Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Happy Place

This is a beaded shawl I finished for my daughter as a gift for this Christmas.
 I don't think she follows my blog so this picture should be safe here.  The pattern is called Cathedral Windows.
And she lives directly across the street from the National Cathedral
with beautiful cathedral windows.   

I began knitting officially in 1998.  I say 'officially' because I sort of knew how to knit back in the 70's, but the hobby never took root then.  I was self taught.  I was terrible at it.  I wanted immediate gradification.  I had no patience for long projects, problem solving fit issues, learning to correct mistakes, or accepting the fact an item might 'perfect' even if I was the only who could see the error.  In 1998, however, I left a life sucking management job and had learned that imperfection was ok.  I decided to 'recover' from that profession by learning to knit at a yarn store.

The time was right.  Knitting became a life-enhancing hobby that I would be lost without.

Over the years I tried to expand my crafting horizon beyond knitting to other related activities. 

Some Merino and Silk fiber that is waiting for me to
spin it.
I learned to spin.  There was, of course, the initial excitement and purchasing of equipment.   First I spun yarn on a spindle and then quickly bought a full size spinning wheel.  I looked at the end product of spinning - yarn.  I realized pretty quickly that I am a product spinner rather than a process spinner.  I wanted the finished yarn (the product) more than the effort (the process) to get the yarn.  The yarn I created was nice, interesting, unique.  But I have no desire to create one-of-a-kind yarns.  I am happy to purchase beautiful yarns - owning it NOW - rather than participating in the dream of owning it someday.  I gave my spinning wheel to a cousin.  I kept my spindles and sometimes they 'call' to me.  I will return to this hobby at some point - casually dipping my toe back in the water of spindle spinning - because I have some wonderful fibers that I just can't part with.  But can spinning ever replace knitting?  Never.

Here is a woven shawl I treasure.  It was created by my cousin
using hand spun yarn.  The amount of effort for a shawl like
this is enormous.
I learned to weave.  Again, my initial interest in weaving sparked excitement ... and new equipment, new skills, new jargon.  I had active weavers in my family.  My Pennsylvania cousin is an amazing weaver with several floor looms and a wide variety of table looms.  My sister was bitten by the weaving bug and is in hot pursuit in the 'loom acquisition contest' she has going with our cousin.  And it is great fun to watch them.  They both create beautiful items.    And I own three table style looms, a tapestry loom and several pin looms.  I plan to keep all those - especially the smaller looms.  I can see myself weaving projects on my pin looms at some point, as well as the tapestry loom.  And maybe I will return to my table looms.   Maybe.  But I am a product weaver - wanting the end item more than wanting the process of weaving.  Although this hobby did make more inroad in my crafting time and wallet, did it tramp down my enthusiasm for knitting?  No.  Not even a close second.  Too much equipment to juggle for me.  Not as portable as knitting, and while the product produced can be breath taking when finished, it requires a pretty decent commitment of time to learn the craft at that level.  Desire must be present.  I think I am missing the desire.

And then there is knitting, the craft that started it all.  Knitting never left my side during my side trips into other crafts.  After 20 years of knitting, I can accomplish most projects at an acceptable level even to my critical perfectionist eye.  Yes, knitting takes more time than weaving or spinning.  It is an argument I have heard more than once.  Since I am a process knitter rather than a product knitter, time is not a negative.   And knitting is so much more portable than the other two crafts: simple tools can be carried anywhere.  Finally ... the most important positive element of knitting that trumps all other craft considerations - is the calming effect it has on my brain.  No need for drugs.  Knitting is sort of my happy place.  The missing element in spinning and weaving - desire - is abundant in knitting for me.  But it should be said ... finding your calm place can happen with any craft.  Weavers and spinners say it all the time - how relaxing their craft is ... and I believe it because I experience it with knitting.

Here is a shawl I made for myself
to wear to a wedding.   
Another shawl I made for myself.

I love that knitting graduated from the 'rocking chair grandmother' status into an activity that is loved by all ages.  In fact, weaving and spinning has also experienced a resurgence in popularity.  It could be argued that this resurgence is because of knitting.

Knitting, it seems, is the 'gateway drug' to many fiber activities like weaving and spinning for a lot of people.

If you don't knit and are considering learning this habit forming activity, don't say I didn't warn you!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Milo's sweater

I haven't done a good job of documenting my finished knitted projects.  Years ago I took pictures and then posted them on a knitter's website called Ravelry.  But I didn't keep that up for long.

This fall, however, I finished a bunch of stuff that I am pretty pleased about.  (It is amazing just how much you can get done when you are laid up with a lame leg from surgery.)  I thought I might show them off on my blog.

The earliest finished project was Milo's Sweater.  That was finished in September.

When he was a much younger dog, I made this exact same pattern in the same yarn but in green.  He wore that sweater a long time.  After years of faithful service, the sweater turtle neck began to fray.  I stitched it up.  But the repairs started to fray.  There was no doubt, this old guy needed a new sweater. from his grandmother.

I used a yummy Merino yarn called Water Lilly from Classic Elite that is no longer being produced.  It is closer to an aran weight yarn than a worsted weight.  It is soft and softens more with use - and it is the kind of wool you can wear close to your skin.  It is also a kettle dyed yarn - with very subtle changes in hue.  Some kettle dyes are so striking that they compete for attention with patterned knit stitches.  Water Lilly kettle dyes are soft and add depth to a piece without competing with knit stitches like the cabling in Milo's sweater.   It is my favorite yarn ever so far and I wish they were still making it.

I have a rather large collection of Water Lilly - because I bought sweater lots when I realized it was discontinued.  So did my sister.  Since that purchase years ago, my sister has become more of a weaver - and I have become less of a weaver.  We did a trade last spring.  I gave her a bunch of my weaving yarns, and she gave me all of her Water Lilly!  Score!!  In the trade I duplicated many colors I had (which was great), and I got a few new colors like this cream (which was greater.)

Finding the exact pattern I used about 5 years ago was a struggle, but thankfully I throw very little away when it comes to knitting.  This second sweater actually fits Milo better than the first one.  I had Milo with me for a full week in September - so while I was knitting I could make frequent size checks adjusting the pattern as needed.  I could also create a slot on the back where his leash connects to his harness - in exactly the right spot. You can see the slot just below the turtle neck on his back.

I love it when a project comes together perfectly.  The perfect yarn, the perfect color, the perfect pattern and the perfect size.

Monday, November 27, 2017

All Decked Out

A quick peak around the Christmas decorations in place for this year.

It starts with the Christmas Tree.  It always starts with the tree.  This artificial tree is about 2 years old.  It  is a smaller slim line tree that works good in small spaces.  It is pre-lite and simple construction.  It holds about 1/2 the ornaments I have.  My goal:  some time in the next two years get a table top model tree.  My perfect three would be a about 3-4 feet high that would sit on a table by the window.  It would be on a stand that maybe plays music and rotates.  Pre-lite would be good.  I keep looking and nothing seems to be just right - so until it is - this tree will be part of my Christmas.

The tree decorations are all meaningful.  The little gold house in the picture below is the a miniature replica of the old time train station located in historic Ellicott City.  About two years ago Ellicott City was assaulted by a major flash flood - devastating the small town and killing one person.  Having withstood many floods in the past, many historic, the town has come back.  The gold tree ornament is a way to support the rebuilding.

The Pug Cookie Jar holds my grand dogs' cookies.  My dear grand dog Grimace, a pug with a heart of gold, has long since passed away.  I miss him every day.  But he is mentioned when I give out cookies to the grand dogs who replaced him.  "Who wants one of Grimace's cookies?  Only good dogs get one of his cookies."

The small lighted Christmas Tree beside the cookie jar was made by my mom during her 'ceramic painting' phase.  This kind of lighted tree is dated compared to more stylish decorating options available today.  But this little tree will always be a part of my Christmas.  It reminds me of her every time I look at it.  And I miss her every day as well.

This little collection of lighted houses belonged to my mother-in-law.  
It has been some time since I had them out for the holiday, 
but this year I wanted her represented in our celebration.

The other side of the lighted house display as it faces the kitchen.  

This pug ornament, a gift from my daughter, demonstrations
 so truthfully the fun loving nature of Pugs.  

My daughter and her fearless companion, Milo, 
(in the tan sweater that I made for him this season), helped with the holidays lights on the deck.  

Our tree is a mix of dog and cat ornaments. 
The two dog ornaments below show Meathead (left) and Milo (right).
Meathead was my first grand dog.  He was such a dear dog.  

This final ornament was made by my mom.  She loved crafts.

This is another of my mother-in-law's lighted houses.  
It sits in a naturally dark corner of the kitchen counter.

This final picture shows just two Santas from a large collection of Santas I once owned.  Collections became a thing of the past when we downsized.  But I kept a few of my favorite Santas.

When the kids were young, I used to decorate the whole first floor of the townhouse.  All the rooms. Regular knick knacks got packed away and everything was Christmas themed.  That was a major chore.  The decorations filled many many boxes when stored during the year and filled an entire large basement closet.  And my efforts were modest compared to some people I have known.  My neighbor below me pays for storage for her Christmas decorations.  I am sure she is not the only one who does this.

When the thrilling rush of the season began to fade during my mom's care years,  Christmas decorating faded too.  My heart wasn't in it.  Many of those items were finally downsized out of the house - holding onto only those items that had real meaning.   I could never to back to the Holiday Wonderland-style of decorating I once aimed for.  Now I am content with much less.  And because there is less, I appreciate each item that survived the purge so much more.

So how do you celebrate the season ... if you do celebrate!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Anticipating the Christmas Season

For anyone who is paying attention to the 'rules' (ok, my rules), it is now officially ok to decorate for Christmas. We are passed Halloween and Thanksgiving.  

I have to say it.   No rushing the holidays, folks.   To me that means prior to this weekend - NO Christmas stuff in the stores, no Christmas music on my favorite radio station, no Christmas themed TV commercials, and no decorating anything until after the turkey left overs are history!  And yet, the exact opposite happens every year.

Obviously I need to get these rules published somewhere!!

This year was especially frustrating.  My favorite radio station began playing 24/7 Christmas music 2 weeks before Thanksgiving.  Really, folks.  Is anyone really going to want to listen to Christmas music for 6 weeks??  Isn't that a method of torture somewhere in the world?  I have switched stations.

Several years ago I made several changes to our holiday rituals.  I stopped sending greeting cards and yearly newsletters.  Lordy that took a lot of time.  I stopped making dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies.  I had enough inches on my hips.  I stopped decorating the house like a Trim-a-Tree shop!  Two years ago I downsized all my Christmas decorations.  Moving was in our sights and some items hadn't been displayed in years.  Those changes made a BIG difference in the quality of my life around this time of year.

I kept a few traditions - Family Christmas Evening celebration with dinner and gift giving is the center piece of my holiday.  The family sleeps over and stays for Christmas morning breakfast.  I still decorate a tree but I may downsize the size of the tree in a year or two.  This year I added back in a few more house decorations - just a few - and for the first time ever, my daughter and I put lights up outside.  My deck is now festive.  Nothing fancy, but fun to look at.  And we host a Christmas party for friends the weekend after New Years.

I still struggle with the fact both my parents died within 3 days of Christmas.  The holiday lost a lot luster for me when mom went into Assisted Living - also in December - and was not able to come home for any holidays due to her disabilities.  But it has been 3 years since she died - 3 years on December 28 - and while I still miss her especially during the holidays - the intensity of that sorrow fades with time. She suffered too much to wish her back.

My decorating is finished.  My shopping is about three quarters finished.  And I will begin wrapping gifts in a week or two.  Meal planning for special events will follow.  I might even catch a few Christmas specials on TV.  On that schedule I can enjoy the holiday and find time to think on the real reason for the season.

Next up ... a few pictures of our decorations - followed by a few pictures of my finished knitted projects.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Be A Tortorise

I have one basic rule!  If it doesn't work ... cut it out!

I used that rule with my tonsils, and with my gallbladder, and with the cloudy lenses in my eyes.  Yep!  If you aren't pulling your weight in my body, you must go.

The problem with rules is there are always exceptions.  Always!

My knee is one of those exceptions, I guess.

I am still in PT.  Still.  The knee continues to improve ... slowly.  Ever so slowly.  My left knee has good days and bad days.  Bad days are shrinking in frequency ...  sort of.  And (I guess) Medicare wouldn't continue to pay for the therapy if I didn't need it!  So the glass is half full ... I guess.

Today I had a therapy session.  The therapist did a mini update in advance of my next Ortho.  She said the flexion in my left knee (the knee with the surgery) was within normal limits.  Sounded pretty good until she said the flexion in my right knee was amazing for a person of my age.   All I could think of was ... both knees were once amazing!

Ok, ok, ok.  Keep icing the knee, because I still am struggling with some swelling, keep exercising because my leg muscles are still not really strong, and stop comparing my left knee with my right knee ... 'cause comparing 'siblings knees' never comes to any good.

This evening I received a wonderful piece of advice from a cousin in an email.  "Be a tortoise."  Thank you, Susan.  Sometimes the obvious just needs to be said.

Monday, October 23, 2017


I have never been one to be patient with my own illnesses.  I guess that is a result of having pretty decent general health.  If you don't have a lot of things to recover from (or live with chronically) you never learn the art of personal patience in healing.

My earliest memory of facing a serious illness was a breast lump I found 6 months after the birth of my first child.  I was 26 years old.  I remember looking in the bathroom mirror into the eyes of the new mother I was standing there and thinking ... This . Can . Not . Be!!   A visit to the doctor confirmed my deepest desire - you are so young, chances of this being cancer are slim, we will do a needle biopsy just to confirm that fact, nothing to worry about.  Driving home after that appointment I remember thinking ... he said the word 'cancer.'  I was stoic.  I was in control.  To the casual eye - that day looked no different than any other.  But I really didn't hear anything else he said. I just heard the word 'cancer.'  That night I crumbled under the possibilities as I told my husband.  As I reached the word cancer, I started to cry.

The needle biopsy was not definitive. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy.  I was admitted to the hospital - appearing calm and resolute.  The night before surgery I had to sign away my breast - consent to removal of all breast tissue and lymph nodes if cancer was confirmed - that step would be taken while I was still under general anesthesia (remember, this was 1974 when your options were limited.). The pre-op nurse arrived right before lights out and she asked me how I felt about the possibility of losing a breast.  In that split second my mantra of life erupted from me without a second thought:  "If it is cancer they can take the whole right side of my body - just as long as they get it all.  I have a son to raise."

It wasn't cancer.  I have never faced the possibility of a fatal illness since.  Oh, yes, I had a c-sections, gallbladder removed, tonsils removed at 30, and I had early onset cataracts in my 40s.  Thankfully I was born during a time when these things didn't result in death or disability.  And none of them made me feel fearful of dying or resulted in extended healing.  I have been blessed.

But I still remember that terrible feeling of wondering in the hospital the night before - maybe I won't recover if this is cancer!

Now at 70 I recognize that my future years may be filled with more physical ailments or illnesses that cannot be fixed or cured.  I can't use my default response to failing body parts -  "If you don't work properly - I will just have you cut out."  Ha!  That method worked quite well for a gallbladder and tonsils.

And so we come to the healing of my left knee - the reason I have told this story.  It goes without saying that if my knee wasn't fix-able - I wouldn't be able to just cut it out.  So I patiently did all the right stuff - doctor visits, tests, physical therapy - and STILL it didn't improve to normal.  A cane became my companion.  My former Tai Chi instructor calls walking with a cane - walking on 3 legs.  Nope!  That was not for me.  Surgery was the next step.

And surgery confirm my problem was very fixable AND that I had young knees and connective tissues for someone who is 70.

OK ... now we are talk'en!! Expectations rose to nose bleed heights!!

Now for the healing (and the patience) part of the story  I am now 6 weeks out from surgery.  I am ready to be done with the healing part.  I want to go out and do my regular stuff without pain.   I gave it 6 weeks.  This left knee should be as strong and flexible as my right knee by now.  I am DONE DONE DONE with this!  In fact, I find myself having occasional conversations with my left knee (don't judge ... ) that go something like:  "Get over yourself left knee.  Six whole weeks, for gosh sakes!!  You need to get stop with the complaining.  Just go ask the gallbladder and tonsils how I dealt with them. Oh wait, left knee ... you might notice they are both GONE!  Ha!  So stop the swelling.  Stop popping.  Stop aching.  Stop, stop, stop."  And then I share my frustration with my physical therapist - and she calmly and quietly reminds me - "Elaine it is only 6 weeks from surgery.  Be patient."  oh ...

See??  I have learned nothing about patience in healing over 70 years.  Nothing!!

But I did learn a very important lesson when I was 26!  I won't die from this knee problem!  I will live to see and enjoy a new grandchild.   So I guess the most important lesson has been learned after all.  And knowing me - I am only good at one lesson in a lifetime! :-)

Healing just tests my patience.  I can live with that.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The RBG Workout

A new book hit the Amazon shelves this week - one that caught my eye over the summer while I was wallowing in self pity about my stupid knee.  I pre-ordered it and it showed up in my mail box yesterday.

The RBG Workout
 by Bryant Johnson

For readers who don't know who RBG is - she is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a US Supreme Court Justice.  She is 84 years old and a much admired woman in our country.

This very charming book was written by her personal trainer.  It is small but very inspiring.  The back cover says it all:

How does Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the Supreme Court's favorite octogenarians, stay so active and energetic?  She owes it in part to the twice-weekly workouts she does with her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, a man she's called "the most important person" in her life (after her family, of course).  Now, with The RBG Workout, you can exercise alongside Justice Ginsburg and Bryant.  Whether you want to keep up with one of America's most admired women or just reach your own fitness goals, this book is for you.  Case closed.

The book holds no surprises or short cuts - many of the recommended exercises are ones recommended by my physical therapist.  And the exercises are graduated in difficulty as you would expect allowing reasonable start.  They are designed to fit within an hour.  It all seems like typical common sense stuff - stuff that you have heard before.

But stop for one moment and think about these facts ...
  • She is 84 years old!  I have known a number of folks in their 80s - and they aren't able to do even 25% of the simple exercises in this book.  After nursing a knee since May, I can't do most of them either!!  She is 84 - I am 70!  hmm ...  That fact alone makes my head spin.
  • This woman can do full push ups AND planks!!  Even SIDE PLANKS.  I bow to that achievement.
  • She wears a sweat shirt when she exercises that says "Super Diva!"  How can you not love some one their 80s - mid 80s!!! -  who struts a sweat shirt like that! 
  • If you think she has exercised all her life - you are wrong!  She began this program slowly in her 60s - after surviving a bout of colorectal cancer.  After surgery, chemotherapy and radiation her husband described her as looking like "Auschwitz survivor."  And now, folks, she can DO PLANKS!  
The illustrations are all drawn.  The exercises are well described with suggestions for frequency and repetition.  
She is proof positive that there is no bad time for taking control of your own life and making a difference.

I hope you will check out the small but powerful little volume that is dedicated to not giving up on yourself no matter what your age or condition. (Of course, checking with your physician is recommended before starting an new exercise program.)

These last 6 months have been frustrating for me ... limited by a lame leg despite weeks of PT and still walking with a cane.  And the journey to regaining 2 normal legs is not quite finished.  At 70 it doesn't take too many months of inactivity to reduce you to a person older than your biological age.  I feel that way everyday now.  But the words of her trainer in the Introduction rang out very true for me.  

"You may have an appointment to the most powerful job in the world, 
but your body will still have veto power over you.
  And you're the only one with jurisdiction over your body, 
so if you don't use it, you will lose it."

Thinking of putting that quote on my fridge!

One last observation - I received 2 copies of this book.  This was not intentional - I think my brain experienced a hiccup!  *sigh*  So many parts of my body need attention! :-)

Happy Thursday all!