Crochet Lessons from Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising

[Esperanza] watched the silver crochet needle dance back and forth in her grandmother’s hand. When a strand of hair fell into her lap, Abuelita picked it up and held it against the yarn and stitched it into the blanket.

“Esperanza, in this way my love and good wishes will be in the blanket forever. Now watch. Ten stitches up to the top of the mountain. Add one stitch. Nine stitches down to the bottom of the valley. Skip one.”

Esperanza picked up her own crochet needle and copied Abuelita’s movements and then looked at her own crocheting. The tops of her mountains were lopsided and the bottoms of the valleys were all bunched up.

Abuelita smiled, reached over, and pulled the yarn, unravelling all of Esperanza’s rows. “Do not be afraid to start over,” she said.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Scholastic paperback edition, ISBN 978-0-439-12042-5, 2007, pp. 14–15.

A Few Opening Thoughts

If you haven’t read this book yet, let me tell you that it belongs on your TBR list. Go ahead. Write it down. I’ll wait.

The clamor over immigration these days is not as new as we want to believe. It’s been a hotbed issue for decades. This tale of a young Mexican girl who has to flee her home with her mother and a group of family friends for the safety of America is based on the author’s grandmother’s immigration experience. Migrant farm workers form the backbone of Ryan’s family tree. They worked hard to make a home for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even though the story takes place during the Great Depression decade of the 1930s, the obstacles for immigrants are still looming and scary. 

If you have a young person in your life, probably aged 10 or older, do them a favor and buy them this book. Then have a conversation about immigration. Perhaps dig up your own family history and share it. Many of us can trace our roots to an immigrant who dared to risk everything to start over in America. Now, more than ever, this conversation needs to happen. 

Crochet Lesson #1 (Lección de Ganchillo Número Uno)

Imperfections create personalization.

Those of us who work with yarn—usually as knitters or crocheters—find ourselves pick, pick, picking things out of the yarn as we stitch. It might be a piece of lint, a cat hair, or one of our own single tresses that clings to the fiber. We see that as an imperfection, an intrusion into the project that we’re working so hard to make. Pick, pick, pick.

From now on, I want to think like Abuelita. I want my strands to embrace the yarn if they fall into my work. I want to make every stitch a prayer for the person who will receive the gift I’m creating. I’ll be less worried about perfection so I can enjoy the stitches, the rows, the mountains and the valleys. Will you?

Crochet Lesson #2 (Lección de Ganchillo Número Dos)

Ah, those mountains and valleys. I’ve spent time in both places—and so many years in between. I’ll bet you have, too. Those valleys are tough. They feel dark, lonely, and long. If you can envision the crochet pattern Abuelita uses (it looks exactly like the photo above), you will see that the deepest part of the valley is only one stitch away from heading up toward the mountain top. Just one stitch. Maybe that’s all you can manage some days. That one thing that moves you slightly up, changes the angle oh-so-little, but oh-so-not-in-the-deepest-part-of-the-valley. Maybe it’s taking a walk. Calling a friend. Starting a new book (read or write). Steeping a cup of tea and watching a favorite old movie. Just one little stitch. Crochet hook in, yarn over, pull through. Pull through.

Crochet Lesson #3 (Lección de Ganchillo Número Tres)

Abuelita smiled, reached over, and pulled the yarn, unravelling all of Esperanza’s rows. “Do not be afraid to start over,” she said.

I wish we could undo our mistakes as simply as pulling on a string. We can’t. However, we can try again, over and over if necessary. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Apologize sincerely when wrong.
  • Admit when we’ve made a mistake.
  • Make atonement when possible. (AA’s Twelve-Steps followers depend on this to maintain sanity and sobriety. We all would do well to practice this step, too.)
  • Not take failure to heart. 
  • Remember that everyone fails, and probably a lot more often than we realize.
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to mess up, especially if it means you can take risks doing something you’ve always wanted to do.
  • Swear. Punch a pillow. Take a break. Doodle. Journal. Mow the lawn. Clean the kitchen. Do something to get the negative feelings out (don’t stuff and deny them—that will only make you depressed and even sick) and then start again when you’re ready.

Do you know someone who might be encouraged by this post? Send it to them. They don’t have to join the blog, make a comment, or do anything at all. Just receive some encouragement—especially if they’re deep in a valley right now.

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For the love of cats

I love to read cat—and dog and horse and all kinds of animal—stories. Just so you don’t think I’m purely a cat person, I’d like to report that my favorite dog book so far this year is A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron. Like the dog character did, this book is finding its way home the long way around: from one friend to another until I get it back sometime in the future. Please do read this book or recommend it to middle-graders and adults who love a good dog story.

But this post is really about the love of cats. Last night I finished Homer’s Odyssey—not the ancient tale of a hero and his quest, but the recent best-selling story of a blind cat named Homer, written by Homer’s “mom,” Gwen Cooper. The subtitle of the book distinguishes it from the classic: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat. Gwen recounts the joys, heartaches, discoveries, and personal growth she experienced since adopting a tiny black kitten who had no eyes. (Both eyes had to be removed when he was four weeks old, matted shut by infection, in order to save his itty bitty kitty life. He never even had a chance to open his baby eyes before having them removed.) Sensing that there was something heroic about this bundle of felinity, she named him Homer, after the blind poet. I can’t recall ever being so drawn in to a book about an animal as I was by Homer’s Odyssey. I smiled, nodded, cried, swooned, and cheered chapter after chapter. I think you will, too.

I have two cats of my own, Edie and Emma (see About Me page for photos). Not only do I feel a deeper appreciation for having them in my life, but I also feel that Homer is one of “my” cats, too. I know him now. And not ever seeing him in person doesn’t change that fact. If I learned anything from reading this book, it is that you don’t have to see things for them to make sense. Homer makes perfect sense of his life every single day, having never seen a single ray of light. I love the irony that this blind cat is opening the eyes of readers to the wonder, courage, and soul-rooted love of our beloved pets.

So, here’s the craft project I made—my own tribute to the cats in my life: an eco-friendly, folding shopping bag that I made in a jiffy using a Butterick See & Sew pattern (#B5635):

Kitty shopping bag (open)

 

Kitty shopping bad (folded)

In case you think I’m really a great seamstress, I have to admit that it was a total accident that the cat matched up like that when the bag is folded. Happy accident! Now the trick is to try to keep the cat hair off it! Or…as a friend of ours says: “Cat hair: It’s a condiment and an accessory!” Hmmmm…I think that might make a great bag, too. Stay tuned!

You can go to the Projects Photo Gallery page to see how this 20″ x 12″ bag folds down into a 3″ x 5″ easy-storage clutch.

Keep a pocket in your heart

Heart Pocket Project

Here’s a little project you can finish in about half an hour. It’s dedicated to Nikki Grimes, author of The Road to Paris (one of many of her award-winning children’s books), because of a wonderful concept she shared in that book. She introduces the idea of carrying God in your pocket, giving you access to him whenever you need to know he’s close by. Just the simple act of reaching into your pocket then becomes a visceral reminder that you are not alone. In homage to that idea, I’ve made this Heart Pocket, a simple project that allows you to place something in your heart’s pocket—something tangible or something symbolic, such as a prayer, a photo, or a reminder of some kind.

Here’s the excerpt, but I hope you’ll go find the book and read it all! (Project directions follow.)

Paris and Malcolm locked eyes. She was relieved to see a bit of the old Malcolm shining through. She reached across the table and took her brother’s hand.

“You’ve got to keep God in your pocket, and everything will be all right,” said Paris.

“What?”

Paris pursed her lips, trying to figure out how to explain what she meant. “Put your hands in your pockets,” she said.

“Paris—”

“Go on.”

“Okay. Now what?”

“Pretend that God is there. See? You stick your hand in your pocket, and remind yourself that God’s always close by, and you can talk to him whenever you need to,” said Paris.

Malcolm nodded. “I get it. Keep God in your pocket. Cool,” he said. “I’ll give that a try. Thanks, little sister.”

(from pages 110–111 of The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, Copyright © 2006)

Making the project:

Materials: 1 sheet of pink or red felt; scraps of blue, yellow, and green felt; matching thread or floss for all 4 colors; scissors; needle

Directions: (Note: full photo-based directions can be found in the Projects Photo Gallery; or you may purchase a 3-page instructional PDF with photos and cut-out patterns for $0.99 by going to the Downloadable Patterns page.)

  1. Cut out 2 hearts (about 4″x4″).
  2. Cut out 1 flower and 1 circle (for center).
  3. Cut out 2 leaves.
  4. Applique the flower in the center of one of the hearts.
  5. Applique the circle in the center of the flower.
  6. Applique the leaves as shown in the photo above.
  7. Place the appliqued front heart on top of the other blank heart (wrong sides together).
  8. Use a blanket stitch to sew hearts together around outer edge. Leave an opening in the “cleavage” of the heart for the pocket.
  9. Place something in the pocket: small scissors, a note, money, a prayer, photo, dried or silk flower(s), or any other item you’d like.