36 minutes | Feb 21st 2019

How to Stand Out in a Family of Makers

Episode Details

Air date: February 21, 2019

Guest: Jo Lager

Runtime: 35 minutes, 54 seconds

Summary: In this episode, Jo Lager joins Jen as they discuss their mutual love of knitting and bread baking. They also find themselves in a deep conversation about sibling rivalries and creating a distinct making footprint.

Links of Interest: What I Made This Month

From the transcript: “And now I’d like to tell you about something I made this month. I was inspired while editing this episode and made the pretzel dogs that Jo recommended. And the dough recipe is so forgiving, that I was even able to get my 4-year-old in on the action. She loved all of the steps and helping me time out the baking soda water bath part of the process. I didn’t have any hot dogs on hand, but I did have some marvelous Ginger and Garlic Sausages from a local farm that were perfect. We snuggled up to enjoy our pretzel-wrapped sausages and introduced the kids to the 1986 Don Bluth classic An American Tail. It was a perfect evening.”

Episode Transcript Introduction

Hello, and welcome to “How to Make a Memory,” the show that explores the items we make for one another and how they impact our relationships. My name is Jen Tierney and my guest this episode is Jo Lager. She is an accomplished knitter and bread baker and I am lucky enough to be related to her by marriage. She is my father-in-law’s cousin and somehow we’ve always missed each other at various family gatherings. And since she lives close by, this past Fall I invited her to come by for a meal, to meet my kids, and to record this episode.

Jo is a pleasant conversationalist and I found that in no time at all, we were touching upon some similar sibling dynamics that we’ve experienced in our own immediate families.   

Conversation

Jen
Thank you for coming and visiting me at my house and coming to be on the show. So this is the second time we’re meeting, I think.

Jo
Yes.

Jen
But the first time seems like we mostly missed each other.

Jo
Yeah. At a big family gathering.

Jen
Yes.

Jo
So, my mother told me that you were slightly fanatical about knitting. Like me. She considers me to be slightly fanatical about knitting.

Jen
You are excellent at it, I’ve seen your stuff! It’s much better than mine.

Jo
So, I was interested. And I think I actually saw something that you had posted on Ravelry one time and I was like, “Hmm, I think I know that Tierney.”

Jen
Yes!

Seriously, Jo is a very talented knitter. You can peruse through her many projects over on Instagram @sojolala. I’ll include a link in the show notes.

Jo
So, I’m happy to be here. I think I consider myself, as a maker, primarily a knitter. I really enjoy knitting and I always have a knitting project going. I learned to knit when I was five. At the time, I knew how to do some embroidering. My mom taught me how to do some embroidery. I made some little embroidered flowers and things like that. And I had a friend coming over from school and when we were planning what we were going to do, she said, “Do you know how to knit?” And I said, “Yes.” And then I was like, I had some inkling that maybe sewing and knitting were not the same thing. So I asked my mom, “Do I know how to knit?” And she said, “No, but I can show you.” So she taught me how to knit then. And I did some knitting when I was growing up. When Cabbage Patch Kids were a craze I made Cabbage Patch Kids sweaters. Although, I think it’s funny because my mother, you know, like we got to the collar and I left the collar on a stitch holder for a really long time because my mom was like, “Oh, you probably can’t do that part.” And, I probably could have.

Jen
Yeah, yeah!

Jo
Anyway, and then when I went to college… My older sister had gone to college and decided she was going to make a quilt while she was in college. And she made this beautiful, hand sewn quilt while she was in college. And so I was like, “I’m going to college! I need a project. And neither of my older sisters did knitting. So it was kind of like it could be my thing. So I started out making a blanket, which I think I got halfway through and decided I didn’t like the yarn. It wasn’t fun to make. So that eventually went to a yard sale. But then my oldest sister got pregnant. And I was like, “Ooh, baby clothes!” So I made lots of things for my first nephew. And since then I’ve really continuously been a knitter. Although, when I had my son, I didn’t knit a lot when he was little.

Jen
It changes a lot of things!

Jo
Yeah!

Jen
Yeah, I’ve had so many projects that I’ve started and I’ve sort of committed to and I talk to people about it and they’re like, “You’re not going to work on that for another 10 years! Just calm down about it. It’s okay. You’ve got little kids!” So trying to come to terms with that is hard. Especially when you make so ferociously before you have kids. Then all of the sudden you can’t anymore.

Jo
Yeah, but my son is now 13. And then you can again! Suddenly they’re doing their own things. And you have a lot more time to do your own things again.

Jen
Yeah, you’re own stuff, yeah.

As someone who is constantly overextending, over promising, and over committing to a variety of projects, I so appreciate this glimpse into the future. This light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting ready to welcome a new little infant into the house in just a few months, so “me time” seems further away than ever before. But Jo very kindly puts it in perspective for those of us who need to remember the impermanence of our young family.

Jo
I at one point took up spinning, before I had [my son]… but I realized that I was buying yarn and I was buying fiber. And it just was like compounding the problem of having too much stuff and not enough time because I didn’t want to just make yarn. I also wanted to buy yarn and I actually realized I liked buying yarn more than I liked making yarn. And then I sold my spinning wheel to someone a couple years ago. And then I was like, “Oh, all these people I know are spinning and it looks so cool!” But, I find one of the nice things about knitting is that it’s so portable. I don’t have a lot of time to just sit in my house and do things. I like to sew, and I like to spin. But I just… And when I’m there, I’ve got lots of other things to do. So I like that I can grab my knitting and go out. Either go to a cafe and meet friends and knit together or knit while I’m commuting or, you know, while I’m waiting. While I’m going to my son’s hockey games, you know, waiting for the game to start. I can do it then.

Jen
Most of my projects, unless I’m working on like a very large blanket that’s far along, most of them get done outside of the house. It’s one of the great things about it is: it’s got a modest amount of gear for a hobby. There’s some hobbies that just have such a colossal amount of gear and they keep you really tied to…

Jo
Yeah, planted.

Jen
I mean, I have a 30 minute walk as part of my community. And I knit while I’m walking now, which is great. As long as you have a pattern that’s easy, right? You just do a while you go! It’s really great. I originally took up knitting because I was spending way too much time watching TV on the couch and getting nothing done. And I was like, “If I’m just gonna sit here watching TV, I might as well do something my hands.” It took me a long time to get good enough to be able to watch TV while I did it. But now I can just listen to a podcast, and I can do whatever. You know? Great.

Jo
One of the things that’s changed what I like to do in my spare time is what I’m doing while I’m working. When I was working in the hospital and on my feet all the time, then I liked having that sitting in fron tof the TV doing… But when I spent my whole day sitting at a desk, then I was like, “Yeah, I can’t do that when I’m home.” And then I was doing more baking and other things just because they’re active and on my feet and not sitting there like a lump.

Jen
Yes, absolutely. I spend very little time now watching something or listening to something while I knit. It’s mostly like active time or outside of the house time. But I used to have blankets that I made that I called like, “Oh, this blank. It was my Buffy blanket.” Like, I watched the entire series of Buffy while I made this blanket. I’d tell people when I gave it to them, like, “This is your marriage blanket, or your house warming blanket, but also it’s the Dexter blanket.” You know?

Jo
If you see any blood splatter, don’t be surprised.

Jen
So it’s fun to be able to sort of think about projects in that length for me, because, you know, I can sort of be like, “Okay, this is gonna take me about eighty hours. What is about 80 hours long that I can watch while I do this?” I don’t really do it that way anymore. But now I think about it in terms of like, “how many trips back and forth from work is this project?”

Jo
I recently… in the past year – I commute from New Hampshire to Cambridge, which is a long commute. And I recently found a van pool, which is awesome! Because most days, I can sit and knit and listen to an audio book or… It’s awesome.

I’ve had so many different commutes over the years. I recently read that the average American commute is 40 minutes. Which is why so many podcasts strive to be in that 30-40 minute range. You’re welcome! My life has been forever transformed by the discovery of podcasts and learning to knit while in motion.

Jen
Aside from the earliest projects you worked on, what are some of the big things you’ve finished that you’ve been most proud of?

Jo
Well, I just finished a sweater that I am totally in love with. So it’s turquoise and grey. And it’s a yarn that was hand dyed by a lady that’s in the town next to where I live, and it’s half Marino and half silk. And it’s just beautiful fiber. And it’s called the Noux sweater, N-O-U-X. And it has a kind of color work yoke and it’s just… I like everything about it! It fits, it has a nice drape, you know, it’s a nice weight for wearing any time the year except for the hottest days of the summer. And this time is so short around here, anyway. One of the other projects I made that I really like is I made this, I knitted an anatomically correct octopus.

Jen
That’s fantastic!

Jo
It’s one skein of fingering weight yarn and it has like the spout and it has all the little suckers on the tentacles.

Jen
That’s really interesting.

Jo
My son asked for it. And I guess I made it for him. But he’s never really used it. But I love it! And I guess the fact that I was willing to make it for him counts for something.

Jen
Yes! Yeah. I’ve had a few people request interesting things like that. And I’ve never really – only in the last maybe year so have I gotten into creating little dolls or things like that. I’ve always made items you can wear for the most part, but we got commissioned to make a set of minions for a guy in town a little while ago. And after I determine whether or not it was okay for me to illegally make minions. Since it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know.” But had a friend ask me to make him an anatomical brain with like the brain stem and all that. And I was just like, I wouldn’t know where to begin. And I looked for patterns. And parents exist for such writings, you know, but it looked like such a… Like, “I don’t know that I have the time to make this thing.” It had so many parts to it!

Jo
I find doing things on commission, unless you really love it yourself and some of the value in it is satisfaction for yourself, there’s no way someone could ever pay you enough money to do it. To make it. I mean, if there’s value in the making for yourself, and you really love it, then maybe, but…

Jen
The thing with the minions was that I had tried crocheting for the first time to make a Hobbes doll for my husband for Father’s Day a few months before our son was born. And I was like, “This is for Joey, but I’m giving it to you Father’s Day, because you’re going to be a Dad again.” And it was the first thing I had crocheted and I posted a picture of it online and this guy was like, “I would love for you to make minions.” And I did it mostly because it had taken me a really long time to make the Hobbes doll because I just – it was brand new. I hadn’t learned how to do it really well yet. And I was like, I want to get good at this. So for me that was sort of like, why I could do it. But yeah, anytime I am not making something as a gift, it’s really hard to do. And I’ve tried a few times to knit things and then give them to a shop in town that sells things. It’s kind of consignment? Yeah, she’s sells things from local artisans. And I just can’t get myself to put down the projects for friends and gifts and things long enough to actually create anything to bring over to that woman – who would love to have stuff. And I can’t get myself motivated to actually do it. And part of it is that, you know, like, if I make a baby hat, which is probably the fastest, least expensive thing that I could make, it still took me four to five hours. I can’t charge $50 for a tiny baby hat! That’s insane! Who would pay that?

Jo
Right. And if she’s only giving you half of what she’s gonna sell it for.

Jen
I know! So it just doesn’t make sense to do. And I think there are crafts out there that lend themselves more to consignment. Like sewing.

Jo
Right! You can do some production sewing.

Jen
Yeah, you could definitely churn some things out. But not… not knitting.

Jo
I find it funny. Sometimes people say, “Oh, you should sell that!” And I’m like, “What you don’t understand is that I’ve paid more for this yarn than I would pay for a sweater.” So there’s just no way! I mean, the value in it is the value for me. There’s no way that someone else could compensate me for that value.

Jen
So, one of the things that I found after I started knitting, that I wasn’t expecting, was that it became very meditative for me. And eventually, I started using it as a stress relief activity. And I started making things that weren’t for anyone, necessarily, but just like, “Oh, I just, I’m going to make this thing and then I’ll figure out what to do with it later.” And I found homes for every thing over time. But yeah, it sort of became more about the activity to me and the process. And it’s just getting into that place where your brain can sort of shut off and all you’re doing is thinking is, “Okay, knit knit purl purl.”

Jo
Right!

Jen
And that’s it, and everything else goes away. I can’t get there when I purposely meditate. When I sit and try to like clear my mind. Can’t do it. I go to a yoga class. At the end of yoga when we have those five minutes of just laying there, my mind is just all over the place.

Jo
I mean, I’ve done a little meditation. I think part of the purpose of meditation is to realize how many different places your brain is running all the time.

Jen
Yes, right.

Jo
I think that that whole exercise of trying to sort of clear your mind is – it can be frustrating, and satisfying, and stressful, and relieving. It sort of, you know, has that tension to it which is good, which I think is the exercise part of that exercise? How it has that push and pull to it. I think it’s always funny with people who are learning to knit who come wanting it to be a stress relief. And they’re sitting there with their shoulders in their ears. And they’re like doing each stitch and they’re like, “What do you mean? This is supposed to be relaxing right now!” And it does set up this expectation, you know? It takes some… I find it very interesting that, as adults, we so little have the opportunity to do something we’re not good at. Or give ourselves the opportunity to try something that we’re not good at and practice doing some meditation or knitting or whatever else that we’re not good at. You know? We tend to just keep doing the things that we’re already good at. It’s very good to remind yourself that it’s okay to not be good at things and to keep trying them.

Jen
Mm hmm. That’s true. Have you ever taught knitting?

Jo
I did. I used to do it when I lived in North Carolina.

Jen
So I taught for about five years or so. I still have a couple students who I see from time to time, like for private lessons. But I taught a class of, you know, six to 10 women every week or every other week. And I, every so often, I’d have a new student who’d come in and be like, “I’m so excited to take up something relaxing.” And I just want to look at them and be like, “I want you to know, you’re going to do this for about eight hours. And it’s going to be misery because you’re going to be so frustrated that you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s gonna feel clunky, you’re not going to know what’s going on. And after those eight hours, the muscle memory and the mechanics of it, you’ll get. But you’re still going to have to pay so much attention that it’s not going to be relaxing. So you have to commit to about 20 hours of non-relaxation and hard work before you’re going to get that reward. And if you’re okay, with that upfront investment, then you’re great.” That’s an interesting thing that we kind of lose as adults is the ability to feel okay with looking kind of dumb. Like, “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m comfortable with that” is really hard.

This is an incredibly challenging hurdle for me and so many other adults that I know. As we age, our inner critics often grow with us and so often stand in the way of us making something that isn’t quite at the level we intend to be one day. I envy all of you out there who can silence that pesky inner voice so that you can learn and grow without standing in your own way. Alright, let’s talk about bread baking!

Jen
So you primarily knit and then you also use sourdough.

Jo
Yeah, I’m a sourdough user! It’s true.

Jen
How long? How old is your starter?

Jo
Well, I actually, I’ve kept sourdough starter for over a decade.

Jen
Really?! Same one?

Jo
No, I did have to replace it because at some point, it got really neglected. And actually, it was like, a year and a half ago, it had been really neglected. And then I tried to rev it up. And then I tried to make sourdough bread for my family for Thanksgiving. And it was like a hockey puck! It didn’t rise at all. So I bought some new starter from King Arthur.

Jen
Oh, you did? Oh, cool.

Jo
And it’s funny because since that Thanksgiving, I actually haven’t made a loaf of bread again. I use the starter every week to make whatever, you know.

Jen
Yeah, I don’t make bread as often as I make other things.

Jo
But yesterday I made bread and the wonder of the little bubbles of air inside the bread made me very happy. Because that was the first time I’d made bread again since that unsuccessful… And it was funny because my nieces and nephews were all like, “Auntie Joe’s making bread!” Then they were like, “what happened to the bread?!” And I was like, “There is no bread.”

Jen
“I am so sorry.” Yeah. The first time I made bread – so I watched Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” series on Netflix. And that was when I was like, “I will get into bread baking!” That’s usually what it takes for me. I see one person do it really well and I go, “Well, I will do that thing!” And so I made it. I bought my King Arthur flour, and I got my distilled water. What I started off with regular tap water, which was my mistake. Eventually, I learned distilled water. Do that, Jen.

Jo
Ah, we have well water, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Jen
Yeah, we have the town water. So I made it and I let it do its thing for it’s five days. I’ve said it every day and I are some out and bah bah bah. And eventually it looked bubbly. And I was like, “Okay, it’s ready to make bread. And I just found like the first “from scratch sourdough bread” recipe I could find. Which was good, but it was for someone who had an advanced starter and was an advanced breadmaker. And I was just, “I will do this!” And so I made the bread. And I was like, “I’m gunna bring this down to Connecticut for Thanksgiving.” Because it was then. And it was two Thanksgivings ago, now, I think, and I brought it down with me. And it was… everybody ate it, because they were very, very, very polite. But it was basically inedible. It was so hard and so unpleasant. What I do now, because I don’t want to torture myself, is I found this really nice…

Jo
So did you do… you did your starter from wild? The yeast is wild yeast? You didn’t get an established starter.

Jen
Yeah, yeah.

Jo
I tried that once. And I, I got something going, but it just never was robust.

Jen
Yeah, it’s definitely better now. Mine’s two and a half years old. And it’s definitely like, super great and it rises really well. But it took probably about a year before it was really good. So now what I use is, it’s a quick sourdough recipe that has a little bit of yeast in it. Just enough to help it rise quickly so I get a loaf of bread and three hours. And to me, that’s, like, completely worth it. I don’t want to have to do, you know, eight to 12 hours of work to get a loaf of bread. I do three hours of work and get two loaves of bread. This is great. But my favorite thing to do with the sourdough starter is I make pancakes every Sunday. And I had never had better pancakes in my life. And I am a person who spent many a Sunday morning trying to find the perfect pancake recipe. And this is just…

Jo
I like making pancakes with mine, too. I was really happy because I stopped eating milk. And so I stopped eating pancakes. And then I found a sourdough rescue that didn’t have any milk. And the sourdough is acidic. It kind of cuts the baking powder, so that’s good.

Jen
Yeah, mine definitely has a lot of milk in it!

Jo
Yesterday I had some banana pancakes with raspberry jam on them. They were delicious.

Jen
So good. Yeah, I put banana in mine. The sourdough recipe, or the sourdough pancake recipe I have is from King Arthur. It’s their basic, classic waffle/pancake recipe. But when I make it, I do – I mash some bananas. I do cinnamon and vanilla. And then I do the recipe the way they call it for. It’s just so good. It’s great! So yeah, I do the pancakes. I’ve made pretzels a few times with it.

Jo
Mm hmm.

Jen
Holy moly.

Jo
I like those pretzels too.

Jen
Pretzels are really, really fun to make. They take a little bit of time and a little bit of extra energy. But they’re just… they’re just delicious. And they’re so soft.

Jo
Have you made pretzel hot dogs?

Jen
No!

Jo
I’m a big fan. You wrap the little pretzel around the hot dog and bake ’em.

Jen
Oh, my goodness. And I know this wouldn’t work for you, but I feel like I would have to throw like a slice of cheese in there!

Jo
Well, totally! Some cheddar.

Jen
Maybe I’d like poke a hole through the hot dog and stick the cheese in the hot dog.

Jo
Yes. Exactly. Like they used to do with those crescent rolls. But better.

Jen
Way better.

Is your mouth watering yet? If you’re looking for some guidance and inspiration to help you get started on a sourdough bread baking journey, check out the show notes for lots of resources to help you get started. And over on the show’s Instagram page, you’ll find lots of pictures and videos cataloging the many sourdough recipes I test out on my family.

Jen
I’ve found that there were so many things from my childhood that – I remember reading somewhere, maybe in college, that there was a sort of interesting generational thing with Italian families that the first generation that came over, came over with all of their recipes. The next Generation discovered all of the American conveniences and simplicities. So when I was growing up, and I hope my Mom doesn’t take offense to this because she listens. But a lot of what we ate was more convenience food than from scratch. And part of that was because she had three kids to feed every night. You know, you can’t be hand making all of your food. But I feel like when we had cookies, unless it was a holiday, we were probably getting cookies that, you know, we bought the cookie dough. Or if we were having bread, we were buying bread in loaves, we weren’t like – I don’t know that I ever made bread when I was a child with my mom. Maybe. Oh, you know, we got like Amish friendship bread a few times. Have you ever gotten that? I thought that was real gross until I started doing sourdough starters. And then it was like, “Oh, I could see how that would not be completely nasty. But when you’re passing it between so many people, it seems like it’s probably not totally hygienic.

Jo
Eh, I don’t know.

Jen
I don’t know. I mean, if you got yeast in there, and it’s fermenting, it’s probably ok.

Jo
Exactly.

Jen
But yeah, I think that now that I am making a lot more things on my own: making cookies from scratch, and bread from scratch, and things like that. And I think to myself, “Oh, this is just so much better.” It tastes so much better, but there is that time factor. So unless you do it as a hobby, it’s completely unrealistic to, you know…

Jo
Right. Well, and just having ingredients in the house.

Jen
Yeah!

Jo
I don’t know, my mom always made things from scratch. I mean, she didn’t always make bread, but she made bread, and she made cookies always – desserts always from scratch. But, you know, I remember when I lived in North Carolina, my neighbor invited me over for dinner or something and I made dessert and she’s like, “you just have these ingredients in your house right now? Like flour?” And I’m like, “Always!”

Jen
Of course. Yeah, my mom did, to her credit, she did always have all the ingredients to make a good dessert. To make cookies. That stuff was always in the house. And I think that that’s important for – if you have children, for them to see that these are the staples that we keep in our home so that we can make certain things. Almost every day, Emma will come up to me and be like, “Mommy, I want to make…” And it’s either a food item, our craft item or, you know, whatever. But without realizing it – because I wasn’t intentionally doing this – although I think I was hoping that one day I would start to intentionally do it. I wasn’t intentionally trying to turn her into a maker. But she just observed it enough that this is just what you do. You make things. It’s so nice to have. It’s nice to hear her say, “I want to make this.” “Perfect, let’s do it!” And I can’t say no to her when she says “I want to make blank.” All right. We’re making cookies, we’re making ice cream, we’re making french fries. And we have the little garden out front. So as soon as she heard that I planted potatoes, she was like, “When are we making french fries?” “We have to wait for them to be ready to harvest!”

Jo
That’s pretty fun.

Jen
Now they’re ready to harvest. So she’s, “we’re having french fries tonight. Right? And ice cream. Right? Okay.” So it’s nice to be able to give her that.

Jo
Yeah, it is. Yep. I think my mom is a maker. My mom likes to sew and she – She doesn’t knit so much but she knows how. And she likes to make good dinners and…

Jen
She has all of those beautiful flowers on her porch.

Jo
Oh, yes. She’s a gardener.

Jen
Yes. Her garden is – I should really talk to her about her garden. It’s really beautiful.

Jo
And my sisters and brother are all kind of makers, too. As I said, my sister quilts and she lately – she did a lot of cross stitch but she doesn’t see well enough to do the cross stitch anymore. She, lately, took a course on using discarded metal to make sculptures.

Jen
Interesting.

Jo
Cool stuff. And she does a lot of decoupage, like with furniture and other things. And then my second sister, she did a lot of cake decoration. For a while, she was doing cake pops – decorated cake pops. And she’s really into decorating and entertaining. And then my brother. He’s a maker. I don’t know exactly what he makes.

Jen
“But I know he’s a maker!” It’s sort of part of your DNA.

Jo
Yeah. Which is nice. I was like, “I need my thing. What am I gonna do?”

Jen
Yeah. ” How do I set myself apart from the pack?” I know what that’s like.

For those of us with siblings, it’s interesting how that often self-imposed need for sibling rivalry asserts itself into even how we express ourselves as makers. I certainly wasn’t expecting our conversation to go down this avenue. 

Jo
Nobody else really bakes. You know? Not bread. Beth bakes cakes, you know? And not that she doesn’t, but she was not the expert bread baker. Right? I could be like, “Okay, this can be my thing.”

Jen
Yeah, yeah. I think that… I’m trying to think in my family. I remember, sort of having different things that I was really passionate about as I was growing up, and then one or both of my brothers picking those things up. Because they were like, “Oh, Jen’s doing this. I wanna do it too.” And then they would like, very quickly become better at it than me. And I would completely lose interest in the thing, you know? And just be like, “I’m not going to do this anymore.” So I started trying to learn guitar when I was like maybe nine or 10 years old. And my brother Chuck picked it up and now he’s a professional musician. And, you know, and I’d sort of like occasionally very privately, will play some guitar and sing for my own benefit. I feel very inferior to him. I don’t think it was until I was in my late 20s that I really found the things that I was like, “These are the things I’m really, really proficient at – very good at.” And it really ended up coming down to the knitting and baking. Yeah, the two things and I’m better at than most of my family if not all of my family. And it’s nice to be able to be like, “Ok, these are my things.” It’s releaving.

Jo
Well, though, isn’t it funny that, you know, you still as an adult feel the need to compete with your siblings, right?

Jen
Yes, I think that’s just going to always be there. I very much feel that. And I’m sure they feel that towards me, too. And I think like, when I spend time with them – I don’t know if this is the case for you, with your siblings – but when I spend time with them, we all behave in ways that is like, for one another’s benefit, or, for one another’s detriment, you know, sort of like we behave in ways that are specifically…

Jo
Part of that family pattern and not part of your everyday life.

Jen
Yeah! And I and I remember saying to my sister-in-law, Diane, like, “This can’t be how my brother Chuck actually is, right? Like, this can’t be. You are a brilliant, hilarious, upbeat woman, and there’s no…” And she was like, “Yeah, when you guys are together, you act like siblings.” And my husband Joe was there with us. And he was like, “Yeah, Diane, and I have to sort of ignore you guys when you’re together. Because you turned into just siblings as it’s that rivalry, that competition, comes out in weird ways. I have not yet figured out a way to turn it off.

Jo
Yeah. I find it funny. Because in other aspects of my life, I’m a leader and someone that people listen to, and look to, to say, “Okay, what should we do next?” And in my family, if we’re planning something, I have no… Even if I try, I can’t get anyone to, like, follow my idea. We have very designated – in particular, my second sister is the social director. And if she’s not organizing it, then it probably isn’t going to happen. And if I try to organize something, then no. I mean, if it doesn’t include her, maybe I can pull it off.

Jen
Yeah, yeah. I find that as the oldest and only female in my family, the planning of events usually falls to me, the emotional support roles fall to me. But if anything needs to get done, like, if… Right now, my mom is trying to sell her house in New Jersey and everything having to do with that process: talking to the lawyer, talking to the realtor… I’m not involved in them at all. And I wasn’t asked to be involved, which is fine, because I don’t really have a super big interest in being heavily involved in that. But there are certain things that like, it’s obvious who’s going to be the leader in this task, you know?

Jo
Which I guess makes it easier so you’re not always jostling for doing the same thing.

Jen
Yeah. Yeah. So, but it’s interesting, those sibling dynamics and how they just play out over time. I don’t know if and when those ever really change.

Jo
I think they change over time. But I don’t think it ever goes away.

Jen
Yeah, yeah, it’s odd, because there aren’t – I can’t think of any other relationships in my life that have those types of tensions in them. It’s odd. But maybe once my kids get older.

Jo
Right, and it must be different. I mean, my siblings, and I don’t. – I mean, some people live in the same town. And I don’t. So we don’t see each other all that often. We talk to each other. But, you know, I think maybe that keeps you stuck in that relationship, when you don’t spend a lot of time together.

Jen
Yeah, it’s sort of like traveling back in time when you see them.

Jo
So you don’t ever evolve together into a new relationship.w

Jen
I wonder if that’s what it is. Because, my brother, my youngest brother, lives in New Jersey and the other one lives in DC, and we see each other for major holidays or big family events. And that’s really it. And we talk on the phone occasionally. But mostly, we talk through my mom.

Jo
Yeah, like, “What’s so-and-so doing?”

Jen
And often it’s unsolicited, like, not that I don’t care what my brothers are doing, but my mom will tell me what they’re doing before I’ve even had a chance to ask, so she’s just sort of like –

Jo
The connector.

Jen
Yeah, the person who disseminates all of the information as needed. Sometimes, I wonder like, how much of their lives am I getting to hear about and how much am I not getting to hear about and should I just call them and get the information straight from them? It’s so much easier to just have it sort of funneled that way.

Jo
My grandmother on my Dad’s side, she lived in Georgia, and we lived in Massachusetts, so she was far away. But when we would talk to her on the phone, every time you told her about something that you were doing, she would respond by telling you about one of your cousins, right? Like, “Oh, I’m singing in this concert.” “Well, Brenda, you know, was…” And usually it was something better, right?

Jen
Yes, of course.

Jo
But it’s funny when we – and my cousins live far away, so we didn’t see each other very much. But when we met each other, it turned out that she was doing the same thing to them. Yeah. Brenda was hearing about Joann doing…

Jen
Jeez, I wonder what that is? Because, I do think that one of the things with older family members that I have is I’ve heard them say like, “Oh, I really want to make sure that the next generation is close with one another.” So I almost wonder if it’s like, you know, “Well, I need to tell you about what the other one is doing.

Jo
The intent was to communicate. Yeah.

Jen
So that you know what they’re doing, and that you have some sort of vested interest in that person’s life as well. But what it inadvertently does is make you…

Jo
There was some resentment. Yeah.

Jen
And jealous, of like, how much more this person seems to love them than you.

Jo
Or care about what they’re doing.

Jen
Yeah. Like, “I just told you about this thing that’s going on with me, and all you want to do is tell me about them.” So I definitely feel that.

Our delightful little chat about knitting and baking got a bit heavy there, huh? Navigating family dynamics is a challenge, no matter how near or far you live. I was glad to hear so much of my own experience reflected back in Jo’s story. To wrap things up, I asked Jo what she enjoys most about making.

Jo
One of the things I like most about making, particularly about knitting, is that I can – I have something physical to show for the time that I spent. I think there are so many other things in life, from housework to child raising, to, you know, my normal job. Where, you know, you can do something and you go back an hour later, and it’s basically undone. Whereas knitting, I spend time and I put time in, and I have something, right? A physical object that I will have for a long time. And, you know, as we were talking about before, often it has memories interwoven into it of what was going on at the time that I was making it, where I was, how I was feeling, what I was watching. So that’s what I like most about making.

Conclusion

One of the developments I have enjoyed most in the past few years is that I can finally share my making life with my brothers in a way that they can personally enjoy. I’ve knit items for them and my parents over the years, but there is nothing quite like a handmade item for a brand new baby. Now that I have nieces, it feels like less of a competition and more of a way to support my siblings. 

And now I’d like to tell you about something I made this month. I was inspired while editing this episode and made the pretzel dogs that Jo recommended. And the dough recipe is so forgiving, that I was even able to get my 4-year-old in on the action. She loved all of the steps and helping me time out the baking soda water bath part of the process. I didn’t have any hot dogs on hand, but I did have some marvelous Ginger and Garlic Sausages from a local farm that were perfect. We snuggled up to enjoy our pretzel-wrapped sausages and introduced the kids to the 1986 Don Bluth classic An American Tail. It was a perfect evening.

Well, that brings us to the end of this month’s episode. You can find show notes, lots of fun links and other extras for all of the show’s episodes over at htmamcast.com. Find us on Instagram @howtomakeamemory. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please consider heading over to iTunes to rate and review so more folks like yourself can find the show. Our logo is by Becky Carpenter, our music is by Chuck Salamone, we get system admin support from Greg Thole. Now, go make something for someone you love.