New Things

As my crochet obsession took over my brain for the better part of the last five months and it shows no sign of slowing down, I realized I needed to re-insert balance in my life when it comes to my other passions, those of blogging and photography.

Fortunately, photography comes naturally with crochet because I get to take pictures of my finished works, so it keeps me en pointe with that set of skills.

But Zoe Says is my first love and after 5.5 years of blogging, I don’t want to see it recede into the background. Now that I have refocused a bit and am actively including posts about crocheting here and there, I thought, what’s a good way to keep up on the blog and strike more blog-life balance?

It’s a very simple answer, which is: have a weekly post on newly created things. They don’t even have to be items that I will necessarily list for sale in the shop; at the very least, it’s a way to keep paying forward the creativity. I’m in the Granny Square phase of learning in crochet. In fact, I just added a charity to my blogroll  that I think is SO cool and will eventually donate to, which is Crochet Granny Squares of Love. The woman and her team who run it receive donated granny squares and turn them into blankets for charity.

Once upon a time, I followed another blogger named Zoe (though I think she used an umlaut) and she would update about her knitted items and I just thought they were the bees’ knees. I believe she re-purposed her blog or took it down but it was keen.

In sum, keep your eyes peeled and I look forward to sharing more crochet love with y’all!

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New Goals, New Projects, and a Big Old Tangent

Why hello! Happy 2014!

I hope you all had lovely holiday seasons. I sure did. Believe it or not, I have done a lot of contemplating about writing in the last two months, though it hasn’t (yet) translated to more posts.

Here’s a quick recap on what 2013 ended up being for me:

  • A less hectic and draining year than 2012.
  • A year with no major health setbacks: YAY!
  • Made major advancements in wedding planning. (2014 is The Year of the Wedding!)
  • New or strengthened friendships–awesome!
  • Learned the value of setting goals or resolutions for oneself. I did not set any for 2013 so by the end of the year, I didn’t feel as accomplished as I might have had I written some things down. Ergo, I came up with eleven goals/resolutions for 2014.
  • Took up a new hobby: re-learning crochet and making amigurumi. Yeah, I had never heard that word before, either, but apparently the only way to refer to small, crocheted/knitted animals is through this word. Thank you, Japanese language!

Regarding the last item there: while I really loved taking up crochet again, as I haven’t touched it since I was a kid, I became intensely aware that skills which appear to be simple are the exact opposite of that. Trying crochet again began with an impulse buy whilst Christmas shopping at Barnes & Noble. I picked up a kit called Teeny Tiny Animal Crochet. I’m putting a photo here, courtesy of Barnes & Noble, so you can see why I might have been drawn in:

Animal Crochet

The adorable animals, the words “teeny tiny,” and the cursive font all sucked me in.

Pretty cute, no? After exclaiming in my head how adorable these little creatures were, I immediately thought, “How hard can this be? I can make these.” It was probably more like, “I HAVE to make these!” But whatever.

Problem was, I assumed that the book clearly stating that it’s “even for beginners” actually meant that it would give some verrrrrry step-by-step instructions for those taking up the hook for the first time or starting over again, as I was. I was laughably wrong. The book does attempt to teach you how to read a pattern, which is a learning process in and of itself, and through its photos, tries to get you to understand slip knots and rings and all that.

The kit also gives you two small balls of different yarn (not even a whole skein) and a few more supplies to make “two projects,” that of the bunny and the koala bear. I was immediately drawn to the bunny. I have an affinity for bunnies and couldn’t wait to try and replicate the project on the cover of the book. The koala bear was just “eh” to me; in fact, I really thought I’d be able to make two different bunnies with the yarn.

If that notion were a crochet balloon, it didn’t merely pop–it was shot down.

Box ' Bunny Parts

Box o’ Bunny Parts

In addition to the photos in the book being largely unhelpful (not that photos can’t be helpful but this book shows the wrong part of the step to illustrate something, and what good does that do?), the patterns are inconsistent in terms of how thorough they are. The book is a compilation of patterns from crocheters around the country. Perhaps there was only so much editing that was allowed. Moreover, the yarn hook that was provided had an eye way too small to thread the yarn that comes in the kit. So that was some fun time spent trying to get that to work.

One of the patterns completely omits telling you to stuff the body parts, even though you need to. It also goes into ZERO detail on how to sew animal parts together, which is a pretty crucial part to making a successful stuffed animal together. It simply gives instructions like, “Sew the head onto the body.” Okay, HOW? What EXACTLY is the best way to do that? My dude can attest that there were a couple of times I simply sat and screamed at the book or my yarn in frustration, much to his consternation.

In the end, I did not manage to complete a project with the given supplies. I was able to make three-quarters of one bunny and half of another. The balls of yarn ended up just being practice for me. The irregular bunnies are now my dog’s playthings. I stayed up late on weeknights as I tried to master this craft in a short amount of time, but until you crochet a few thousand stitches and really grasp some crucial concepts, it’s just not going to gel quickly. So for anyone reading this who wants to take up crochet, just remember to be patient. Don’t be like me and through sheer hubris, assume you’ll master this within a few hours. Or even a few days.

There is a bright silver lining to this particular craft, and that is YouTube. YouTube gave me the much needed visuals in order to learn all the crucial basics, while other crochet bloggers out there wrote extensively on subjects like hook type and size, gauge (the G-word, in the crochet world; “Check your gauge!”), sewing (at last!), and everything in between.

I managed to teach myself some crochet basics and what I needed to know for amigurumi through watching dozens of video tutorials from experienced crochet gurus out there on the world wide web. I also researched decent free patterns but also purchased a few from Etsy. I went to several craft stores before and after Christmas to stock up–and I really stocked up–and now have a small yarn store plus essential amigurumi supplies sitting in my living room, which has become my temporary craft room.

Things that are pretty crucial, especially for a beginner, in crochet: large-eye yarn needles, a needle threader, stitch markers, and a row counter. I know the last one there may seem silly, but I just got one in the mail and it is a life saver when you are just monotonously working on a project. Crochet is all about counting and knowing your multiple tables. There is no way around it. The number of stitches in a round or a row or a particular type of stitch are crucial to the success of your projects. Once I accepted that, I armed myself with the aforementioned tools to help me. (Essentially, when I’m crocheting, I feel like I’m conducting my own Lumosity brain-training. Maybe crocheting will help me stave off dementia as I age. That’d be pretty neat.)

Basically, between December 23 and now, I have had some very nice successes and also some really terrible project outcomes. I grant that I may have picked this up more quickly than some might, but I attribute that to my grandmother, God bless her, who taught me and some of my cousins at a young age the art of crochet. Back then, though, we were making potholders and little things like that. So my little crochet muscle memory lay dormant for a couple decades.

At the bottom of this post are some photos of a few successfully made projects. And perhaps a photo or two of my Irregulars, as I’m calling them; those being projects that I either completed or had to abandon midway through due to irreparable screwed-up-ness.

After posting several photos on my personal Facebook page, a handful of people told me I should open an Etsy shop. I sat on that idea for a couple of weeks and then thought, why not? One of my resolutions was to simply be more in the present moment, and what better way to carpe diem than to just to try something for the fun of it? I only have a few listings up but I will continue to add to it.

There are other crochet kits like this out there, including a Wizard of Oz themed set, which seem absolutely amazing on the surface, except that the reviews on Amazon from experienced crocheters say the patterns aren’t fantastic. So, word to the wise, folks. Teach yourself crochet/making amigurumi prior to buying any kind of kit. Once you have mastered reading a pattern and executing stitches, go back and try a few projects that at first seemed intimidating. The book in the kit I bought does have some cute animal patterns, so some good did come out of it, even if it did take me three tries to successfully make a bunny. (See below.)

Despite some initial setbacks, they did not deter me from having an all-consuming passion for crochet. In fact, I have to pace myself at it and force myself to take breaks and do other things so I can have a normal life, in addition to giving my hands and arm muscles a break. If you crochet enough, it will cause some serious joint pain and nearsightedness. Good times.

I’d love to hear if any of you took up a new hobby so far in 2014 or are already experienced in the Ways of Yarn. More to come from my end, I can promise you that!

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Short ‘n sweet

Ladies and gentlemen, there is a new small addition to Zoe Says:

You can find it in the Categories section in the drop-down menu above if you want to find all the posts. Basically, I swapped out anything I have ever written and called a “review” and put it into this new category. What I’ll be attempting to do on a regular basis from here on out is find something, anything, to review or discuss and then give my “recommendation.”

I like a good product review but there are times that what I’ll write about isn’t necessarily something branded. For example, I could do a post saying Zoe Recommends drinking hot chocolate by the fireside. Or perhaps I’d say, Zoe Recommends flipping on your turn signal in rush hour traffic. You get the picture. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing product reviews. They’re fun!

If nothing else, this will enable me to blog more but it also kind of puts the impetus on me to write about a particular “genre,” if you will, more regularly.

Your friendy friend blogstress,
Zoe

Can you keep a secret?

Shhh.

Photo courtesy of ~robot robot lover on Flickr

I had a fleeting thought the other day: are bloggers good secret keepers? Or are we in a special category because we have a public Internet presence? (I suppose saying “public Internet” is like saying PIN number–redundant and unnecessary.)

In my case, I can certainly keep things to myself that other people tell me in confidence. But I am a pretty open person and don’t mind talking about myself to most people, creepoids excluded. I also have a hard time buying gifts more than one week in advance for loved ones and not spilling the beans on what it is. I may have mentioned already that Christmas poses a huge problem for me because the anticipation just kills me. For weeks, I drop hints about how much my loved ones are going to love what I got them. Last year, I gave Kevin half of his presents early because I couldn’t stand to wait.

Now, I’m not saying I’m one of those people who has no tact or just blurts out what I’m thinking. I can actually be a pretty quiet person. I just mean to say that in my friendships with people, I have to compartmentalize friends into categories like Can Tell This Person Anything, Everything But Sex Stories or Fart Jokes, or Doesn’t Get My Humor. I suppose everyone has to do this to some degree but I keep detailed mental notes on what I can and cannot talk about with certain folks.

Having a blog allows me to write down many of the meandering thoughts that pass through my brain at any given moment. Sometimes it’s a miracle I even remember a topic for later if I don’t write it down right away. I find that a lot of my ideas or wonder-ments come to me while I’m driving (formerly it was on the subway when I lived in New York). But like dreams, they can be easily forgotten, gossamer wisps lost to the wind.

Naturally, not everything I think about or that has happened to me is written about on this blog. I have considered writing on more private topics but then I think that that goes against the grain of what this blog is about and would be better suited for a different medium – certainly a different kind of blog.

Still, I admire authors who have the ability to write short stories or memoirs of their lives where it gets rather down and dirty; we are reading about intimate moments that I don’t think I could fathom putting down on paper for any old stranger to read. Two examples come to my mind: Running With Scissors and Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. One is by Augusten Burroughs and the other Chelsea Handler. Granted, the latter author’s books are written with a huge dose of tongue in cheek, but we’re still reading about all of her sexcapades in gritty detail. Hm, the word ‘sexcapades’ is officially on my blog now.

As for Running With Scissors, all of that dude’s family business is out there for anyone on the planet to know, albeit with a lot of humor and hindsight thrown in. I struggle with how much I want people to know about me and thoughts that I have which are deeper than complaints about salesmen and even what some of my childhood pasttimes were. I don’t know that I could keep a blog that is much more like a diary and one which I allow the world to see. I really possess such admiration for those who can regularly write out their innermost thoughts. Maybe it’s something a blogger or writer progresses towards, much like an actor who works on successfully drawing upon certain experiences in his or her lifetime to evoke a specific emotion for a scene.

But that begs the question again: does being a blogger/writer necessarily make a person naturally more open? Or can s/he remain an immensely private person regardless? Perhaps I should be directing this question to someone like J.D. Salinger, a notorious recluse, even after (and in spite of) the success of his books. (Side note: I do not think The Catcher in the Rye is one of the best stories ever written. Quite the contrary.)

Here’s my first attempt to put something out there I normally wouldn’t: bad as it sounds, I rather hope that if I get to the point where I feel comfortable publishing some seriously private ish, that I have a generous book advance in my bank account. That’s not to say that people are clamoring to read my life story, but it’s the private stuff that usually garners more attention and is more interesting to read.

How’s that for revealing? Eh, it’s a start.

And because this is Zoe Says and I usually leave you with something arbitrary or funny, the below picture is of a book I can actually highly recommend. Its title is apt. Some might call it “chick lit,” a term I’m not entirely comfortable with, but it’s a good story written by Miss Sophie Kinsella. If you don’t mind modern day romantic comedies with a British female protagonist, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy it. And with that, I’m off to my private life. I think it’s suppertime.

Shaking things up

For anyone who has seen this blog develop over the past three years, you know that I have gone through a few themes. Each one has gotten better aesthetically and functionally speaking. I really like this current one a lot, actually, though there are a few things I would like to change. Furthermore, it’s become quite popular so I feel like it’s losing its panache.

One of the factors I am dying to change is the font. I am soooooooooooooooooo tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired of the Georgia font. Was that emphatic enough?

When you’re with WordPress.com, you have to take the font that is given to you with your theme. I’m not ready to depart from this awesome platform yet (as in, moving this to a self-hosted WP site) so I wanted to put this out there to you all:

  1. Do you change your theme every so often? If so, why? (I am a theme nomad, myself.)
  2. Anybody going to shed any tears if I go ahead and change my theme? When I do, it will be a drastic difference, let’s just put it that way.

The one I have my eye on has the font I like and it will have a few more frills (read: girly). I have used very non-gender-specific themes up until this point but since it IS my blog and people know what to expect by now, I don’t think a little more estrogen is going to have people run screaming from the blog. I really don’t know if I have more women or men readers – so far, it’s seemed pretty balanced. The point is, it’s all about self-expression, right?

I welcome your thoughts! I’ll be making a decision on this by the end of the month, I suspect.

Lists for an Anniversary

balloon love

Photo courtesy of raspberrytart on Flickr

Come Monday, Zoe Says turns three! Wheee! August 8, 2008 was the inception of my storytelling via weblog and it’s been a heck of a ride. I began with the intention of seeing if I could blog for a year and the fact that it’s been three and I’m still going strong gives me such a feeling of accomplishment. Thanks to all who have been with me and enjoy reading what comes from my head and heart.

I don’t know if I have spoken very much about my love for lists and stats but I have a secret passion for them. For a creative person, I am “right-brained” enough to have a hard love for numbers. (Or is it left-brained? Anybody know?) I’m not saying I like to solve mathematical equations or anything à la Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, but I enjoy working with numbers/figures as they pertain to money, and statistics as they pertain to blog/website hits.

I don’t have any stats for you today but for those readers who have just recently (and very kindly) subscribed to this petite blog, I decided to put together two “Top Ten” lists. One is very simple and lays out the top blog posts that have gotten the most reads. The second is a batch of my personal favorites. This way, you can catch up if you want over the weekend or just marvel along. It’s kind of cool to note what the public prefers over what my favorites are. Here we go!

Top Ten Twelve Zoe Says posts of all time based on pure stats:

  1. The Obligatory Courtesy Smile (by far – not even a competition)
  2. May: the month of a gazillion birthdays
  3. Let’s focus on what’s important: Britney’s comeback (This one has stayed strong and steady since 2009! The power of Britney.)
  4. Baker’s Dozen: We Know It’s the Holiday Season Because… (My very first Freshly Pressed post!)
  5. Sebastian Maniscalco: stand-up comedian, funny, Italian, metrosexual  (I have no idea what’s going on but this dude is POPULAR. People search for this guy DAILY and find this post.)
  6. The Acceptable Man-Purse: a.k.a. The Messenger Bag  (I get so many searches that end up hitting this post.)
  7. Literally, the most misused word
  8. My one-time experience at the Bloomingdale’s makeup floor
  9. Bottom line, these are awesome  (One of my personal favorites so I love that it has gotten all the way up to the top!)
  10. My Very Personal Relationship with HGTV (This one is in the top merely because another article has a link back to this and people flooded my page once reading about my thing for House Hunters and Mike Holmes.)
  11. Minty the Candy Cane – Obsessed! (Warning: the theme song will get stuck in your head!)
  12. Total Rant: to the people at Xerox who make my copier/printer/scanner/fax machine (People love reading a good old-fashioned rant and this one is no exception. I think it has to do mostly with the photo I put up from Office Space.)

Zoe Says a few of her favorite posts from the past three years in no particular order because she loves them equally:

  1. The Psychology of Tuesday
  2. Those Three Little Words
  3. VERBOTEN! Day 2
  4. Kringley, Jingley, Cookies and Trees, Gluttony, Family Gatherings and Obligatory Gifts: sounds like Christmas!
  5. Onions? Or…B.O.?
  6. If you don’t know what Tremors is, you’re insulting Kevin Bacon
  7. Please Reheat Responsibly
  8. My Stereotypically Midwestern Yet All-American, Comprehensive & Inappropriate Relationship with Ranch Dressing
  9. Signs I’m Over 30
  10. Sick Pen Obsession
  11. My primal, Sunday baking urge
  12. No. You didn’t SEEN anything.

Looking Back

2010 has been a hell of a year. One year ago from now, I was living in an apartment that I hated in New York City. I had a good job and people I loved working for and with but I knew it was never going to be the job from which I retired.

I didn’t blog regularly. I took photos here and there and posted on Facebook like many people do but I didn’t pursue passions and/or blog about them.

I was living with my wonderful, supportive boyfriend who was applying for law schools and we were doing our best to make ends meet. Then he got into several schools, weighed out his options, made a decision, and we whisked ourselves out of the city and that apartment and back to our Midwestern roots (more specifically, his). We now reside in Illinois, Land of Lincoln and very, very flat land. It’s been an incredible journey and every year that I see to an end, I am reminded of how much can change and how much one can accomplish in 365 days’ time. Just one person’s life can be altered so dramatically. Sometimes it’s hard to turn around and look back because we have come so far.

I took up blogging more regularly the latter half of the year. And then suddenly, as if by magic, I made it onto Freshly Pressed with this post. I had been pondering how I could get more readers and suddenly I was bestowed with the gift of being featured. Ever since, I have felt a complete passion for blogging overtake me and I have been regularly posting ever since. I’ve also been blog-networking more and discovering this whole universe of fellow bloggers who make it look easy and so darn pretty. I can state with confidence that my blog roll will increase exponentially in size.

I received a fabulous present that will aid me in moving forward with authoring my blog with my own photos:

 

Canon EOS Rebel XS

I am so grateful to everyone who reads my wee blog faithfully and those who pass it on to others. Someone at Christmastime even asked me, “Hey what’s the name of your blog? I wanted to check it out.” I was so pleased to hear about one word-of-mouth referral that you’d have thought I had a New York Times bestseller or something. I have been doing my blog since August of 2008 but it is at the end of 2010 that I see it blooming into….well, something. It feels more tangible today than it did two years ago.

And so, as I bask in that warm glow of gratification and appreciation, I now make my list.

Things I’m looking forward to in 2011:

  • Overhauling Zoe Says to a new look and format. (Gulp.)
  • Taking tons more photos; learning how to edit them; sharing those photos.
  • Learning more about logo and button design.
  • Networking with more fellow bloggers and readers.
  • Doing more crafts.
  • Actually meditating, and regularly.
  • Keeping up a nightly facial routine.
  • Not obsessing about my physical appearance (read: weight) but focusing on my health and how I feel in my body.
  • Making new friends in my still new community.
  • Reading more books. I love love love to read but my attentions have been focused elsewhere this year and I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d like.
  • Being more patient.
  • Waking up earlier.
  • Not forgetting for too long how blessed I really am, every day.

Good tidings to you, wherever you are. For family, for friends, for peace among men…we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!