07 March 2012

Project Brain Stimulation

Who sez you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Brad Pitt is a big proponent on keeping the brain healthy and fit so that we’re both mentally agile as we drift into our twilight years. No vacant drooling into our soups for this couple.

Do you know that if you don’t periodically teach your brain new tricks, it’s in danger of becoming flabby from disuse? Our brains are thinking organs that learn and grow by interacting with the world through perception and action. Mental stimulation improves brain function and actually protects it from cognitive decline. Or so I've read.

Do you also know that alcohol in moderation can actually be good for the brain, however too much alcohol can kill brain cells and your ability to think and reason effectively? But that’s another post for another day.

Accordingly, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to engage the brain in creative and fun new activities (Project Brain Stimulation, or PBS) to keep it in P90X tiptop shape. I'm not implying one needs to tax one's brain by reading Michio Kaku's "Parallel Worlds" and mastering the notion of string theory, black holes and parallel universes, which is fascinating, by the way. Can you imagine eleven different versions of yourself living eleven different lives? I can't.

I'm talking about learning something new on a small scale. It can be as simple as learning how to dance the rhumba, or craft haikus, or fashion swan origami, or a new language (okay, learning a new language may be a little harder). Or knitting. Which is what I chose for my first PBS endeavor.

Not sure how or why I was compelled to learn how to knit. Before last month, I've never had an inkling of needing nor wanting to knit. (Knitting was for grandmas.) It may have been when I stumbled across ravelry.com while researching blogs for this blog. Ravelry is this giant on-line knitting community. Knitters share their projects, patterns, chat/discuss/gossip about knitting on message boards. It's like a cult with yarn instead of the wacko philosophizing and/or partner swapping.

Poking about, I came across these drool-worthy sweaters made by a knitter in Germany. I may have thought something like, "Dang, that's a fine looking sweater", downloaded the pattern, got confused with all the strange instructions (it was akin to trying to make heads and tails of Egyptian hieroglyphs), drooled over more sweaters, got more inspired, googled knitting classes in Rhode Island, found one taking place at Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, and there I went.

For whatever reason, the instructor didn't feel the need to teach us how to cast on (committing the first row of stitches on which to grow subsequent stitches), the very FIRST thing, in my humble non-knitter opinion, one would need to know to even BEGIN knitting. In spite of that one weird exclusion, it was a productive 2 hours - I learnt how to make the knit and purl stitch.

For those who've never knitted before, the actual physical act of knitting is like learning how to walk for the first time. The synapse firings were rebelling HARD, as my fat clumsy fingers fumbled with these too-long knitting needles, threatening to poke an eyeball out with every stitch, yarn tangling around my ankles. I MAY have stabbed the woman next to me with the non-pointy end but she was too polite to bitch me out. (Sorry, knitting fellow whose name I do not recall.)

Once my over-ambitious plan of knitting a cool sweater as my first project crashed and burned, I set my sights on a more humble project: the all-purpose winter scarf. I went home, youtubed how to cast on, three months later… et voilà!

Don't laugh!

I may now cross # 7 off my bucket list.


  1. Keep going! you will get to the fine sweater quick enough. (you may have to pass through some really crappy, ill fitting sweaters to get there though.)

    I just finished that scarf I started when you and Kelly visited. I have to wash and block it (I don't usually seriously block things, but b/c this had that weird knit with the magic dropped stitch it needs to be appropriately stretched and shaped through blocking.

    The dropped stitch thing was interesting and I like the final product. With basically a simple stockinette stitch (k 1row, p1row) I ended up with a very interesting ladder stitch.
    Here's the ravelry link http://www.ravelry.com/projects/knitfish/sunday-market-shawl

  2. "Difficulty: This pattern is suitable for a beginner, it requires only the knowledge of cast on, knit, purl, yarn over, and bind off." - yep, that's me and this is my new project :)

  3. Monique, you're so funny.. Love this blog! XOXO

    Congrats on crossing off on your bucket list!

  4. I appreciate the suggestions for brain stimulation, but what about just reading?

    1. I guess the key is to do something that you don't do on a regular basis. Of course, reading is stimulating but trying something completely new forces you to use the part of the brain that is stagnant.