M NOT COMPLAINING, YOU’RE COMPLAINING.

All right, so I’m also just a little grumpy because we were supposed to go to Florida for two weeks and then that fell through. So we planned a mini-vacation to Detroit and then that also fell through. We’ve hardly left our home to go anywhere but the hospital in the last three years but THAT’S OKAY, EVERYTHING IS FINE, I’M NOT COMPLAINING, I’M A SELF-ACTUALIZED HUMAN ADULT AND I MEDITATE AND I HAVE A FRIEND IN JESUS.

And if I reflect back, there were plenty of good things that happened on February. Like the following:

syrupTapping the maple tree to collect sap…

syrup boilingBoiling it down into syrup…

muddy walkA few days warm enough (IN FEBRUARY!) to walk barefoot . . .

forest schoolGoing to the forest school drop-in . . .

libraryAnd our local library finally opening after an eight-month strike!!!

Anyway, none of this is what you came here for! You would like my book and movie recommendations for the month! Right? So here’s what I’ve been into!

Books

Movement Matters – Katy Bowman. You guys probably know by now I’m a huge fan of Katy Bowman. I’m a devoted podcast listener and I’ve gushed about her other books. Movement Matters is paradigm-shifting collection of essays exploring the consequences of our sedentary culture. She puts forward the daring idea that we could improve our health, the environment, and our communities if we would just move more. It will probably take me years to make any kind of progress in this area because it’s just so counter-cultural, but I definitely want to move in that direction.

Audiobooks

I’m just gonna say once again that I THANK GOD for audiobooks and Overdrive. I’m going on year five of no sleep (on account of children who don’t know what nighttime is for), and these technologies have allowed me consume WAAAY more books than I’d ever be able to read with my eyeballs in this season of life. I listen while I cook dinner, scrub the bathtub, and sweep the floors. It’s amazing.

(These books would all be equally great in text form; I just happened to receive them as audiobooks.)

Bossypants – Tina Fey. This lady makes me laugh out loud. She is brilliant and delightfully self-deprecating. I always enjoy hearing the story of how folks like her get where they are. And hearing about how she became Sarah Palin’s double was a treat.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson. Another woman who can make me laugh until I cry. This is The Bloggess’ second memoir. Her discussion of mental illness is both needed and weirdly hysterical. She is a strange, strange, wonderful human being. (Major language warning. I’ve never hard anyone use the word vagina as much as Lawson does.)

Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye. A complete delight. If you’re a fan of Jane Eyre, I think you’ll get a kick out of this novel. It follows a young Victorian orphan girl who, like Jane Eyre, goes to an awful boarding school and later becomes a governess. She’s clever and brave and self-aware. And also? A murderer. With a heart of gold, of course. (She only kills horrible men.) From the start she’s aware of her similarities with the famous fictional heroine. I promise, it’s better than it sounds. It reads like an authentically 19th-century novel and all of the characters are stunningly three-dimensional.

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell. I listened to this one just to see what the fuss was about. It was cute, and it’s clear that Rowell has a vivid memory of what it feels to be like a teenager. She conveyed all those feelings of first love fabulously. I enjoy a good romance every so often but I only thought this one was okay. (Don’t hate me, Rowell fans.) (Again, lots of salty language.)

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari. I checked this one out mostly because I’m a Parks and Recreation fan (He’s the actor who played Tom Haverford). This book completely surprised me: it’s more of a sociological study on romance in today’s technological world than a humour book. He wrote it with an actual sociologist, and they conducted actual research projects, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups all over the world. It was insightful and informative and surprisingly hilarious. I think hearing Ansari read it himself was a huge bonus. He’s got a unique way of expressing things and made comical asides to us lazy audiobook listeners. (Warning: very explicit language.)

Television

DRAGONS: RACE TO THE EDGE HAS A NEW SEASON ON NETFLIX!!! Okay, ostensibly this is Lydia’s show. She is obsessed with it. But I finally gave up all pretenses of just “overhearing” the episodes she was watching and started to sit down to watch with her. SO SO GOOD. I laugh out loud multiple times during every episode. I find the twins genuinely funny and I have a soft spot for villain-turned-good-guy Dagur. Hiccup and Astrid (“Hicstrid”) are ADORABLE. I love that the main character has a disability. I love that all the nonverbal dragons have distinct personalities. And I still haven’t gotten tired of the whole Vikings-riding-dragons conceit. It’s the best. Warning: this is definitely a show written for older kids. There is a surprising amount of violence (of the face-punching kind) if that kind of thing bothers you. (I don’t mind, despite the fact that I’m a pacifist.) Lydia’s four-year-old cousin found it so scary she cried. And this season finally introduces a romantic subplot that I LOVED but Lydia HATED. (She covers her eyes and yells every time they kiss.)

Movies

Arrival. Oh my goodness. If you enjoy a good ugly cry, this movie is for you. (I personally DO NOT. I started bawling five minutes in. I cannot handle stories that center around the loss of a child.) I can’t deny that it was stunning and surprising and original. Brilliant sci-fi storytelling at its best. But oh, my poor heart.

That’s it for now! What have you been into?

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