Monday morning at Lady B’s sewing camp, 13 girls and one boy, ranging in age from seven to 14, sat right down, each at their own Brother sewing machine, and threaded it! With a foot stretched to reach pedals, they stitched a rectangle spiral, needle down, pressure foot up, pivot. By the end of that first day, they’d made nametags by sewing fabric strips around a white rectangle, a little game board (nine patchwork squares) and playing pieces created by cutting out fabric they’d glued to flattish marbles – oh, and a little carry bag for the game.
Each day they made an object introducing new skills, and with little by way of verbal instruction, they grew accomplished by doing. They made a notebook holder (right sides together, stitching and turning, then top stitching), a pieced owl pillow with tricky pointed ears that needed filling with “fluff,” and a green fleece frog requiring fiddly turns around corners and narrow seams.
The week went so fast – such a pleasure to be with this dear and smart and thoughtful person! Before dinner each evening we ate popcorn and played a complicated dinosaur game (from Rotary and missing a critical volcano piece that we fashioned from cardboard and duct tape) and laughed lots. One evening we took pizza to the beach with our old friends who live on Bainbridge. Lady B waded in the water, then sat with us on the old plastic chairs taking part in the conversation, as the tide rose over our feet.
One memorable day we visited the Seattle Aquarium. Lady B knows much about marine animals, and with her as my tour guide, we saw seals being fed, an otter floating on its back with a shrimp tucked under its webbed foreleg, and Diver Kim in the two-story, salt-water tank feeding Northwest native animals and talking to the human audience through her microphone.
Afterward, we headed to Pike Place Market, and Lady B spotted an elevator making a quick way up (she loves to figure things out now). We visited the comic shop deep in the Market (a popular destination for her dad and brother 30 years ago – it’s changed very little), and Lady B selected two Asterix comics that she and her dad didn’t have. Then on to the Crumpet Shop, where she ate two buttery crumpets (a strong sign of approval because she’s not a huge eater).
Lady B had declared dinosaurs the theme for last year’s visit, and this year – roosters (inspired by the Rotary rooster plate but also finding many roosters around our house). It delighted her to tie things together in a category, a series. We painted while paying more attention to how many layers of glaze an image needs, and how to keep track of them. More visits and we might perfect our results.
Often this visit, Lady B asked about people and events from the past – even inquiring about Nick stories. Does any long time reader remember Nick – Nick who worked on the North Slope and had a breed-changing dog (sometimes a lab, sometimes a collie) named Quesadilla? Nick could wield a chainsaw, drive heavy equipment, ride a motorcycle – even pilot the ferry! In quiet times and on walks, I told the stories I remembered, and said we could find more in the books I have made from my blog each year.
We began by reading Lady B’s first year, all the posts with stories about her birth and Downtown Abbey, and she kept requesting, “another, another.” With only two nights of the visit left, we made it part of the way through her second year – but not to Nick.
Last week the physical therapist at Virginia Mason asked the date of my surgery, and then said: “Oh just three months? Bones can heal in that time, but then they must “remodel.” Using the image of extra mortar oozing out during construction of a brick wall, she explained that bones make extra material when repairing, and then need to smooth things out and shape the bone to meet particular needs, which requires more time.
At my low point, the surgeon told me that if he had to go through this, he’d need cheerleaders – and the physical therapists have been that. Yes, they force the bend, but they also encourage. A week ago, the therapist here asked me to walk with her – without any of my aides. I crossed a vast and empty space (or so it seemed to me), with no support except her confidence that I was ready for baby steps.
In the last three months I forgot a great deal about regular walking. The therapists encourage me to eschew the safety shuffle, stand up straight, look ahead instead of down, lift my toes, and engage the muscles of my leg. All those instructions, and my atrophied muscles and sense of balance, made me awkward and tenuous. But a couple of days later another therapist had me walk and swing my arms, humming “Tea For Two,” while she walked along with me. Steps to lift spirits.
And, as instructed, I weaned myself from wearing the brace in the house – and now in a giant step – no walker indoors either (small house, lots of walls and countertops)! Outdoors – albeit with brace, walker, and an element of pegleg – I can walk to town and back – steps to a real destination.
Blogs seem to fade away nowadays – and this one has come close – but in these months when the world has narrowed, work – being accountable to writing and image and reader – meant much to me. I often wish I had more energy to think up a project or to have some richer experience to write about. One step at a time, I tell myself.
It’s another three weeks till I can even hope to ditch the walker and brace outdoors – that will truly be a walking adventure. Not the Via Francigena or the Dingle Way – but a meaningful step all the same!
In spite of wintry cold just now, spring began with a burst of early warmth and high excitement. All those spring truisms about renewal and rebirth felt personal, as I began to relearn how to walk and to regain strength in my leg. At first I’d clump along with the walker outdoors, awkwardly picking it up every other step.
But now I’m like a teenager with her first wheels! Wheels – yes on my walker – so I can walk almost normally. The surgeon says I’m a third of the away along my nine month path to full recovery, I have six more weeks with the walker, but can begin to wean myself from the brace.
Each walk reveals more spring – the flowering fruit trees in Winslow began the cascade with a haze of pink or white. Here, the bulbs planted in the pumpkin patch last fall – jolly jonquils and large Greigii tulips in intense shades of orange and pink – open wide in sunshine. On walks in the nearby neighborhood, I see little gardens where grape hyacinth and violets emerge under returning perennials, old gardens coming back to life. This Sunday at Bloedel, on a real walk, rhododendron blossom and tiny wildflowers graced the sides of the trail. I’ve been so very aware and grateful for climbing out of the tunnel of winter and gray and limitation.
The eggs illustrating this post do dual duty – really the Easter Rabbit painted them to accompany the clues leading Sweet B and Baby Brother on a hunt for their Easter baskets.
I can hardly wait!
By all accounts, Milo was somewhat disreputable in life, yet much beloved. When he crossed the “rainbow bridge” this winter, his mistress (a good friend of my Alaska daughter-in-law) asked me if I would paint him. I found the photos irresistible, and my enthusiasm for the new year included painting Milo. Then the rough drawings sat on my table for a long non-productive time, and when I returned to attempt to capture his cuteness, Milo, in spite of his dodgy reputation, proved a genuine spirit lifter!
After I broke my kneecap, when I woke in the night, I replayed my unnecessary slip and fall – full of regret. My mom was a rusher (she broke her collar bone when rushing), so I’ve known the dangers of hurrying and inattention (maybe the latter the bigger offense). What was so important?
And even worse, when I tried to go back to sleep (after waking at 2 a.m. for half a peanut butter sandwich and Advil dose), the current regret attached to old regrets (deriving from the sub-category of stupid things I’ve done), resurfacing to swirl in my head. Not helpful.
Recently I read an article in the New York Times by the psychologist Jennifer Taitz, describing the silver lining to be found when one redirects regret. In an earlier time I might have rejected this article as impossibly Pollyannaish. For so many things, how could there possibly be a silver lining? But now, four weeks on – “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two” (as the commercial says) – and I think there are silver linings, and to look for them is a positive thing.
But don’t ask me about upsides when I am on the physical therapist’s table, and he is holding my lower leg so that it dangles and the weight encourages the knee to bend – definitely against its will. Or when his colleague, a young and strong woman who is kind and apologetic while she pushes my knee to bend against the resistance caused by weeks of immobilization as the kneecap healed. (What women we are, she repeated “sorry, sorry,” and I said “sorry, sorry” apologizing for tears). Nothing silver there. Except there is – because they are going to make it so I can walk again.
A wise woman once told me that as we age, it is hugely important to be able to be dependent (gracefully, a friend said in a comment). When you go in an instant from fully functional and rushing to scared and hobbling, it would be good to have considered ways to quiet that interior monologue – even if you fail at first. I do better listing the many, many kindnesses I have received – the goodness of people, the patience of my family and friends, this little house that functions, the professionalism and talent of medical people. The many ways I am lucky.
I did love Valentine’s Day this year – all those heart emoji – making the cards to send to the little loves of my life. And my good-natured husband Valentine has been heroic with the household chores and the grocery shopping – including lovely tulips for me to share and try to paint.
And the new year begins – pointed daffodil tips appeared in the pumpkin patch a few days ago, the construction commenced behind us (which feels like it’s in my room – three excavators, a huge Mack truck, and piles of gravel loom over our little fence and shudder the house), but I’ll add one last piece of holiday glitter below.
“Her spirits rose…” will take a little winter break – and then be back for the 10th year! I’ve been thinking about marking that with 10 series of 10 – images to celebrate all these years and reflect what the blog’s been about. (I have to say it here to make it happen.)
Thank you for being such terrific readers, and I wish each of you a peaceful, creative, and healthy new year!
At the print shop last week to copy our Christmas card, the woman helping me said, “It’s begun – the holiday rush!” I commented that time seems to go more quickly every year, and she told me that a friend of hers says a life is like a spiral. In youth, at the big outer edge, time goes slowly, in the middle of the coil, years seem of similar duration for a long time, but then, as one slips into the center, the circles are smaller, and hence faster and faster. Maybe this is a commonplace – but was new to me and seems spot on.
So, for this rapidly disappearing year, one last book. On my recent birthday I received the perfect gift book: “Gmorning, Gnight: Little Pep Talks for Me & You” by Lin-Manuel Miranda (the genius behind and star of the musical, “Hamilton”). In short word salutations for each day (originally written for Twitter), Miranda channels Dr. Seuss and his own sweet soul. Page spreads feature a morning greeting on the left and an evening salute on the right, and the book is filled with charming pen illustrations by Jonny Sun. In an introductory poem, Miranda describes how the book came to be:
…Then we sat down together and made this;
It’s the book that you hold in your hands.
You can open it at any moment or page
With the hope you find something that lands…
I find lots to land and make me smile.
A Happy Solstice to you at the end of the week – the season turns toward the light!
Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel, “Station Eleven,” set 20 years after a pandemic decimates most of the population and infrastructure of the United States, follows a band of survivors as they wander the Great Lakes region by horse and wagon. They stage Shakespeare plays in what’s left of small towns – some hostile, some welcoming. We go back in time to see the creation of a graphic novel (also “Station Eleven”) now treasured by survivors, and meet the characters when their world was intact.
Suspenseful and respectful of both characters and culture, and the need for connection and creativity, St. John said about her book, “There’s something about art I think that can remind us of our humanity. It could remind us of our civilization. So that line became almost the thesis statement of the entire novel.”
In “Snap,” by Belinda Bauer, civilization remains – but a boy’s world ends. I was hooked from the very beginning, when the pregnant mother of Jack, Joy, and baby Merry, leaves them in their broken-down car by the side of a road while she goes to find a phone box. She never comes back, and the family is so devastated, the father gives up and also disappears.
When his mother left the car, she told Jack, 11, that he’s “in charge.” And three years later – when the book takes up with the children again – he truly is. Jack’s turned cat burglar to provide for his sisters, and they pretend to the outside world that the family is intact to avoid Social Services. Jack’s determination to discover what happens to his mother fuels the plot. Insightful about grief and family and leavened with love, the book is also a terrific mystery story.
With both these books, where richly imagined characters form new worlds after the ending of the known, readers reap the rewards.