Monthly Archives: February 2012

THE YEAR OF (PAINFUL) GROWTH

We’re still in February and it’s been a rough year already.

We thought 2011 was bad. My best friend/lover/husband/sounding board and I hit one of those places in our marriage–you know what I’m talking about–where we’d look at each other and think (or even worse, say), “Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my husband/wife??!!”

Oh, we’ve gone to couples therapy before, for short-term help. And I mean really short-term. Sometimes we’d only need to meet with a referee counselor two or three times to get clear on our stuff. We jokingly referred to those interludes as ‘tune-ups’–just like a regular oil change to keep our partnership running smoothly.

This time, like our Subaru Forester, we went in for what we thought was an oil change, and ended up having to pull the engine. (No, we are no longer happy with Subaru.)

The repair process was simple, but not easy. If you want a year’s worth of couples counseling reduced down to a few suggestions, here are mine: Don’t assume–ask. Then listen to the answers. And don’t eat those restaurant leftovers unless you ask their owner first. (It’s one of those situations where preferring to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission will backfire. Just trust me on this one.) Oh, and the biggie: Value the relationship over having to be right.

It was a tough process, but we’re on the home stretch. We can now afford to look back and say, “I almost lost you” and be amazed. A good thing.

So what could be worse than almost losing your marriage?

Almost losing your kids.

Last fall was the time of extreme anxiety. Finding out your kid is in an abusive relationship? It’s the worst (or so we thought.) We had to tread carefully, keeping doors open, staying grounded, trusting in….well, trust. Putting our faith in the love and trust we’d built over the years.

We were rewarded with a happy outcome. Our child is safe. Life is good. We’re moving on. We breathed a grateful prayer. 2012 was going to be so much better!

Then, a few weeks ago, we got ‘the phone call.’

It’s the one in the middle of the night, the one you never want to get.

The police telling us there had been an accident.

Before my heart could stop, the caller rushed to assure us, “He’s okay! He’s okay!”

We nearly lost our other kid. To a car accident so fierce, our aforementioned Subaru Forester would now probably fit inside a large refrigerator. I still can’t look at the pictures without choking up.

He’s okay. Or rather, he’ll be okay. Miraculously, though his injuries are numerous, he will recover fully. It will be a long, hard journey, but someday he will be able to put this behind him. And I am very aware that this is not always the case, for so many people or the families they leave behind… My heart breaks for them.

Of course, there are blessings in all of this. I learn from everything, even the bad stuff. But sometimes it’s just too….too. As one of my sisters said years ago, delirious with pain after burning her hand badly while dealing with a small kitchen fire, and listening to us all tell her how lucky for her it was her left hand, not her right, just her hand, not her life, just the kitchen and not the house, etc., “Well, I don’t feel so damned lucky!!”

I just spoke with my beloved hospice supervisor, Lorraine, who struggled to find the right words today. I finally said, “Oh, yeah, there are are blessings here…..DAMN IT!!! And we both burst out laughing.

But…there are blessings.

I am grateful we both believed our marriage was worth fighting for.
I am grateful that my kids know for sure how much we love them. Or, if one of them isn’t sure, we’re getting another chance to prove it to him.
I am grateful for the people who listened. Really, truly listened
I am grateful for the small courtesies received from friends, and family, and complete strangers.
I am so, so grateful for the people who do not judge.

I’ve learned a lot, too.

I know now that a good day doesn’t depend on the weather, or how much I got done, or what didn’t go wrong. Sometimes a good day is simply a day where nobody dies.

Some people think we are ‘bearing up’ well. It’s simple. I know now that there are times when you know the worst has already happened, and times where you know the worst might yet happen. The first is a piece of cake, compared to the latter. I know now that the latter is much, much scarier, and harder to bear.

I know now that no matter what you’re going through, there are other people who understand. Those powerful words of Rosanne Cash, from her book Composed: A Memoir, still resonate in my heart:

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…

I’ve learned that people will judge. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, though. I want to say to them, “Look, if the universe slapped us down or tried to KILL US whenever we did something careless, there wouldn’t be too many of us still walking around…” But I know it’s just human nature. It’s how we convince ourselves that something like that would never happen to us, a way to distance ourselves, a way to protect ourselves. “Well, my kid/husband/daughter would never do that!” Really? Huh…..

Today, my wish for you is what I would wish for myself.

Today, may your blessings be small ones. Simple ones. Easy ones.
May they involve a hug or two, and perhaps a good laugh, and someone to share it with.
May you get a chance to learn something the easy way. Not the hard way.
And may you always get a second chance, another chance to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” To say, “Thank you.”

To say, “I love you.”

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Filed under art, craft, gratitude, lessons from hospice, life lessons, life with teenagers, love

MY VINTAGE LUGGAGE ADDICTION (Achieves Escape Velocity)

We finally took down our Christmas tree. It’s actually early for us. We’re often tempted to simply add Easter eggs to the tree decorations. (Our door wreaths are still up….)

I didn’t want to put the felted light sculpture back up, and pondered what else I could do with the space. I didn’t really want to squish more furniture in there. But corners are powerful display spots, something I always try to capitalize on in my art booth. So why would I ignore this corner op?

Finally, it hit me. I have a couple of end ‘tables’ made from stacked luggage. Would I have enough to create a tall stack? A tower of suitcases?

I collected all my vintage suitcases. Well….not all of them. Not the Samsonite, or the leather/faux leather ones. Just those wonderful sort of fabric and cardboard ones, with great stripes. I had enough to make a sizable tower.

I proudly showed it to my husband. To my dismay, he just snorted. I think he thought I was kidding. He back-pedaled rapidly when he realized I wasn’t.

“Well, I think you should get a few more,” he teased, “and take it right up to the ceiling!”

He left. And I thought, he’s right, I need a topper!

I considered my favorite toy truck (orange)

Little orange truck. Well, actually, a Tonka-sized truck.

and my latest find, a fishing net float glass ball (aqua, round.)

Fishing net float. I LOVE this color!

But neither seemed quite right.

Added plus:  Perfect storage for Christmas ornaments!

Finally, I made one more trip to the attic. Aha! Two more little suitcases! (Okay, the top one is actually a little carrier for 45 records…)

To the ceiling! I made it!

And it has utility, too. Next year, I’m gonna store my Christmas ornaments in the suitcases. Neat, huh?

And no, I’m not embarrassed to reveal I own thirteen of these suitcases. A friend said last night when she saw them for the first time, “I collect those, too. No wonder I haven’t been able to find any!!” (So then I was a teensy bit embarrassed. But not enough to give her one.)

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Filed under art, craft, my stuff

LESSONS FROM KNITTING DISH CLOTHES

How the lowly knitted dish cloth revitalized my knitting.

I don’t normally consider myself a ‘knitting blog’, but here I am with two articles about knitting…. You can teach an old dog a new trick!

So my ‘trick’ today is another lesson learned in hospice.

I have a friend who’s what I consider a talented knitter. She’s constantly challenging herself with new techniques. (Lace! Entrelac! I can’t even spell entrelac…)

She always has a knitting project going. Not like me, with one project half-finished in one grocery bag, and already off to a bad start with another. Nope, she starts a project and she finishes it.

She is disciplined, too. She buys enough yarn for her current project and maybe her next project. Not for all the projects she might knit in her next five lifetimes (like I do.)

So one day I found her knitting dish cloths.

I couldn’t believe it. Why…would anyone knit a dish cloth??

But I found out when I found a stash of them in my current client’s knitting bag. She told me why, and I believe her.

1. They’re quick. I can do an entire dishcloth in an hour or two. The feeling of accomplishment is almost overwhelming.

2. They’re easy. Yes, there are complex lacy patterns. But there are also tons of simple patterns that look just as nice.

3. They’re cheap inexpensive to make. For someone like me who tends to buy a ton of exotic yarn and even then finding out I don’t have the right weight/amount/color, it’s sweet to run into the yarn store and buy one $2 ball of Sugar ‘n’ Cream cotton yarn to make one dish cloth. And because you only need one ball of yarn…..

4. It’s a very portable project. I don’t even need to carry the pattern for some designs, they’re that straight-forward to knit. So instead of my usual giant bag full of books, needles, etc., I can manage with a teensy tiny purse or basket.

5. They’re a great way to try out new patterns. Rather than investing hundreds of hours with a new pattern (only to decide I hate it), I can test a new stitch or technique in one little dish cloth.

But best of all, knitting such an accessible little project….

6. Jump-starts my knitting process. I’m one of those people that has to look at tons of patterns, consider tons of yarn candidates, think about oodles of color combinations, stress about lots of new stitches and techniques and swatches and gauge and even needle lengths. I agonize about doing things just right. I think way, way too much, and then rarely start.

That is, I tend to let a lot of things get in between me, and me actually knitting.

But a little dish cloth is so simple, so mindless, and yet accessible, it’s almost effortless for me to get started on one. Which is great because….

7. Everybody wants one. I had no idea how desirable these things were! But apparently, they make very popular little gifts, because….

8. They are the perfect dish cloth. They work really, really well.

So…beauty; accessibility; challenge; utility; and makes you the most popular person in the room at parties. There’s just no downside.

I eat my words. I take it all back.

It is pretty wonderful to knit a dish cloth!

I even thought of a way to make the decreased edges look more like the increased edges! (These are knit on the diagonal, my first time!)

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Filed under art, craft, knitting, lessons from hospice

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Knitting Needle Trick

On a lighter note today, I just have to share something I tried today.

A few months ago, I snagged a pair of wooden knitting needles–CHEAP!–at an antique shop.

I was thrilled–until I picked a pair to work with a few days ago, and discovered one needle had a chunk missing on its tip. The split-off piece was almost an inch long–yikes!

I wish I’d taken a picture of it, because I had a brainstorm today.

I reshaped the tip–with my electric pencil sharpener!

It worked like a dream. Of course, the tip came out needle-sharp. Fortunately, I have lots of sandpaper on hand, in lots of grits. (I do a lot of sanding with my polymer clay work.) I managed to smooth off the re-cut, and round off the tip nicely. To keep everything even, I did the same to the other needle.

I’ll probably apply a very light coat of tung oil to seal the wood, too.

Haven’t tried them yet, but no reason why this shouldn’t work, right?

I’ll let you know!

P.S. I don’t know if this would work (ha ha! a pun!) with bamboo needles, but if you have a pair that’s already unusable, maybe it’s worth a try.

Refurbished knitting needles, a la electric pencil sharpener!

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MY ART IS WHO I AM: Another Lesson From Hospice

Every hospice experience teaches me something. And my latest hospice client has already taught me something big.

The first client visit can be tricky. Each situation is very different, and I never know what to expect. So I come prepared for almost anything.

My visiting bag usually holds several books. One is something for me to read if the client is sleeping or not conscious. Another is a book of poetry, or a prayer book, or perhaps a favorite story to read aloud. (One of my favorite memories is reading Dodie Smith’s bittersweet “I Capture the Castle” to an elderly gentleman, who was as enthralled by the story as I was.)

I also carry a good supply of crossword puzzles, a notebook or journal to write in, and sometimes, my latest knitting project.

On my first visit with this client, she spied my knitting needles and asked me about my project. I pulled it out and soon we were talking about knitting. Turns out she was an avid–and extremely talented–knitter. And though her yarn stash does not rival mine, it’s still impressive.

Sadly, she’s losing the ability to knit. “But we can still look!” I said cheerfully. So we spend our time looking at knitting magazines, exclaiming over the pretty pictures of sweaters, hats and scarves, commenting on the yarns and the patterns. Last week, she turned to me and said in a fierce whisper, “I just LOVE looking at knitting patterns!” “So do I!” I whispered back.

Today she spoke sadly (and metaphorically, which is common at this stage) about not being able to knit anymore, and about “an event” that’s coming, something that cannot be stopped, something that comes for everyone.

It’s hard to talk about, she said. And people sometimes pretend it’s not coming, but it is. “It is hard,” I tell her. “People don’t know what to say. So they say nothing.” She nods fiercely.

I ask her how she feels about it. She thinks for a moment.

There are things that have defined her, all her life, that are now slipping away softly but surely, into a growing gray mist. “I can’t remember what it is, but it’s all going away,” she says sadly.

My heart goes out to her. It reminded me of my very first day in hospice training.

One of the hospice chaplains ran the exercise. It sounds laughably simple.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She gave each of us ten little slips of paper. We were each told to write down ten things that were important to us.

They could be people (family, friends), they could be experiences (marriage, traveling, work), skills (arts, gardening, dancing, martial arts), character traits (intelligence, humor).

We spent quite a bit of time getting our lists just right.

Then the chaplain said, “I’m going to come around and take one of your slips. Decide which one you can give up.” It was hard, but it went quickly.

Then she said, “Now I’m going to take three things. Here I come!” Those three things were much harder to choose. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Then she said, “Hold up your remaining slips. This time, I get to choose!” I guess I thought she would read each ‘hand’ and make a decision. Nope. She strode purposely around our circle, grabbing randomly at the slips in our hands.

It was really really hard.

What we lost was hard.

What was even harder, was knowing it was coming.

And not knowing what we would lose.

Some people tried to fight it. They held on tightly, refusing to let go. (But they had to, in the end..)

Some people–okay, all of us!–cried out in dismay when a precious slip was taken.

Many of us just cried. I did.

It wasn’t fair! Some people got to keep a few precious slips. Others lost all of them.

I cannot describe how it felt. Anger, fear, resentment, sorrow…. None of us were unscathed.

The power of those little slips of paper was palpable. Losing them was devastating.

“This is what it’s like,” said the chaplain softly. “This is what it’s like, at the end. Everything–everything–is lost.”

Such a simple exercise. Such a powerful lesson.

I looked at this amazing little woman, who was looking at me, wordlessly asking me….something.

I couldn’t remember the rest of that training day. I couldn’t remember what the chaplain said next.

I could only remember a little story this woman’s daughter had told me an hour earlier.

“Remember the sweater you made for your daughter?” I said. “How beautiful it was, and how beautiful it made her feel?”

She nodded.

“That is what will never go away. You did that. You made something beautiful. It made her feel beautiful. It made her feel loved. That is what will last.”

She nodded fiercely again.

I think I saw a little smile on her face.

My friend Kerin Rose once tried to tell me this, a few years ago when I was in a bad place. I felt apart from my art for awhile, and was frightened of who I would–or wouldn’t be–without it.

“You would still be you,” she insisted. I wasn’t sure….

But now I understand.

Yes, my art is who I am.

Not because of what I can or can’t do. Nor because of what I could do.

But because of what I’ve already done.

Because of what it’s already meant to me.

And because of what it’s already meant to others.

And that is what will last.

Dishclothes

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, gratitude, hospice, knitting, lessons from hospice, life lessons