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The Happiness of Handwork

Christine Emming

Published in Vibrant Life magazine, March/April 2019 issue, pages 10-11

Published in Vibrant Life magazine, March/April 2019 issue, pages 10-11

Let a creative outlet awaken your exploratory spirit

By Christine Emming

A joyful revival of handicrafts has brewed for a decade. It gathered slowly, as storms do, a burgeoning knit scene the gateway for a flood of Little House-era hobbies like chair caning and crewel work. Tamed only by their cost to benefit ratio, traditional trades continue to fill recreational class rosters. Yes, it’s likely most participants won’t felt beyond the holiday season. But using our hands to create often tantalizes us to continue exploring.

My own skills classes ranged from pottery to ice hockey speed drills, yet I’ve never regretted an admission. Am I currently tap dancing? No! You’re welcome. But I’ve never laughed harder at anything I have ever tried. Stepping outside my own routine offers such a weird, panicked wonder, it never fails to inspire personal growth.

I began taking classes when my hands ached from their mouse-shaped curve, a product of my full-time design job, plus extra hours building the freelance design company that was my end goal. Knitting would help, Patricia promised, and signed us up for a cheap evening course at a senior center. That first class, Edna yelled that I was “doing it all wrong!” My horror at being singled out nearly killed my interest, because, of course, she was right. As it turns out, I was simply left handed, an anomaly Edna couldn’t fix or advise, even after her eyebrows descended. The class did not help me knit. But I saw people gathered, creating things with their hands and a twist of cheap yarn, the conversation weaving its own pattern. As I watched, an intention grew in me. I puzzled out the motions on the floors of yarn store knitting groups, where I mirrored more patient knitters and looped my wool in slow motion.

Soon I knit while I watched television or sat in teleconferences. Movement calmed my brain and entertained my hands, stretching the tired computer tendons. In time, I learned to read my work, that “reading” knitting was even possible.

Knitting awakened in me the childhood awe – one I’d forgotten. The possibility of creation is addicting, and completing a project in a few hours, autonomously, was a habit that fell away before college when time suddenly abbreviated. My hands ached for use. Purposeful, fulfilling use.

I knit some truly terrible things that year. All family members and friends received hats and scarves as gifts because, like it or not, learning new skills leads to a glut of objects. But I also invested in my craft, building a supply base I still use a decade later, long after my Etsy store shuttered.

This immersion process has repeated itself through a series of interests: woodworking, embroidery, painting, pottery, terrarium-building, sewing and more. The internet makes it easy to lose myself in possibilities these days. The outlets available and the quality of options for learning a new skill improve dramatically year by year.

In-person instruction is best for direct, on-point help, but frequently it’s also the most expensive route to a new skill. Some crafts require equipment too exorbitant to purchase outright. I often search a nearby recreation district for cheaper classes, and 4H is an amazing resource for those with children. But if you lack the time or cash, the internet offers video-based tutorials, both cheap ( subscriptions run $5/month for reliable, quality content) and free (YouTube has an amazing range of offerings, some exceptionally informative, to get you started), that cover the gamut of possibilities.

Hobbies are more than another way to spend money. There’s a natural bent in humans to make, be it a painting or a meal. We are a creative species and our whole being rejoices when used with intention.

The way I learn with my hands is of a different type, a full body experience. My hands mostly knit without me now, and it’s calming work. When the pattern calls for counting, I become a distracted listener for a time, I’ll admit. But unlike so much of life, there’s a tangible item awaiting me on the needles. That work, and the ensuing pride, it calls. 

Of the varied handcrafts Christine Emming has tried, knitting outlasts them all. She is currently building bookshelves for her living room, an expansive and very public undertaking.

Princess Poo-Poo and the Royal Potty

Christine Emming

I wrote this story for my daughter when she turned 3 and wanted nothing at all to do with using the potty. Feel free to read it to your child, singing loudly, because it really worked.

Once there lived a little princess, named Poo Poo, who wanted to use the potty. She loved to go poop especially and each time she went, she sang this song:

My poop is smelly, smelly, smelly
And it feels good in my belly
When I let it out out out,
It makes me shout shout shout!

But Princess Poo Poo wasn’t allowed to use the royal potty. The king had decreed that no one could use the royal potty except for him, even though he sat on it only twice each day. The royal potty was magnificent, you see. It had its own throne room with a path of polished jewels and diamonds that lead to the seat, made of a mermaid’s tail, and a flusher handle made of the unicorn’s horn. No one could use the potty secretly because when the toilet flushed, trumpets sounded throughout the kingdom and everyone cheered.

So the Queen kept putting diapers on Princess Poo Poo, even when she was too old, because the Queen had to wear them herself in a grown-up size. No one who worked at the castle had a potty to use during the day, and they all wore diapers around. Grownup, kids and babies alike, all diapered. Wipes were available in every room, because the castle folk needed them. And there was never any privacy, because they weren’t allowed in the bathroom to change.

Princess Poo Poo had never minded the diapers until recently. She hadn’t been big enough to use the potty before now. But now that she was, she didn’t think it was fair that she wasn’t allowed.

She asked for an audience with the King.

“He’ll see you at dinner,” his squire said.

So she waited.

She asked for permission to speak at dinner.

“Wait until the King has finished his carrots,” his squire said, and wiped the King’s chin with a golden napkin.

So she waited. When he was finished, the King gave her a nod, and that meant she could speak.

“Sire,” Princess Poo Poo started, “I would like permission to use the royal potty.”

Gasps sounded from everyone at the table, including the King.

“Why?” he asked.

“It isn’t fair that I have to wear this diaper around anymore. I am big, and I need to poop on the potty,” she answered.

“But no one else minds their diapers,” he said sternly.

But around the room, heads were shaking.

“Yes, they do,” the Princess answered.

“The poop squishes against your bottom,” the Queen complained and shuddered delicately.

“I get rashes if I don’t change immediately,” his squire whispered.

“There’s no privacy!” several maids shouted at the same time.

The King’s jaw dropped, and then he looked around sadly. “I thought you liked it,” he said. Then he furrowed his forehead and made a thinking face.

“I’ve got it!” he announced. “I will make a royal proclamation tomorrow in the throne room. I have some planning to do.”

And out he marched without even tasting his frogleg stew.

The Princess slurped her stew, leaving the froglegs, and worried. She worried into the night. She worried that the King was planning a better style of diaper. She worried that he didn’t want to share his potty. She worried that she’d never be able to use a potty for her whole life.

In the morning, Princess Poo Poo felt very tired, and also very nervous. She rushed through her breakfast, eating only seven raspberries. She tried on three different puffy pink dresses for no reason, and four pairs of shoes. She yelled at the Queen when it took too long to braid her long brown hair. She apologized right after. She ate some toast to help calm her stomach and then walked around the castle grounds, listening for the trumpet that announced a proclamation.

At last, it came.

Everyone inside the palace gathered in the throne room, the largest room in the castle. Fifty steps lead up to the King’s golden throne. He was already seated there when Princess Poo Poo rushed into the room and stood beside her mother, who was sitting in the next throne over, a little smaller, but just as sparkly.

“It has come to my attention,” the king’s voice boomed through the room, “that many of you dislike using diapers. Forgive me. I did not realize.” His face looked sad, then brightened. “And so, I proclaim that we will be adding bathrooms to the castle. I have stayed awake all night to make a plan for them. No one will have to wear diapers in this castle if they don’t want to!”

The sound of cheering was so loud and enthusiastic that the King had to wait a long time before he could be heard again.

“And in addition,” he said finally, “the royal potty will be used by all members of the royal family, including the Queen and the Princess.”

With this, both the Queen and Princess Poo Poo threw their arms around the King in a giant hug of thanks. And the Queen ripped off her diaper right then and ran to use the potty. When she flushed and the trumpets sounded, everyone cheered.

Princess Poo Poo felt a little bit more shy. So she waited until most of the people had left for the day before she visited the royal potty. She knocked. Nothing. There wasn’t a guard outside the door anymore, so she pushed the door open and walked inside. Everyone knew you did not open closed doors in the castle without knocking.

She followed the jeweled path to the potty and pointed at the magical fairy stepstool, which moved itself to the front of the toilet all on its own. Then Princess Poo Poo climbed up, lowered her pink underwear and finally sat on the royal potty. She made a poop. She sang, as loudly as she could, and the song echoed royally:

My poop is smelly, smelly, smelly
And it feels good in my belly
When I let it out out out

It makes me shout shout shout

And when the trumpets sounded after she flushed the royal potty, Princess Poo Poo cheered the loudest of all.

© 2016 Copyright Christine Emming. Do not use without permission.

Restore Yourself with a Weekly Rhythm

Christine Emming

Published in Vibrant Life Magazine, January/February 2019

Published in Vibrant Life Magazine, January/February 2019

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. – Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Thresholds. Doorways. Call it what you want, certain times of year signal to me: plan ahead! My Januarys look similar with tidy wish lists, the letters tall with hope. Come March, I’m crafting garden plans in my notebook, gleeful at each perennial bud. I crave new recipes in September, and often add a cold-weather skill to my repertoire.

It’s soul deep, this serial longing for renewal, for a life that breathes with the seasons. There’s a natural rhythm to our days, and I used to let it flow around me, rather than purposefully utilize it. But life with young children makes one scrutinize the details.

A few years ago I realized I didn’t need to adjust my schedule for my kids’ monthly growth. I’d been in such a state of flux – and so sleep deprived – that I hadn’t noticed. Finally! I thought, I can match our week to what we like to do together.

Excited, I began by introducing kids’ cooking night – it didn’t last, don’t worry, because I am not better than you. They were 3 and 5, and the mess was staggering. But this evolved into our baking day. I’ll admit it’s still a mess, but now we’re all older and everyone helps clean afterwards.

Our weekly rhythm calms the water around here. We know what we’re doing and the things we love top the list.

In winter, chilly weather helps us prioritize time at home, and I enjoy this rest. We do more crafting, drink hot chocolate, make Friday night pizza. I keep our weekly rhythm easy and light. A long view of our winter weeks look like this:

Sundays: Home tasks (deep cleaning + maintenance); Potluck in the evening

Mondays: Nature hike + free play with our homeschool group

Tuesdays: Morning errands + then the library

Wednesdays: Adventure day (a museum or exploring away from home); Music in the afternoon

Thursdays: Baking day (bread and pizza dough for Friday, then something sweet)

Fridays: Art mess day; Family movie night with homemade pizza

Saturdays: Family project (anything from a puzzle to landscaping)


By summer, hot chocolate magics into ice cream. Our art mess paints the yard, the garden fences a swirl of color slowly fading in the rain. Evenings expand and we wander the neighborhood after dinner. We grill tacos instead of pizza, and some of our movie nights morph into game nights on the deck.

How do I build a rhythm?

Start by thinking of a single thing you’d like to do each day, just one. It can be as easy as Sunday morning pancakes. This activity anchors your day. Begin adding your chosen activity, and the next one, on a repeating schedule through a few weeks.

After a month, reshape.

How’s it going? Is your morning less hectic? Do Wednesdays require bursts of energy? Jot a loose order of the day’s events based on what usually happens. After Tuesday’s social event, will you need recovery time or a brisk walk? Add it! Adjustments are often necessary to mold your rhythm into a useful shape.

Aligning daily life with our goals simplifies and creates space to do the things we want. The rhythm has room for progression and change, but I also look forward to recurring events, measure my days by baking and potlucking. It shapes our week, our month.

When does the rhythm change?

Whenever you need it. If we move or someone changed jobs, we’d need a total rewrite. Otherwise, make adjustments as they come up. Our weekly rhythm flows with the seasons. Potlucks turn into picnics and schedules adjust by sundowns.

Don’t forget about friendship

Prioritize bonding time by scheduling a weekly gathering. We host a potluck, but you could do a cooking club or game night. Choose a time that works for you. Invite a handful of people, or two other families. Face time with a regular group deepens friendships quickly, plus we know what’s happening every Sunday evening.

No matter the season and its pressures, I’ll guide my heart toward respite and cultivate a rhythm level with my priorities. I need it ever more. Build a rhythm around your own precious goals and feel restored, week by week.

As much as Christine Emming enjoys every day of her week, Thursday’s baking time remains her favorite.

Everyday Empathy

Christine Emming

Published by Vibrant Life magazine, May/June 2018 Issue, page 10-11

Published by Vibrant Life magazine, May/June 2018 Issue, page 10-11

Everyday Empathy

Finding compassion in a season of hope

By Christine Emming

We hardly see them anymore, the poor. People, holding signs, dot intersections throughout the metropolis and far into our Denver suburbs. Our eyes slide over them, dodging their faces. We don’t have cash. We can’t always help. Borne of discomfort, the voice inside oozes skepticism, “What will they spend the money on anyway?” Yet a crises occurs within because a small voice whispers, “That could be me,” and another recounts the call: “Feed my people.” The cold glass cracks as the window inches down.

And when it is winter, a burden of truth falls over our hearts. Nobody stands in this weather, banging naked hands against their knees, because it is easier than getting a real job.

When I was eight, my mother arranged to meet a homeless man outside a Byerly’s grocery in Minnetonka, MN, every Friday. If he was sitting on the green bench, she’d wave. We shopped and then handed off a loaf of cinnamon bread and a fat bunch of bananas – our family’s Saturday breakfast. My sisters and I watched behind locked car doors as she’d pass him the bag. I remember his gnarled fingers rucking plastic and his eager smile, but I never saw him eat anything. I worried about him after we moved away, off to midland farm country where we rarely saw the poor, or where everyone was poor enough to render it unrecognizable.

My heart cries to feed people when I volunteer now, even when I donate money. Feeding is what I do at home, after all. But there are many rules, both government- and insurance-based. I cannot bring my children, both under the cut-off age of 10, to watch, to help, to begin understanding the world and its problems. I want them to see people, even when they feel uncomfortable or angry. Saving lies beyond our abilities, but so many small things are not. A few dollars. A sandwich. We aren’t pretending. We are taking care. We must watch over each other in this life.

This fall, we made bags to hand out to the homeless we see each week. Six families volunteered supplies. Our children drew colorful pictures on the bags. Then we filled 36 bags with personal items. We drive with a bag stashed in the front seat, ready to hand out the window.

On the third Sunday of the month, we fill lunch bags with a large group that meets in an empty bar. Unlike the local shelters, they encourage children to help. The organizer went from a millionaire to a homeless man in months and started this event as soon as he’d saved enough money to make an extra lunch. It’s raucous and dirty and inspiring. We make sandwiches loaded with meat – homeless rarely get meat, he says – from mostly donated supplies. When we’re done, the volunteers load up and hand out more than 1,200 finished lunches at four locations downtown. Our brisk walk through downtown streets weighed down with 100 packed bags and back again, light and happier, takes only 15 minutes. Again I wonder where these people eat the rest of the month.

I look at parents begging at street corners and they have my heart. It’s difficult to disassociate from them. Rather than sending money away, I hand it out the window a few dollars at a time. I know, she might spend it on drugs or liquor. Her ultimate use of the money is not mine to know. I am giving it away, and in that moment I am helping – both with my intentions and with letting my kids see these people. They are not invisible. The poor are real, and they need more than our pity.

And so, without an organized food drive in my neighborhood, I do it myself. We make a poster and print it out, and walk the papers around to our neighbors. We ask them to drop off food at our house in two weekends so that we can bring it to the shelter. People are busy and maybe they would do it without us, and possibly we are just saving them a trip. But maybe the reminder garners food for a few more families – I hope, I pray – and we are thanked so profusely at the shelter that I think it must be true.

This is my heart’s work and it does not pay me back. But my heart is bursting, because I’ve helped to fill someone else’s belly. Today that is enough.

Christine Emming organizes quarterly food drives for the local shelter and offers food and money from her car window in all weather.