I am, first and foremost, a reader. Books and reading take up a significant portion of my spare time. But for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday post, we are sharing our other hobbies — the non-bookish ones. As anyone who follows me here or on Instagram already knows, I have two major hobby areas outside of books: music and fiber arts. Both go back all the way to my childhood. Warning—this is going to be kind of long.
SINGING. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to sing. Thanks to my parents’ love of music, I have been singing practically since I could talk. At the age of 4 or 5, I made my solo debut singing a question-and-answer song with the choir of the college where my mother taught dance. At 5 and 6, I was part of the children’s chorus for community theater productions of Hansel and Gretel (the Humperdinck opera) and The King and I. My father taught me to sing rounds with him, so I learned early on how to hold my part without relying on the people around me. I sang the soprano lead in musical theater productions at camp and in high school, and learned most of the songs from every Broadway and movie cast album my family owned. In college, I joined the Collegium Musicum (an early music group, although we actually sang everything from plainsong and Gregorian chant right up through modern 12-tone compositions—mostly a capella.) I sang in the chorus for student theater productions throughout my college years. After I graduated, I soloed for weddings and funerals and church services and occasionally with community choruses, and I sang in church and community choirs until COVID shut them down. And through it all, I studied voice—not continually, but as often as I could manage it.
But I didn’t just sing musical theater, light opera, and classical and choral music. At camp, we sang folk songs: traditional songs as well as 60s- and 70s-era songs by the likes of Bob Dylan; Pete Seeger; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Joni Mitchell. At home, I taught myself my favorites from albums by Judy Collins and Simon & Garfunkel. And during high school, I fell in love with British folk music, from traditional ballads to the folk-rock of Steeleye Span, Silly Wizard, and Pentangle. My parents gave me a guitar and I taught myself to play (mostly; I had help learning my first three or four basic chords.) In college, I played the occasional all-evening concert at the campus coffeehouse, just me and my guitar. Recently, I’ve thought I might pick up my guitar again, and revisit my British folk-song roots.
I cannot imagine my life without singing. It brings me so much joy, and it’s such an integral part of living my faith. Losing my church and community choirs has been one of the hardest impacts of COVID for me. I hesitate to say that, because I know the pandemic has hit a lot of people much harder, affecting their employment and income, their health, their loved ones, their very lives. In the face of that, it seems petty of me to mourn the loss of choral singing. But it’s true that singing in a group is very different than singing by yourself. Both bring me joy, but choral and congregational singing also evoke a sense of community, of belonging, of unity, that go beyond what I experience in any other situation. It’s not just being part of a group; the harmonies actually resonate through your body, affecting in beneficial ways. I long for the day when we can all sing together again.
DIRECTING. About 11 years ago, the director of the community choir handed me the responsibility for the children’s chorus, and a year later the youth chorus as well. Although I had been assisting her for a couple of years, I knew nothing about conducting or leading a chorus, other than what I had observed from years of working with good directors. I was frankly terrified. But she insisted I could do it, and mentored me through the first several years before taking my “training wheels” off and letting me go it alone. And it has been one of the greatest joys of the last decade. I love working with children and teens, especially on music. I love taking a group of individuals, whose voices don’t mesh initially and who may not even be able to sing on pitch, and helping them discover what beautiful sounds they can make together. I love handing my teens (and a few adult mentors) a piece they think is much too difficult for them, and having it turn out to be the highlight of the concert. The pride in their eyes when they realize they have nailed it, when the audience is left breathless and silent for just a moment before bursting into applause — that is worth all the hard work I put in. I have learned so much from my mentor, and from the various pianists I have worked with over the years. But I have learned just as much from my wonderful kids. I miss them terribly.
Note: I didn’t include photos of myself singing or directing because I’m not the only one in them, and I don’t want to post them without permission.
Knitting. I tried several fiber arts as a child. My grandmother taught me to crochet on my yearly visits, and I made endless granny squares and Barbie hats and little flat doll rugs. Crochet was OK, but without patterns or a consistent teacher, I inevitably became bored, because I wasn’t learning anything new. I took up embroidery for a while, but again, I didn’t stick with it. Then when I was in college, my stepmom taught me to knit. I enjoyed it, and made a pair of leg warmers before setting aside my needles for other pursuits. I picked them up again over a decade later, when Robin was just starting the middle school years, for something to do during dance lessons. Knitting got me through a very tough time when Robin was extremely ill and hospitalized for a month. Since then, I have usually had at least one project on the needles, and often two or three. I have knit scarves, hats, socks, mittens, shawls, several baby sweaters, and a baby blanket. I’m not a fast knitter, but I really enjoy the process, probably even more than the finished projects!
Spinning. Once the knitting (or crochet) bug really takes hold of you, it’s a short step to wanting to try other fiber arts… like spinning your own yarn. For year, I swore I would resist, but the lure eventually proved too strong. I got my own wheel in 2018 and have been slowly but steadily improving my skills ever since. A year ago, I bought a travel wheel so I could take it to classes and out to my mom’s for Christmas. At least it got a couple of outings before everything shut down and we stopped traveling! Some spinners have whole herds of wheels, but I’m trying to stick to just the one.
Fiber prep. Once you learn to spin, you want a little more control over what you are spinning. While I love buying pretty, hand-dyed fiber, I also wanted to try my skills with creating my own rolags (rolls of fiber, sometimes containing a mix of fibers.) And then someone gave me a lamb fleece, and someone else gave me half of an alpaca fleece. So I bought hand carders and a blending board. Now I have the basic tools take a sheep or alpaca fleece from “raw” (as it comes off the animal) to clean to carded and ready to spin, or to blend commercially-dyed fibers to come up with new colors or artistic mixes. I’m just getting started with this particular aspect of my fiber obsession. If I get really serious about it, I will be looking for an affordable hand-cranked drum carder.
What I’m not getting into. So far, I draw the line at dyeing my own fiber. The only place I would be able to work is my kitchen, and I am NOT risking the use of potentially poisonous dyes or mordants (the chemicals that make the dye color-fast) in the same space I cook my food. I also draw the line at raising my own animals. I’m not particularly fond of cleaning up after sheep or goats or even rabbits, and we don’t have room for large animals anyway. It’s easier just to buy a fleece if I want one.
Other hobbies and pastimes
I’m not nearly as serious about any of my other hobbies. Occasionally I sew—when my child was really young, I even sewed and sold tea cozies for a little while, and I still dig out the sewing machine sometimes. I played around with making beaded jewelry for a while, mostly earrings. I’ve still got my tools and some supplies, and I suppose one day I might get them out again. And I enjoy taking photographs, although I’m not all that good at it. I enjoy puzzles and games like jigsaw puzzles, Pokémon Go, Dragonvale, and the Harry Potter Mystery game app. I like board games and card games, too, but Mr. Bookwyrm isn’t a fan, and with only two of us, our options are limited anyway. I usually get my board-game fix on visits to my family out West, but not this year. I enjoy walking in the mountains (not heavy-duty hiking, just walking), but I so seldom get the opportunity that I can hardly call it a hobby. I like baking now and again, but I’m not sure I can quite call that a hobby, either. I tried sketching in my youth, and as an adult, I tried to get onboard the coloring craze, but honestly, I’d rather spin or knit.
There is part of me that has always wanted to write stories, but apparently I lack either the self-discipline or the courage — I’m not sure which. And a part of me has always wished I could draw or paint, but I lack both the gift and perhaps the patience.
So there you have it: my nonbookish passions. What are some of yours?