Finding the good

I can barely keep up with what day of the week it is — and today I realized it is JUNE. The year is half gone, and it’s been fairly shitty so far. Today I’m having one of those “I just can’t take one more bad thing” days, which means I need to focus on some good. Here are ten things that don’t suck (in no particular order):

  1. I’ve had time to work on a couple of quilts, which is something I really wanted to take up after the kids moved out. They did, and so I have. I’m learning, trying new things, and have joined a couple of groups online where I can ask questions without feeling dumb.
  2. I continue to make masks, mostly for friends and family, and have supplied my entire office with a colorful selection. I enjoy the bright fabrics and fun prints, which I’ve been buying from local quilt shops (thereby helping them stay in business).
  3. The backyard is looking fantastic – everything is so green, the garden is coming along well (we’ve been eating lettuce for a couple weeks), and we’ve been tackling projects that we put off for years.
  4. The warmer weather makes outdoor hang-with-friends possible (just a few, well-spaced, with masks), and my heart needs to not see people on screens now and then.
  5. A good portion of my state has opened back up, to varying degrees, and my county is on track to do so soon.
  6. We have been cooking more at home, which has made a positive impact on our eating-out costs.
  7. I had a frank discussion with a person-of-color at my chiropractor’s office about race and his experiences, and his has been mainly fair treatment and limited exposure to racism, for which I was very glad.
  8. I learned how to listen to audiobooks from the public library, which has been a great background to sewing masks.
  9. There are two babies due in the family this year, and I do love babies…
  10. I do not rely on my soap business to generate an actual income, and so despite losing more than three quarters of my sales this year due to cancellation of street fairs, it will not affect my ability to pay our bills.
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Things are just weird

The Mr. and I are fortunate in that we have remained at our jobs through the pandemic that sent so many people to unemployment websites. My office has had to respond to a decrease in business, but we will survive this – unlike many other businesses that have closed permanently. Neither of us has a job that can be performed remotely, so we have also been commuting to and from work five days a week – and this has lent a modicum of normality to our routine. We get up and go to work, return from work and make dinner and do a few chores. On the weekends we do some yard work or house projects.

But that’s pretty much where the illusion that everything is fine ends. I wear a mask for my train commute. We wear them to the grocery store, the hardware store, the produce stands – pretty much the only places that are open for customers. Meeting up with friends has gone online, which, after days full of online meetings at work, feels a lot less relaxing than it should. My office is devoid of employees, having sent them all to work from home I am the lone person in a 9,000 SF space; here to restart computers, load paper into copiers, get the mail, research old projects info that isn’t electronic, pay bills. The silence is deafening, and having walked through a deserted downtown tourist district that is usually busting at the seams with people, the solitude weighs heavily on me.

In the evenings I’ve been sewing cloth masks, since we are ‘encouraged’ (and in some situations, required) to wear them while in public. Social distancing means that even if I do get to see family and friends it’s from a distance, usually with a mask on, outside to reduce the risk of exposure. As an adult, I know this is a temporary inconvenience – but I worry for the children too young to have that perspective. Children like my granddaughter, who doesn’t understand why the playgrounds are closed and now assumes every person she sees is sick.

I worry for the people in domestic abuse environments, or with drug dependence, physical impairments, mental illness, or chronic health conditions. I worry for the people that are avoiding, or cannot get, routine health care right now. I worry for the people who cannot get financial assistance, or whose landlords are not abiding the emergency laws, or who are losing their livelihood.

I try to take sips of the news, as the overwhelming sadness is just too much in larger doses. I’ve been knitting a little, making soap here and there, and doing a lot of yard work when the weather allows. We are finally tackling some large landscaping projects that we’ve put off for years. The Mr and I have watched more movies and TV shows than is typical. I’d like to say the house is cleaner but that’s a lie – who is going to see it anyway? I’d also like to say that I’ve taken up a new workout routine, or that I’ve been eating better – also not true. Mostly I’ve been sewing masks, donating my time and a large number of the masks to people in need of them, charging for a few to help replenish the supplies. It’s a small gesture, but it’s something I can do, and people appreciate it.

We’ve been cooking at home, doing a little take-out here and there, and I’ve allowed myself a bit of comfort eating when the mood hits. I walk several miles every day, and try to remember to stretch now and then; digging has been the primary exercise lately and I suppose it’s a good one.

We are still grieving the loss of our loved one, not quite three months ago. We maintain the yard at his house so it doesn’t look as empty, have picked up some trash, go in several times a week to check on things. The family memorial is postponed until everyone feels safe to gather again, so grief is suspended in a weird way. His clothes remain in our house, clean and folded and boxed up, waiting for donation sites to open again. Cleaning out of the house is similarly on hold.

Everything feels like it is on hold.

Posted in Family nonsense, Grief and Loss, Health & Wellness, Sewing & Quilting, Soap & Other Crafts, The Great Outdoors | Leave a comment

With hook and needle

One knit blanket done and a crochet one begun!

Ten Stitch Blanket

I am feeling better, more stable. Time blunts the sharp edges of grief, and there are many things in my life to be grateful for. New babies, for one. I finished the Ten Stitch Blanket, and have started a Bakewell Blanket. Both are for wee ones expected this year.

The Bakewell Blanket

The world is a bit of a shit show right now, but in my little corner I’m focusing on making things – it keeps the hands and mind busy while giving me that sense of accomplishment. When so much is out of my control, I can at least plant a garden or sew a few masks.

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Onward. With knitting.

Knitting is great therapy, I highly recommend it. I’ve been pecking away at a Ten-Stitch Blanket, with some Lion Brand Mandala yarn. It’s currently 26″ across, and will be a baby blanket – so I have a few rounds yet to go. After that wee ball at the top is used up I have another whole skein, so no worries on running out of yarn.

This is good TV knitting, as it’s pretty mindless until you get to a corner. Mine has a slight skew to it, which means I probably got ‘off’ at the very beginning but I like it.

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Ten days

Pictures are hard. You want to see them, to remember, but they also make you so very sad when you think of the loved one that will no longer enjoy those things that brought him joy, no longer hear the stupid puns or weird observations he was so keen on sharing. The family BBQs, birthday parties, holidays, drinks with friends, road trips. You’ve met some of his friends and they are exactly the kind of people you hoped he’d be friends with – witty, welcoming, caring, regular people. People that enjoyed his company, that can tell a joke, that miss him. And it makes you both sad and angry all over again because you can’t help but wonder why he didn’t reach out to one of them, why he didn’t raise his hand and say, “hey, I need some help here.”

Onward: that’s what we do, right? We make plans, we arrange a service, we carry on with the day to day activities that we were doing eleven days ago. Only now there is this grief running beneath it and it catches you by surprise when you scroll thru your social media feed, or find a photo in your kid’s album. And though your appetite has returned, it still affects your sleep, makes you foggy-headed and slow.

You know grieving is a process. You’ve lost family and friends before, to illness and old age; you know that time softens the grief. But this is the first in your life to leave under these circumstances and you grapple with the anger, which you weren’t expecting.

You try to catch up on work, chores, missed appointments. You return to your hobbies, the easy ones that don’t require tons of focused thought. Has it only been ten days? It feels like forever. And yesterday.

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Plodding along

Balanced on a cliff’s edge, we plod through the days. Most return to work because we need the routine and diversion, and of course, the income. A memorial service is planned, airfare discussed for the distant one, more gatherings in living rooms to figure out what to do next. His sister mentions that she’s been journaling; you agree that getting the thoughts out is better than holding them in but vocalizing is not yet possible because the wall holding back the tears is tissue-paper thin. The Mr seems to have found some solace in the mundane task of gathering, washing, sorting, and folding the lost one’s clothes; we set aside a few chosen items as mementos. The parents select what the lost one will wear for today’s appointment. 

Anger gives way to profound sadness as you contemplate what the lost one must have been feeling to have made this choice. You can’t help but think about the days where nobody suspected a problem, and the one person that most needed help remained silent. Guilt washes over you as you wonder if you missed some signal, overlooked a hint. You make donations to organizations that shouldn’t exist but you are glad they do, even if they did not help prevent this tragedy. There is no indication that the lost one reached out to anyone. You think about his demeanor when you saw him last, examine every interaction over the past few months looking for clues. Nothing, nothing.

This new normal has a hole in it, one with sharp edges just waiting to tear open our fragile control. You examine your pain and cannot fathom how much deeper it must be for the parents. Yes, the lost one was like a brother but he was not your son. You think of your sons and step quickly back because you cannot, will not, consider that possibility. You force your attention to something much less painful, to figuring out what you can do to ease some responsibilities – because you know you cannot ease their grief.

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The loss of a loved one

Grief is a funny thing. It comes out of nowhere, after a typical Friday evening spent doing mundane things with your partner like making dinner and watching a movie and not worrying about anything really important. And then a knock on the door starts a chain reaction that you can’t see the end of.

You pause the movie, take the person inside, try to calm her down; reassure her that she is probably overreacting. But the rational part of you, the part that suspects because you know that life is a shit show and terrible things happen to good people, is awakened and you feel the adrenaline flood your body as you try to reassure both her and yourself that this is a false alarm, nothing to worry about, there’s a simple explanation.

Your partner takes a spare key and they walk down the street together to check the house; you stay behind but look up hospital phone numbers just in case because you are running scenarios in your mind. It doesn’t take long, and then the front door opens again and you know for sure as she stumbles inside, her face paper white and her hands ice cold. Your partner did not return with her.

For a few seconds your mind struggles to comprehend. She doesn’t say a single word, she cannot as she sinks to the floor and begins to shake, but you don’t need words – everything you need to know is right there on her face so you run down the street, just four houses away, no tears yet but your brain is trying to tell you something. You can’t listen to that voice, not yet. 

And then you see your partner sitting on the porch with his head in his hands and every scrap of hopeful doubt that you were hanging on to is gone. Shock washes over you and you begin to tremble; it squeezes your body in such a way that you can’t hear, can’t think, can’t put together a sentence. In seconds, as comprehension sets in, grief crushes you, taking your breath away and your feet out from under you. You sit beside your partner and both of you gasp for air, holding on to each other but unable to stay afloat in this new reality that has just crashed down upon you.

You can’t follow what the medics are saying, you ask them to repeat it again. And again. What happened? Who are we waiting for? Nothing makes sense. You can’t go into the house, please wait outside. The police ask for identification, establish who is what relation to the lost one, who lives in the house, and what we were all doing before calling 911.

The police say words you don’t understand. You call his parents and his sister, because your partner is unable to; and cry even more as they arrive and fall under the weight of the grief that hangs over everything. You all wait in the cold while a parade of first responders and police tromp thru the house. Respectful, polite, somber. They offer their condolences and blankets and water bottles but don’t tell you anything, really. You call your children because they grew up with the lost one and they will be devastated but need to know. The police still won’t let you into the house. They hand you business cards, take photos, ask questions. Say the same words that make no sense. Neighbors come out to see what is going on, following the flashing lights. The police ask the same questions again. And again. No, we say. No.

There’s nothing to do so the police release everyone to stumble back to your house to get warm and wait. Hours go by and your mind is awash in memories and questions of your own. Every thought is of the one you just lost, almost-forgotten memories spark and demand attention. You think of the last time you saw them, your last interaction, and you wonder if you should have done something different. If you should have, could have, known. So many questions and so few answers.

Real-life investigations take much longer than you have been led to believe from TV shows. Statements are taken, referrals to grief counseling are handed out, more condolences. Numbness settles over you as you begin to wonder what to do. It’s far too late to do anything really, so you putter, wiping the counter and offering tea. You can’t sit still for long. The policeman gives you just enough answers to raise a million more questions: what if, why. Finally, everyone goes home and you try to sleep. It’s not possible, of course, and you can’t focus on anything except the grief and the questions. It is the early hours of the morning, the weekend; not much is going to happen until Monday. 

Grief steals your sleep, steals your appetite. You stumble thru the weekend, crying, making more phone calls, gathering with family, sharing the sadness, sharing memories. You force yourself to eat some carrots and celery from a platter, and drink too much coffee. You wonder what the hell to do now. The lost one was your brother, too; his life twined with your own from the day he was born and raised alongside your children – a brother to them as well, just a couple years apart – he is in three decades’ worth of memories.

Monday comes and you have to do something. Have to protect the parents because while losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent there are things a parent should not have to see. You and your partner gather supplies – gloves, garbage bags, cleaners – and trudge down the street. You clean the kitchen first because it is easier, just normal cleaning of a dirty kitchen. Not fun, but not as heart-wrenching as what he is tackling in the other room. You steel yourself, bar your heart and barricade your mind as you focus on the cleaning. You sweep up garbage, gather mail, pick up dirty clothes from the living room, throw out rotten potatoes. Finally you go join him in the other room because it’s too much for one person and he should not bear this alone; you try not to think as you kneel beside your partner and help scrub and rinse and throw towels away, tears running down your face. 

The day moves on and anger settles in like a storm cloud. You yell at the lost one in your mind and cry all over again as plans and arrangements are made. The anger wars with the grief, each alternately taking control of your thoughts until regret sneaks in and even as you reassure others that it isn’t their fault you wonder what if. Why.

Tuesday comes and you can’t quite face the world but you can’t sit in the house any more so you put a coat on and walk and walk and walk. A bus takes you somewhere you can be anonymous and you choke down some food because you know you should. But the world is small and you run into a relative; it catches you by surprise and you do your best to not break down in public. You stumble home and reach out to your children, check on them, feel angry again that they must deal with this loss.

Later that night you catch your breath a little bit – you find yourself chuckling at a stupid game show on TV. You get a few hours sleep, take a shower, and go to work because you need something else to think about.

Wednesday. You eat half an apple and some peanut butter, still no appetite for a real meal. And then a friend says they are thinking of you and suddenly you are drowning again, hiding in the bathroom as ugly sobs wrack your body, the pain knifing through your heart.  Your control is on thin ice, your mind will not stay out of the memory trenches and it only takes one kind word, one awkward hug, one sympathy card left on your desk and you are lost again.

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Two steps back

Fed up with being out of shape, I joined a local gym a couple weeks ago. I’ve gone several times, trying to figure out what will work for me, hold my attention, and what my body can withstand. So far I’ve determined that spin class is not yet a good idea (my knees swelled up and I limped for four days), I’m nowhere near being ready for a full-on ‘boot camp’ type class (even the lightest weights were too heavy), and yoga requires more overall strength than I currently possess. Apparently, I am somewhere below “Beginner” level in terms of fitness. Age, extra pounds, and that lovely perimenopause that I was unprepared for have left me as weak and soft as an overcooked spaghetti noodle.

I swallowed what little pride I have left and scrapped the fancy classes – and yesterday I did a circuit through the machines with the weights set pretty light. I did ten reps, twice, on each machine to get a pretty thorough workout of all the muscle groups, and five minutes each on the rower and treadmill to get some cardio. I’m feeling sore in certain muscles today (back, triceps, chest) and no soreness in others (quads, glutes) which tells me I did pretty well estimating my upper body strength (nonexistent) and that I could go just a touch more weight on the lower body (thanks, three-mile walking commute!). Certain muscle groups are surprisingly weak, like my calves and shoulders.

Tomorrow I meet with a nutritionist, and Friday with an actual trainer to work out a more comprehensive plan for working out. I’ve ordered a swim cap so I can get in the pool, and I started tracking my food. With the metabolism of a hibernating frog, it’s easy for me to overeat; gotta work on burning more calories while also making better food choices. Thank goodness the holidays are behind us!

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Unexpected side effects

As our kids were growing up, I kept hearing how great it would be to have an Empty Nest. Bittersweet, for sure, but overall nice to live as an adult again instead of “so-and-so’s mom”. And at first, it was a really nice change of pace. The peace and quiet, the lower grocery (and water!) bills, the reduced housework.

But all that reduction has also meant a dramatic decrease in my physical activity. Without the need to haul massive bags of groceries, overflowing laundry baskets, or armfuls of someone else’s stuff, I have found myself getting more and more out of shape. Even housework doesn’t offer as good of a workout anymore, since the two of us don’t make much of a mess – I do a lot less bending over to pick up stuff of the floor, make fewer trips thru the house, and even washing up the dishes only takes a couple minutes.

I’m not about to hire myself out as a housekeeper just to get more exercise, lol, but it dawned on my that this is a seriously overlooked part of the Empty Nester. I can’t even begin to imagine how many squats and toe-touches I’ve done in my nearly 30 years of raising children, just to pick up toys, stray socks, and homework folders. The occasional visit of the grandlittle doesn’t make up for the days and days where I don’t have to pick up a single thing from the floor except my own shoes.

And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that once you start getting soft, it’s easy to stay soft… After all, exercise is hard! It’s exhausting! So much easier to just relax on the couch and watch an episode of something on the streaming service of choice while enjoying my admittedly sedentary hobbies.

Buuuutttt – getting older is not for the faint of heart, and I am well aware of how poor lifestyle choices can greatly shorten your days above ground. After dabbling in a few things that either hurt my knees or that I just couldn’t get myself motivated to do reliably on my own, I took myself to a local gym.

Now there’s a plan. Something designed for the perimenopausal, overweight, out of shape, working female of questionable dedication. Someone is assigned to check in with me, to schedule classes (there’s already several on my calendar), to hold me accountable so I can create a new routine that makes me stronger. We have a plan of attack to find those muscles that I’ve allowed to grow dormant and weak. It’s gonna hurt (my pride, mostly), but I don’t like what I see in the mirror, or how I feel going up a flight of stairs.

The first couple of classes have been pretty brutal. I am an absolute beginner again, which is hard to accept when so many other areas of my life show the results of a lot of hard work. I can knit the most complicated cable or lace but can’t do a full regular push-up. I have a long road ahead of me, but all winter to work up to some warm-weather hikes!

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Sometimes it’s just too much

I had to take a bit of a blog break; 2019 is kicking my arse and I didn’t want to whine about it online too much. I think (hope) the worst is now behind us, and I can focus on a happier 2020. Fingers firmly crossed. I have much to be thankful and grateful for, and am firmly turning my mind to those items instead.

There has been a lot of knitting and sewing over the past few months, and I received some lovely gifts for Christmas (with copious amounts of chocolate and yarn-related things). There was family, food, and the joy of watching small children overwhelmed by presents and unlimited tables of treats. There was the satisfaction of helping people and causes that are loved. There were quiet nights watching TV, phone calls and texts with friends and family, and cookies. So many cookies.

As we settle into the winter, I am looking forward to planning my spring garden, a new soap studio, and spending some much-needed hours in my craft room getting that mess tidied up.

Here is a quick picture of my current commuter project – socks, of course.

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