How hobbies help our brains

A guest post by Maria Cannon

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Between working, keeping a tidy house, making meals and allotting time for family activities, our schedules certainly seem full; however, nearly everyone finds time for leisure activities. In fact, 96 percent of people age 15 and older engage in a leisure activity, which is defined as watching TV, socializing, exercising, reading, using computers for leisure or playing games.

The Stats

The amount a person spends on activities varies by age, sex, employment and whether the individual has children. Even the busiest group – employed adults living in households with a child under age six – reported engaging in leisure activities for 3.4 hours per day. People over the age of 75 spend almost eight hours every day, while adults between the ages of 35 and 44 devote four hours. With nearly everyone participating in leisure activities, how are they spending their time?

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Watching television is the most popular leisure activity, capturing nearly three hours a day overall. Socializing is the second most common activity but accounts for only 41 minutes. The amount of time spent reading varies greatly by age; people over the age of 75 read for an hour and spend 20 minutes on games or computer time, while those between the ages of 15 and 19 only read for eight minutes and spent 1.3 hours on games and computers.

While making time for leisure activities is important, the quality of the activity is equally as important. Sitting back and turning off our brains for a little bit is okay, but we should switch around the ratio of time spent reading versus watching television. Some hobbies are scientifically proven to help improve our health, and we should opt for those over mind-numbing activities such as binge watching a show.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Creating Music

Creating music can benefit our brains. The more years someone makes music, the more he or she benefits, and beginning musical training before the age of nine provides the greatest long-term benefits. However, even older people profit from taking up an interest in music.

An assistant professor of music education studied the impact of individual piano instruction on adults between the ages of 60 and 85. After six months, she found that those who had received piano lessons showed more improvements in memory, verbal fluency, planning ability, speed of information processing, and other cognitive functions than those who had not received lessons.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon

Arts and Crafts

Arts and crafting activities induce a calm, happy, and focused state, which is called flow. Flow occurs when we are so engaged in a complex task that our brains are forced to forget other stresses. When you are involved in creativity, sense of time disappears, and you lose yourself in the moment. The effects of flow are similar to those of meditation.

Creating art and engaging in crafting activities involves distinct brain areas, including those involved in memory and attention span, visuospatial processing, creativity, and problem solving. Using these areas can improve cognitive function. Crafting and creating art also reduce stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging. People who suffer from anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or addiction also notice improvements through these creative outlets.

How hobbies help our brains | a guest post by Maria Cannon


Reading fiction material positively affects brain health and function. Reading is a highly complex task that requires several brain regions to work together. Neuroscientists discovered that reading a novel appeared to help enhance connectivity in the brain, and the enhancement continued for five days after an individual had completed the novel.

Other hobbies have benefits too, including cooking, completing puzzles and playing sports. Playing hours of video games or consuming hours of television after a long day is tempting, but you’ll reap more benefits from pursuing a hobby that’s shown to provide health benefits. You’ll enjoy yourself while you also reduce stress, improve brain functioning, and even make new friends.

Maria Cannon has suffered from depression and anxiety for years. Her hobbies–quilting, sewing, knitting, and more recently, gardening–play a major role in maintaining her mental health.


Quick craft: easy and cheap bookmarks

My son recently celebrated his fifth birthday with a “Trolls”-themed party. We tend to be low-key with birthday parties.  Usually a handful of kids come over and we eat snacks, play games, color and do a craft.

Now that we’re reading chapter books, bookmarks are a necessity. Here’s a creative way to make inexpensive bookmarks. Next time you head to the hardware store pick up a few paint chips and you’re almost done. This is a great craft for little ones since it involves no cutting.

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!

Paint chip bookmarks


  • Paint chips (look for ones with a hole punched in the corner)
  • Stickers
  • Yarn
  • Hole punch (if necessary)

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!


Cut two pieces of yarn about 8 inches long. Fold them in half and loop them through the hole in the corner of the paint chip (or use a hole punch).

Have your child apply stickers to his heart’s content to the paint chip.

Presto! Bookmark!

Paint chip bookmarks | All you need is stickers, yarn and free paint chips. A great craft for toddlers!

Unicorn treats

If you aren’t aware, unicorns are amazing. Starbucks will tell you so. During an evening with friends the other night we discussed the rainbow frappuccino that is sweeping the social media nation. What other foods could we transform into unicorns? The answer was simple: rice crispy treats. We brainstormed the ideal unicorn treat. Obviously it would need fruity pebbles to make it rainbow.

Then my husband made them. I was stunned as I’m usually the cook in the family. So join in on the unicorn craze and make this deliciously fruity unicorn treat.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from

Unicorn Treats – A spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat


  • 4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 2 cups Fruity Pebbles cereal
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • a couple of handfuls of Lucky Charms marshmallows
  • 1 bag mini marshmallows

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from


Coat a casserole pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mini marshmallows and stir until melted.

Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from

Using a buttered spatula spread the mixture into the pan. Cool and cut into squares. Go grab a unicorn frap and feel the sugar high.

Unicorn Treats | a delightful spin on the traditional Rice Krispies treat from

DIY Hoop Wreath | a simple tutorial

This time of year isn’t the prettiest in Alaska. Snow is waiting to melt, everything is brown and dusty, and there’s a certain stale odor in the air. But there is LIGHT – so much daylight.

Erin of Blomma Designs, photographer Anne Marie Moran and I decided to take advantage of our ever-increasing sunlight last weekend.I brought my sister, Farra, along too. We all met at Erin’s studio to create modern floral wreaths. It was the perfect respite from Alaska breakup season.

Make your own asymmetrical wreath with this simple tutorial by Blomma Designs and Natasha Price of | Photos by Anne Marie Moran Photography

I thought we should share this crafting experience with a step-by-step tutorial. The luscious photos are by the talented and delightful Anne Marie of Anne Marie Moran Photography.

Continue reading DIY Hoop Wreath | a simple tutorial

Weeknight alphabet vegetable soup

When was the last time you had alphabet soup? Now that I think of it, I can’t remember ever having it, yet I always see the cute bag of dried alphabet pasta at the grocery store and think about making it.

My 5-year-old son has been showing an interest in cooking lately so we went to the library last week to check out kids cookbooks. One of the recipes was a tomato-based alphabet soup. He really wanted me to make it.

Fast forward to 4:30 p.m. today when I was driving home with zero plans for dinner. Thankfully I had already done the shopping for this meal. It came together in a jiffy!

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from

This soup is packed with flavor and nutrition. The reason for the flavor? Pancetta and parmesan rind. Both add wonderful depth to the soup.

I also made chicken meatballs and dropped those in while cooking. I didn’t include the recipe for those, but you could use Italian sausage or any meatball recipe you prefer.

The verdict? My son and husband gobbled up this soup! Plus, we all had fun trying to spell words in our bowls. So much fun.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from

Alphabet soup with vegetables

Serves 6-8


  • 3-4 oz. pancetta, diced small
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced small
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4-5 leaves of swiss chard, chopped
  • 1, 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups frozen green beans
  • 1 chunk of parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can of canellini beans, liquid reserved
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 6 oz. dried alphabet pasta, or small pasta of your choice
  • 1 pound of meatballs or Italian sausage


Add a little olive oil to a large dutch oven and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the pancetta and sauté until cooked but not browned. Add the onion, carrots, chard and celery and cook till onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, beef stock, chicken stock, bay leaf, garlic powder, oregano, basil pepper flakes, parmesan rind and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Cover, bring to a simmer and turn heat to medium-low. Add raw sausage or meatballs and simmer, partially uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Add the frozen green beans and return to a simmer for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the beans and reserve 1/4 cup of the liquid. Whisk the flour into the bean liquid and add this to the soup to thicken it slightly.

Add the beans and pasta to the soup and simmer for 7 minutes or until pasta is done.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from

Serve with generous amounts of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Alphabet vegetable soup is a crowdpleaser - and it's good for you too! Recipe from


Sherbet Triangle Scarf

I’m not a big fan of knitting scarves. They take too long and I usually lose interest. But there’s one style I don’t mind knitting. It’s a giant triangle and the pattern is crazy easy.

Sherbet Triangle Scarf | a simple knitting pattern from

Two days ago my little sister texted and said she lost her favorite scarf and asked if I’d make her a new one. Here’s her cute little self:

Sherbet Triangle Scarf | A super simple pattern from

Two binge-watching nights later and the scarf was finished. This is a perfect mindless project since it’s knit in garter stitch and you only have to remember to increase one stitch at the beginning of each row. The mohair adds a beautiful fluff to the scarf so it feels like a cloud when you’ve finished. By combining fuschia and peach yarns the outcome sort of reminds me of sherbet ice cream.

Sherbet Triangle Scarf | a simple knitting pattern from

Here’s how to make it:

Super Simple Triangle Scarf Pattern



  • 224 yards aran weight yarn in peach (I used 2 skeins of Sirdar Snuggly SK shade 0451)
  • 224 yards (2 skeins) Rowan Mohair Haze in Caress (00525)
  • Size US 15 circular needles (straight would work too)
  • Darning needle

Sherbet Triangle Scarf | a simple knitting pattern from


KFB = Knit in the front and then in the back of one stitch, thus increasing work by 1

M1 = make 1 stitch from front to back in the horizontal strand between stitches

Gauge: doesn’t matter


You’ll be knitting both aran and mohair yarns at the same time as though they are one strand.

  1. Cast on 4 stitches.
  2. Row 1: K1, KFB, knit to end of row
  3. Repeat row 1 until you have 108 stitches or until triangle is about 20 inches from tip to needles. Bring in new skeins of yarn when necessary.
  4. Next row: K1, KFB, *K3, M1. Repeat * till there are two stitches remaining. K2.
  5. Next row: Cast off using the stretchy method.
  6. Cut yarn, leaving an 8-inch tail. With a darning needle, weave in all ends.

Sherbet Triangle Scarf | a simple knitting pattern from

Here are a couple of examples of my past triangle scarves in different colors:

Snow Angel Scarf

Orange Sherbet Scarf



Guest Post: Cabled Pussy Hat

During inauguration time in January you had to have been living under a rock to not notice all the glorious  pink pussy hats women (and men) were wearing all over the country.

I particularly took notice when a fellow knitter posted to her Facebook page a cabled version of the now-iconic cap. I’ll now turn over this post to Amanda who has knitted a nice stack of these adorable hats.

Cabled Pussy Hat | A simple hat pattern for beginners who want to learn to cable

I love knitting hats. They’re quick, gauge isn’t really a huge issue, they don’t require a lot of yarn, and they can be knit on circular needles. And since winter has returned to Alaska again, we have lots of opportunity to wear them. 

In December and January, pink hats starting popping up in my Instagram feed a lot. I saw so many posts of the original pussy hat being made and worn (if you don’t know the story behind these hats, well, first, where have you been? And second, find out more information at The project gained so much momentum there were actually pink yarn shortages in shops across the country. Pink yarn shortages! When has that ever happened? I was set to make a few, and then I ran across a photo of a cabled pussy hat that I just loved the style of. I haven’t been knitting for that long, and cables are something I’ve always wanted to try. I assumed they would be very difficult so I’d wait until I could take a class…but the pattern was free until the Women’s March, so I went ahead and downloaded it. 

Cabled Pussy Hat | A simple hat pattern for beginners who want to learn to cable

The pattern is so simple! Easy to follow instructions (there is also a chart for those of you that prefer to follow charts) and even photos illustrating exactly where to pick up and make those darn knits for the crown. Between the size 11 needles and the super bulky yarn, it knits up pretty quickly. Oh, and those cables? Way easier than I ever thought, and there are lots of helpful YouTube videos out there for the extra assist. I did buy a cable needle, which I highly suggest just to make life a little easier. I’ve made several now, and I must say this hat gets people talking! The Women’s March is over, but there are more events planned starting as soon as March 8th – so don’t let those cables hold you back! Solidarity, sister! 

Cabled Pussy Hat | A simple hat pattern for beginners who want to learn to cable

Continue reading Guest Post: Cabled Pussy Hat


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