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Just for Fun

An American in Canada

On April 17th, I received an email from my boss about a job in our Canadian office. “It’s an opportunity that we should discuss,” he said.

And discuss we did. What would it look like for me to relocate from Pittsburgh–the city where I grew up, where my friends are, where I go to church, where my mom, dad, brother, sister, nephew, aunts, uncles, cousins live–and move to Toronto, Ontario?

Beyond a new currency and figuring out the metric system, it would mean picking up and moving to a new country where I knew only my coworkers. The job itself was appealing – a role where I could build out a team and grow an arm of our digital marketing services. I couldn’t find a reason not to do it. I love new things and it sounded like an adventure.

On April 26th, the eve of my 30th Birthday, I sent this message to my soon-to-be-ex-boss, “I think we’re doing this!”

And do this we did.

I signed the papers, quit my commitments, said my goodbyes and moved to Toronto, Ontario on June 28th, 2019.

I gave away furniture, clothes, dishes and random items to friends that just wouldn’t fit into my new Canadian lifestyle (or the Uhual). I met friends for going away happy hours, dinners, breakfast and Target runs. My mother cried for days. Happy tears and sad tears; tears that I knew meant she would miss me.

It’s now September and I’ve been in Toronto for 2.5 months. My high-rise, 1 bed + 1 den apartment is 95% furnished (pink velvet couch included). I’ll post pics soon.

I’m making friends, finding a good church and discovering the benefits of having a fully-loaded Presto card. My commute to work consists of a 17 minute walk (with one right turn). I rarely take my car out from the underground garage and will probably sell it soon. I now buy shoes based on their comfort level and walkability since I walk close to a hour each day.

The move also gave me something I haven’t had in a long time: space. Space to think, space to be alone, space to wander. Any friend will tell you the 2-week waiting planning period required for my schedule in Pittsburgh. Now, there’s flexibility for happy hour to go extra long or to pop into breakfast with a coworker because I’m in the neighbourhood. I’ve got to tell you, this freedom – it’s intoxicating.

My Canadian coworkers here have been nothing but welcoming. We work together, sample cocktails together, eat tacos after work and go to the beach. It’s week 2 of rec league volleyball and our team is thriving.

One downside to moving across borders and downsizing to live in the 4th largest city in North America is you’ve got to be selective about your belongings. My bins (and bins and bins) of yarn was a “phase 2” delivery and so I moved here relatively empty handed. Yes, this is a confession: I have’t crocheted in 2.5 months.

And so that’s it. That’s the big news in JJCrochet’s world right now. After living in Pittsburgh for 30 minus 2 years of my life, I’ve moved to Toronto. If anyone is interested in applying for a 3-year work visa, moving to Canada or the details of universal healthcare, I’m now an expert. Send me an email.

I have my hooks and needles, of course, but there wasn’t room for yarn. Before I left, I made a large drop-off of yarn to the library and my old knitting group (The Knotty Knitters) who I’ve no doubt will put the skeins to good use.

The weather here in Toronto has turned cooler in the mornings and evenings; autumn is almost here.

It’s Saturday morning and I woke up with the thought that today I would blog and make a trip to a yarn store. Space. It’s a wonderful, freeing, empowering feeling.

Just for Fun, Videos

Speed Crocheting & A Little Energy Savings

I have a friend who has a friend who has a coworker who works at an energy company.

When I found this out, my first question was, “So tell me, is it better to keep my apartment cold while I’m at work, then crank it 10 degrees when I get home or should I keep it moderately warm during the day?” He told me it’s better to keep it cold, then warm it up.

jayna grassel fastest crocheter

Which means my apartment is a cool 53 degrees when I’m gone. I bump it up to 64 when I get home from work, but it’s a little frigid, brr. I keep whatever crochet project I’m working on in a basket in my living room so while my place warms up, I’ll work a few rows (and keep my hat on because again, brr).

My friends call me cheap for living in the cold, I call them fools for heating rooms when they’re not home. Since my apartment is over 100 years old, I’m always looking for ways to save a few bucks while staying warm.

When Duke Energy asked me to partner with them on an energy saving video, I was thrilled. I love saving money on my electric bill and of course, I love crocheting.

On a cold January evening, I literally packed a suitcase full of yarn (there wasn’t much room for anything else!), interspersed crochet hooks in my luggage in case TSA confiscated them (they didn’t, by the way – crochet hooks are fine to take on airplanes) and headed off to Boston.

The following morning, I found myself in Foxboro, Massachusetts working on an energy video and speed crocheting.

To prep for the shoot, I made three things:

  1. A chunky teal & green sweater (6 hours)
  2. A pair of mittens (20 mins)
  3. A draft door stopper (1 hour)

If you follow my blog, you know I like to stick to my hat-making so it was a treat to branch out and try new projects.

Making the video was SO MUCH FUN! We kept quoting the scene from Arrested Development where Lindsay and Tobias say, “…Cause then you have it,” when debating whether or not to take a particular shot. The team was incredible to work with and it was a full day for everyone. So much yarn everywhere.

Ironically, while we were making this video on how to winter-proof your home, Boston got slammed with the infamous Bombcyclone. This meant my flight the following morning was cancelled as feet of snow covered the city. I was stuck in my hotel room… with my crochet hooks… and tons of yarn… and a bottle of wine. I mean, I can think of worse ways to spend a Friday. J

I also got to do a little how-to video of working a front post double crochet. This is a stitch that works up nice and textured. It’s pretty similar to a double rochet, just worked around a stitch instead of in the top loops.

How to Make a Front Post Double Crochet

Pattern is worked across an odd number of stitches in the round. You can use any size hook and yarn, suitable for your project. I used worsted weight yarn and a size H hook.

Chain 10 + 2 (counts as first double crochet).

Rounds 1: Double crochet in each stitch across (11 double crochet). Turn work.

Rounds 2: Chain 2 (counts as first double crochet). Work front post double crochet into next stitch. Double crochet into next stitch. Repeat pattern across row, ending with a double crochet. (11 stitches). Turn work.

Rounds 3: Chain 2. Work double crochet into next stitch. Front post double crochet into next stitch. Repeat pattern across row, ending with two double crochet. (11 stitches). Turn work.

Repeat Rounds 2-3 for desired length.

I’m so thankful I got the chance to meet and work with some great people, sharing the craft I love and learning how to cut down on my heating bill.

You can check out the full write-up here (no judging!):

Energy efficiency tips provided by Duke Energy. Visit for more ways to save this winter.



Just for Fun

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Riding Amtrak’s California Zephyr

Review of California Zephyr

Emerson said, “life is a journey, not a destination.” When I heard about cross-country train trips, I knew I had to go. My dad, mom, sister and I spent three vacation days taking an Amtrak train across the US (well, almost).

The quick review is GO. The train is a romantic way of travel, the views are incredible. Just prepare yourself for it to be a little hobo. If you’re ok going with the flow of things and making your own rules, it is a fantastic relaxing vacation.

Plus, you’ll forever be able to tell your friends, “oh yeah – this one time when I took a train cross-country… it was awesome.”

02 - Train


The Planning

It began by telling my dad plans to take a solo train trip from Pittsburgh to San Francisco on the California Zephyr and evolved into a week-long family ski trip (don’t ask me how – it escalated very quickly and included an atlas). Rather than ride the track the entire way to San Francisco, we decided to hop off in Utah to ski. I wanted to experience the magic of train travel; my family was mostly interested in the travel after the train.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr officially runs from Chicago to San Francisco. A one-way coach ticket will cost you about $200, while a ticket for a sleeper car costs double that, though does have meals included. Amtrak’s website can be tricky to navigate – you don’t buy a “Zephyr ticket”, but simply input your departure and arrival stations (train speak!) and it’ll calculate the cost.

Zephyr Route 2

Zephyr Route 1

We found it was only $10 more to include the leg from Pittsburgh  to Chicago so we purchased Amtrak tickets from Pittsburgh, PA to Provo, Utah. We opted to get off at Provo for two reasons: it has fantastic skiing and it let us ride through the majority of the Rockies (thanks, atlas).

Our 2,000 mile trip included a daunting 43 hours of train travel from start to finish (9 hours from Pitt to Chicago, with a 5 hour layover, then 34 continuous hours from Chicago to Provo). When my mom convinced my sister to come with us, she mistakenly told her the trip was 28 hours. It wasn’t until day two that she found out it was much longer. Needless to say, she was not happy.

The Trip

We arrived at the Pittsburgh Amtrak station two hours before our train departed since Father Bill likes to be early. I was unprepared for how casual the boarding process was. You wait in an indoor boarding area (similar to an airport gate), then a few minutes before you’re ready to board, you take your bags and walk onto the train platform. Someone scanned our tickets, assigned us four seats, we walked what felt like 5 blocks to a passenger car and were off. Simple as that.


Amtrak wasn’t strict on their carry-on or luggage policy. We had two large suitcases and each had two carry-ons. Again, super casual – you carry on your luggage, stow on the bottom car, then find your seat on the upper level.

We left Pittsburgh at midnight and arrived at Chicago a little after 9:45am. This was poor planning on our part (though the cheapest option) since this meant we essentially slept on the train and didn’t get to do/see anything until we arrived in the Windy City the following morning. Sleeping on a train isn’t bad, but it’s not good. The chairs recline 45 degrees and have two foot rests (the bottom of your seat extends and the other is a bar that pulls down from the chair in front of you). Still, not ideal and my sister and I traded taking shots of Zzzquil to help us sleep. But for $10, it beat having to fly to Chicago. We brought pillows and “train blankets” and settled in for the ride.


I’d been to Chicago years ago and was excited to show my family the city. We only had a 5 hour layover but took advantage of the time. We checked our bags at the station ($18 for 24 hours) then walked from Union Station to Millennium Park to see the iconic Bean. It was freezing out (9 degrees!), but the 1 mile walk was refreshing. Afterwards, we enjoyed deep dish pizza before walking to the oldest library in the city. We explored the historic building, shopped a bit, then Uber’d back to the station.

01- Bean


We barely made it back in time since we got our track number wrong (Track #5, not Train #5!), but thanks to Amtrak’s lax boarding policies, we ran up to the platform, had our tickets scanned, boarded and 10 minutes later, we were on our way out West. Close one. Father Bill was sweating.

The first 20 hours of the second leg weren’t exciting. We headed from Chicago into Iowa, through Nevada and towards Denver. The land we could see for 3 hours until the sunset was flat and uninteresting. After that, it was darkness and a restless night’s sleep until we got to Denver.

The train arrived at the Denver station a little before 8am. My sister and I woke up from our Zzzquil-induced stupor to the train loudspeaker announcing this was a ‘fresh air’ stop. We  immediately started mapping a route to the nearest Starbucks.

We arrived in Denver, bounded off the train, asked a man for directions as we jogged out of the station (“You can trust him because he’s wearing Patagonia,” asserted my sister) and found a Starbucks three blocks away. My mother did not support our coffee dreams and said if the train left, we were on our own. We made it back with a few minutes to spare and didn’t even show tickets as we walked around the  corner of the train station building and back onto the train. Nothing stands in our way when coffee’s on the line.

20160112_074622 (2)

Our hop-off, hop-on stunt made me feel a bit like a hobo, but like Michael Bluth says, you’ve got to watch for hop-ons… cause you’ll get hop-ons.

After Denver, the scenery started to get interesting. We immediately began our ascent through the Rockies, going through what someone said were 26 little tunnels as the train slowly increased its altitude. We spotted a large herd of elk in the hills beyond Denver and were enthralled with the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. I don’t know if it was the flatness we endured in Iowa, but I was loving the views. They were incredible. This is the reason you take a cross-country train trip.


My dad and I spent a few hours in the sightseeing car and took in the endless snow-covered mountains. Anna and my mom soon joined. We’d point out mule deer or coyotes as our eyes scanned the breath-taking landscape. At one point, my father turned to me and said, “Thank you for taking me on this trip. It’s incredible.” Those are powerful words coming from an engineer. When trying to get my sister to appreciate the same views, she said “Jayna, I have been looking at the same rocks for the past five hours. I don’t want to look.”


The sun set behind the red hills of Colorado and it was amazing having nothing but mountains surrounding you for miles.


It was close to 11pm when our train halted to a quick stop in Provo, Utah. We said goodbye to our metallic home for the past two and a half days and hailed an Uber. We couldn’t get to our horizontal hotel beds fast enough, no Zzzquil needed.


The Food

Having read a few articles beforehand, we went in with the assumption that train food was unappetizing and expensive, so we packed snacks for our journey. My thoughtful mother brought chocolate (of course), granola bars, nuts,  PB&J sandwiches, water and lots of fruit. We had enough food to last us during our two days on the train, but did break down and bought hot dogs ($5) the last little part of the the trip.

The Amenities20160112_153037

  • Two outlets at each seat
  • Reclining chairs with plenty of leg room
  • Sightseeing car, dining car, sleeper cars and coach seating for the paupers
  • Four bathrooms per coach car
  • No showers, no wifi, intermittent cell service

Not a luxury ride (we didn’t spring for the sleeper cars), but a lot better than expected. We passed the time talking, sleeping, reading, walking through the sliding train cars and taking in the landscape.

The Consensus

If you’re considering taking an extended Amtrak trip, DO IT. It’s an experience. It’s slow, it’s soothing and it’s unlike any other form of “modern” travel. You’ll adopt a new standard of hygiene (we wore the same clothes for three days) but you’ll get to see the heartland of America.

My friend sent me this horrifying article detailing the perils of Amtak travel the day before we left (thanks, Mel), but we found it to be an overall great experience. Bathrooms weren’t horrible, the ride was relatively smooth and the train people (conductors?) were friendly.

9 out of 10 we’d do it again.

The Final Leg

After saying goodbye to the train, my dad, sister and I skied at Robert Redford’s getaway, Sundance Mountain Resort, and enjoyed the steep hills and  notoriously fresh powder of western US skiing. My sister rated it one of the best days of her life.


From there, we drove to Salt Lake City, flew to Denver, rented a car and drove 2 hours to Vail, CO. We stayed at an Air BnB, then skied the following day in Vail (conditions were a little worse than Sundance and the mountain drive treacherous), but when you come that close to Vail, you ski Vail.



Our trip ended in an uneventful drive back to Denver and evening flight to Pittsburgh. My sister expressed her gratitude (multiple times) that we were not taking the train back and I’ll admit it was nice to cover 1,500 miles in 3 hours instead of 40.

Overall, it was an action-packed family vacation. We got to travel through small towns, sweeping mountains and secluded forests. Moral of the story is that if you’re considering taking a cross-country train trip of any length on an Amtrak, GO! One thing that’s certain is you’ll have an adventure.

Just for Fun

A Trip to Asia: Vietnam, Thailand & a Little Shanghai

My last post was about making last-minute Christmas presents. How embarrassing! What’s even more dismal is that I’ve not had much time to crochet in the past weeks. I’ve been traveling and planning the trip hasn’t left much free time. I promise, there will be new projects soon!


For this vacation, I met up with friends who are living in Shanghai and we took a two week trip to Vietnam (Hoi An and Saigon/Ho Chi Mihn City) and Thailand (Koh Lanta and Phi-Phi Island). It was magical! It was my first time in Southeast Asia. I probably knew only 10% of all I saw, tasted and experienced before I went on this trip. I even got to spend 3 days in Shanghai which was fantastic as well.






  • Scootering around the Thai and Vietnamese countrysides on motorbikes
  • Snorkeling with sharks in Phi Phi
  • Eating like kings for about $4/meal (favorites were Bahn Mi, dumplings, Korean BBQ, baracuda tar-tar, pho, multiple curries, Thai pancakes and fresh mango smoothies)
  • A Thai cooking class where I learned that unlike American cuisine that keeps most flavors separate, Thai food seeks to feature all four flavors in one dish (sweet, salty, sour and savory)
  • Surviving nine flights, one of which was on Air Asia
  • Watching multiple sun sets over the Adaman Sea/Indian Ocean
  • Touring the My Son ruins in Vietnam
  • Crawling through the Cu Chi tunnels the Viet Cong used to hide in during the Vietnam War
  • Dining in the dark – the entire meal is served in total blackness and you have to use your sense of smell and taste to identify your food. All servers are blind
  • Ringing in the Chinese New Year on a rooftop bar
  • Traditional Thai massages (painful!)
  • Beating Escape rooms (twice!)
  • Releasing lanterns on the beaches of Thailand and floating rives of Hoi An
  • Sipping caipirinas on the beach



shanghai skyline


It was such a nice break from the freezing temperatures we’ve been having in Pittsburgh (went from 0 degrees to 95 degrees Farenheit!) and the responsibilities of life. Who doesn’t love vacation? Can’t wait to go back!


Craft Shows, Just for Fun, Knitting

Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival: 2014

Last weekend (March 14 – 16th), I attended the 10th annual Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival in Cranberry, PA. I’d heard of the festival before, but was never in town to attend. The festival attracted over 70 different booths and some big name teachers. I talked to the coordinator, Barb, and she said there were well over 3,000 attendees. Not too shabby for a knitting festival!

Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival

From my perspective, the festival was largely geared towards knitters, but I didn’t mind – it seems to be the preferred craft among fiber artists (don’t worry, crochet, you’ll always be my first love). I’d say about 90% of the classes offered were knitting; only a few were crochet. Vendors also offered knitting patterns and had knitted samples of sweaters, blankets and accessories, but only a few crochet items.

I purchased a two day pass for Friday and Sunday and zipped up to the festival after work on Friday to check things out. I got there for the last two hours and spent the time looking at vendor booths and talking with other crafters.

Neutral Yarn

On Sunday, however, the real fun began.

I’d purposefully signed up for “Borderline Personalities: Knitting on the Edge” for the sole reason that it was taught by my all-time crochet hero, Lily Chin. While Lily is a master crocheter, she’s probably better known for her skills with knitting needles. Meeting her was a DREAM COME TRUE. She’s a feisty 5-foot tall woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone. She kept the class moving, called out students who were knitting the wrong thing, yet was personable and talked with me at the end.

An exclusive, inside look at what a knitting class looks like (I know you’ve wondered).

Lily doing what Lily does best - teachin' knittin' class.
Lily doing what Lily does best – teachin’ knittin’ class.

The class was 3 hours long and the best $50 I’ve spent in a while.

Lily Chin and Me. I know, RIGHT?! Lily the crochet master Chin.
Selfie with Lily Chin. I know, RIGHT?! Lily ‘the crochet master’ Chin.

I didn’t end up purchasing anything at the festival (I’m on a yarn sanction), though I did pick up a mannequin bust for $55. I envision using it to 1. display scarves rather than begging my roommate to model and 2. taking it to craft shows as part of my display.

The other notable part of the weekend was getting to see two Olympic sweaters from Sochi. One of the few things I love more than the Olympics is knitting, so to see both combined in the sweaters for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies was a dream come true. (I hope my true excitement is coming through – If not, maybe this picture will convey my love for the games.)


 Opening & Closing Ceremony Knit Sweaters from the 2014 Sochi Olympics

Opening & Closing Ceremony Knit Sweaters from the 2014 Sochi Olympics

Overall, great weekend, even though I didn’t spend much time at the festival. Next year, I’d like to go with other people who knit/crochet because you can only walk around a large hall filled with yarn so many times by yourself before you look creepy. If you get the chance and are in town for next year’s Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Fest, definitely make it a priority to go!

Just for Fun, Knitting, Projects

Trying Our Hand at Arm Knitting #Pun

About once a month, my coworkers get together for “Craft Night”. Each girl takes a turn hosting and all from the office are invited. We’ll sometimes work on a joint craft like glitter pumpkins, or sometimes we’ll bring individual projects to make. Wine and cheese are necessities. 

This month, we chose to test our hands (literally) at arm knitting.

Arm Knitting

The inspiration came from Vickie Howell’s project.  The week leading up to Craft Night, Pinterest links were shared and talks of yarn combinations took place on the way to (and sometimes during) meetings.

Arm knitting is relatively new to the craft world and pretty simple to pick up. It’s gained popularity through its instant gratification and short supply list – all you need are your hands and some yarn. The craft uses similar principles as ‘real knitting’, so those familiar with needles will have an easy time grasping the concept. The entire group (Jenna and Dani, we’re looking at you…) made great scarves.

The group learned by watching Vickie’s how-to arm knit video (highly recommended) and by the end of the night (about 45 mins?), each of us had a lovely, hand-knit scarf.

The rockiest parts of the project were getting started, though once we learned how and what to loop and over which hand and when, it all came together. The key, we learned, was all in the yarn. A few strands of super chunky strands made the best scarves.

If you’re thinking about arm knitting, go for it! Call up a couple of friends and learn together. It’s a great wintery night activity to do with a group.

The following day, we wore our scarves to the office after making feeble, though sincere promises the night before, “Of course I’ll wear mine if you wear yours!” Coworkers complimented and boys belittled and we were proud. We, the women of DSG, had conquered arm knitting!

What’s next on the list?

Just for Fun

If You Have Etsy + A Website, Use Etsy Mini

I had to give my blog a facelift a couple weeks ago and the new layout deleted my “Etsy Mini”. I just got around to putting it back up on the right sidebar and it’s something I should have done weeks ago.

(If you don’t know what an Etsy Mini is – read “What is an Etsy Mini and How Do I Make One”: If you have a website and Etsy shop, I highly recommend you set yours up. It’ll take you no more than 2 mins.

As proof, here are my shop analytics. Can you tell when I added it back to my site?

Etsy Mini
Statistics for JJCrochet’s Etsy Mini

I was pretty shocked to see these numbers for such a simple task. You upload code to your site one time and from then on, Etsy automatically displays recent product listings (I use the 5 x 2 option).

Etsy Mini isn’t a new feature, but it’s one I’ve rediscovered – figured I’d pass along. Has anyone else seen similar results from using this plugin?

Just for Fun

Book Review: Women in High Gear


During ice-cream-after-work that turn to dinner-and-tea, my friend Rachel told me about a book her husband’s aunt had written. (Her husband, Andrew, and I studied Entrepreneurship together and can’t help but chat  about web stuff when we’re together. He’s brilliant and runs a growing inbound marketing agency in Pittsburgh).

The book is about successful women in business, as told by Anne Deeter Gallaher and Amy D. Howell. Rachael and Andrew both said I’d enjoy and gave it to me to borrow.

They were correct.

I was able to finish the short, 13-chapters this morning (while eating vanilla granola from Trader Joe’s).

The book, Women in High Gear, is packed with practical advice for women who want to take control of their professional developments. It was inspirational and one of those, “Let’s get out and do it!” books. The kind that wants to make you forget your friends and pour 20 hours a day into making your business dreams a reality.

As a lifelong business-lady (read: business camp during high school, career day speaker, FBLA, B.S. in Entrepreneurship, and JJCrochet), I can’t get enough of material like this.

I especially appreciated the charge to create strong networks with respected people in the industry and local communities, as well as the advice tailored to corporate women in their 20s. Often the only content us 24-year old girls hear is how to make our gel manicures last longer (prime your nails with lemon juice), but never how to advance our careers.

Amy advises:

I often tell young women in their 20s without children yet to work hard while they can and use this time to invest in their careers. It’s so important to their futures… Assume you know nothing. Don’t try to exert your wisdom if you don’t have it. You must earn your place by working hard and self-study. If you try and push, you’ll get the push back you are looking for. If you do, be ready.

What great advice.

The women also talk about having emotional intelligence and resilience, being decisive, and the power of being able to tell your own story–both on and offline. Though a short book, I found it refreshing to hear from women who have used social media and business accumen to transform their careers into “high gear”. Both the women are Christians which to me, makes their stories more relatable.

If you have an hour of two and are looking for something to give you that boost you need–whether for your craft business or corporate job–I’d encourage you to check out this book!


Just for Fun

Best “Hey Girl” EVER: Ryan Gosling + Crochet

I love Ryan Gosling (who doesn’t).

I love crocheting (who doesn’t).

And I love yarn (as any crocheter should).  So when my sister-in-law sent me this “Hey Girl”, I had to share.


If you don’t know about “Hey Girls”, it’s pretty much sexy images of Ryan Gosling saying romatinic/ridiculous/dreamy things that every girl wants to hear.  A browse through a Pinterest search for “Hey Girl” will help you get caught up.

Aaaand, if you want some truly corny laughs, check out Hey Christian Girl – the Christian version of these.  Nothing like Bible jokes to get you roaring, ha.  Some of my favs:

Joseph Gordon-Levitt


2010 Sundance Film Festival - "The Kids Are Alright" Portraits