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JUDY HOLMES: Hobbies bring people together, and soothe us in our solitude | Columnists

Growing up in Indiana, hobbies were part of the daily fabric of my life. Everyone—adults and children, women and men—created something with their hands. Indiana is a religiously conservative state, but I do not remember hearing the adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Rather, I heard about how satisfying it is to make something with your hands. Adults encourage both the individual solitude and the socialness of kids having hobbies.

People were proud of their hobbies. When you were visiting, you could expect to see hobbies in action — the latest accomplishment and the current project, for sure. When people visited you, they wanted to see what you were making. My mom often had me show my projects to our guests.

Many people dedicated specific space for their creative pursuits. Sewing and craft rooms, workshops and art studios were abundant. As a kid, roaming around in a pack, we often stopped to visit if we saw people in their workshops and art studios, usually located in garages or backyards. Sometimes, we knocked on house doors announcing that we had come to see what they were sewing or knitting.

Amazingly, no one shooed us away. Instead, we often were given homemade cookies and freshly made-from-scratch lemonade along with our tour of the hobbies. Sometimes we were put to work. We might scrape paint and hand-sand furniture. Or, we might roll skeins of yarn into balls. We avoided people in their vegetable gardens for fear of pulling weeds for an hour. Touring flower gardens was safe as flower gardeners did not want us pulling anything near their flowers!

When there was something I wanted to learn how to do, I visited on my own, asking if the person would teach me. No one ever turned me down; although, our neighbor lady, who taught me to knit, initially said it would depend upon whether or not I knitted like my mother. I replied that my mom did not knit. And, the lady laughed, saying my mom would not be able to knit until she learned to relax. Much to my surprise, I discovered my mom, who I thought could do everything and anything, knitted so tightly that it was impossible for her to knit.

I loved to visit people who embroidered, bringing my embroidery with me. Sometimes I learned the storyline of an afternoon soap opera while visiting and embroidering. One of the ladies I embroidered with offered to teach me and my friend, Connie, how to hand-sew Barbie doll clothes. Connie hand-sewed her from her first Barbie doll dress from her to her own skirt from her. She cried as the lady used a seam ripper to undo the stitches very carefully.

I was a polite kid so I am sure I thanked these teachers of hobbies. Still, it takes being an adult to understand the enormity of the gift given to me. As an oldest child, I did a lot of projects with my siblings. I taught arts and crafts to kids at a camp for several years when in college. I was a Brownie leader for a few years. I taught Sunday school and summer Bible school in the past. I did a lot of projects with my children and nephew who are now young adults. And, I currently do projects with my great-niece and great-nephews.

Still, I do not have kids knocking on my door wanting to do a project with me — thank goodness! I lean toward advance notice versus spur-of-the-moment interruptions. Although, I went through my share of kids knocking on my door.

I live in a mobile home my mother bought when my dad was dying of pancreatic cancer. She did not want to continue living on the hill between Lake Stella and Lake Washington. She wanted the laundry on the first floor and a mobile home was her choice of her. Grief impacts us in various ways.

We always lived in older homes filled with antiques because my parents loved refinishing furniture, painting and wallpapering. My mom chose a modern home in her grief for her.

When my mom died, I moved into her home to finish rearing a child who lived with my parents. Modern homes are not my cup of tea; however, I have stayed put as living in a diverse neighborhood is important to me. Within days of my mom’s death, children in our neighborhood, alone or in a pack, knocked on our door to tell us they were sorry that Grandma Betty died — very sweet and touching moments.

Two weeks later, kids started knocking on the door asking for cookies! The first time it happened, I explained that I did not have any cookies. A little boy in the group stepped inside the house with the others following as he said, “You have cookies! We will show you!” The crew went straight to the cookie jar of my childhood — a yellow and aqua cookie-truck — in my mom’s kitchen.

The little boy lifted the lid with a broken-winged bird for a knob, a prior childhood mishap when I dropped it. I have peered into the cookie jar announcing “Empty!” as though he was yelling “Fire!” A little girl said, “This has never happened! Grandma Betty always has cookies in her cookie jar. ” The kids looked at me like I had eaten all of Grandma Betty’s cookies by myself! Alas, I tried keeping the cookie jar full for the kids who knocked on the door, but I failed often enough that the kids gave up on me.

I did not know my mom still gave neighborhood kids cookies on demand. When I was a kid, our house was the place to get cookies whether you were playing with me and my siblings or not. We baked cookies in triple batches, figuring out the math in a column next to the original recipe. We baked three kinds of cookies every week. I remember spending whole Saturdays baking and covering the kitchen table with cookies.

In my first apartment, I called my parents in a state of cookie crisis. The oven was small with one rack. Despite a college education, I mixed up a triple batch of chocolate chip cookies. I needed many Saturdays to bake all the cookie dough! My dad laughed and asked if I had considered making one batch of cookies. It had not crossed my mind to do so. I had never made a single batch of cookies. My mom laughed, too, but she advised me to freeze the cookie dough.

I imagine that during the pandemic people who were new bakers had kitchen crises of their own making, too. Bread baking, particularly sourdough bread, was a hobby people started during the pandemic. Facebook and Instagram became flush suddenly with bread photos.

According to a survey on The Business Journals, six out of 10 Americans started a new hobby during the quarantine days. The most popular hobbies, new or old, during the pandemic are reading (61%), baking/cooking (36%), gardening (30%), meditation (29%) and writing (26%). Eight out of 10 people think they will continue their hobby after the pandemic. (

I gave hobby kits — embroidery, needlepoint and paint-by-number — the first Christmas of the pandemic. Some of my friends are hobby-challenged. Although, I notice their houses stay neat. Regardless of the potential mess of hobbies, I hope hobbies stay front and center for years to come. I do not think hobbies cease but they go underground at times.

Mayo Clinic lists hobbies as part of the recommended self-care during the pandemic. Sometimes you read about doctors prescribing a hobby for a patient. Hobbies are good for our mental health. People who engage in hobbies experience lower levels of stress and depression.

Hobbies are good for our communities too. Historically, hobbies helped Americans live through the Great Depression. Many people were out of work or working less hours. Civic groups sponsored hobby clubs. The game of bridge became popular during this time. Hobbies help communities stay vibrant and engaged. Our local Community Education program offers a wide range of hobbies to learn about and participate in.

— Judy Holmes, a voracious reader and a fabulous cook, resides in Litchfield and thinks too much.


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