Excused Absences, Part One

Last time I wrote I alluded to big changes happening in my life. I mentioned that I was downsizing my practice in order to devote more time to my own creativity, and to being  a more hands on  grandmother. I know what you asked yourself: Why does she have to do this NOW???lillian-8

Because LILLIAN!!!! That’s why!!!

In the midst of preparing to be an out of town grandmother, I received the  unexpected but thrilling news  from my “baby”, Nick, and his girlfriend Heather, that early in 2015 I was also to become an in-town  grandmother.! As soon as my head began to spin more slowly atop my neck, I began to ask myself the questions that have no answers. They were deep questions indeed. For example, “WHAT??? This son of mine, this man/boy who still has his mail sent to our house is going to be a father? What’s to become of us all? ” And “What if he insists on naming the child after an NFL football player, how will I cope?”  You know, the types of questions one asks one’s self thirty thousand times in the middle of the night.

Him? A Dad?

Him? A Dad?

Thirty thousand  unanswered questions later, my mind was able to focus on more practical matters. Maybe I would have no say in what the child would be named, but I could certainly make myself available to be helpful. And if I played my cards right, maybe I would get to do some of the things for THIS new Mama that my Mother, an in town grandmother, got to do for me.( And which I promptly took for granted.) Of course my own Mother felt she had license to just barge right in and do things, but since I would be a paternal grandmother, I knew I would have to earn my spot at the table. I knew I would have to use all my considerable subtleness, lest I be declared a nuisance.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

What were my parents having for dinner after my Mother helped me all day long? I must admit it never crossed my mind.

Meanwhile, as I mentally ran in circles, Heather, the new Mama, ran circles around me, taking care of herself, preparing for the baby, working and going to school. I cannot say enough good about Heather. Her strength and integrity remind me of why it is that women run this world. We’re just better at it. I am  grateful that Heather  will be the model for Lillian in so many important ways.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

My sweet Heather, on the right, with her sister, five days before the baby was born.

And what fun Heather has let me have! As her pregnancy neared the end, she let me take her to some of her Doctor’s appointments and then out to lunch, just as my Mother used to do for me, and just as I would have loved to be able to do for my own daughter. The day before she went in labor we went to about 5 stores getting whatever baby items they still needed, and then to eat authentic Mexican food. Sure enough, she went in labor the next morning, and guess who they called? ME ME ME ME ME!!!!!! And guess who ran a red light with impunity on the way to hospital? ME ME ME ME!!!!!!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

I got to be there for most of the labor!

And I was out in the peanut gallery when she was born! Heather’s family arrived from out of town later that day to join in the celebration.

Yep. My baby's a Daddy!

Yep. My baby’s a Daddy!

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Grandaddy with his new sweetheart.

Since the baby has been born I have been off of work so that I can go to my son’s house almost every day to help. I envisioned  many after- baby scenarios, mostly involving sleep deprived parents and screaming babies,  but none with an easy baby who sleeps all the time, because I never had one of those. Miss Lillian, however, is thus far an easy and happily breast fed baby, so I haven’t been needed as much as I thought.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

Lillian in the blanket I barely finished before she was born.

But nursing Mamas need to eat, don’t they? And Heather has allowed me free reign in the kitchen. I love to shoo her off for a nap, and then because the baby is so easy, I can whip the parents up something nourishing for dinner. Part of the fun is the challenge of working in someone else’s kitchen, especially your son’s former bachelor kitchen, where there is nary a pot holder to be found. I scurry around their kitchen, making a big mess and muttering delightedly , a la Sally Field at the Oscars, “They need me! They NEED ME!”

Soon Heather’s family will be back to marvel over how big Lillian has grown. Naturally I plan to (cough) gracefully step aside and let them have their share of Grandparent Crack. I’m a reasonable person.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Bread rising on a cloth diaper.

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd's pie

Using the kitchen sink as a countertop to mash potatoes for shepherd’s pie Also I noticed that day that my camera smelled like an onion. It was worth it.

That’s about it for today. If you’ve wondered where I have been, now you know. And if you need me, you know where I’ll be. Hopefully I can get around to catching up on all of YOUR blog posts that I’ve missed this past month. Meanwhile, tonight’s menu is chicken parmesan with orzo and sautéed zucchini and tomatoes. I’d better get on it!

A Tale Of More Than Two Slippers

Before you read this I just want to whisper that though this post does mention France, that it is in no way a commentary on the recent tragedies there. Je suis Charlie.

Recently my life has reminded me a lot of the French Revolution, and more specifically of A  Tale Of Two Cities. It’s been the best of times. I am healthy, loved, housed, and employed, claims the most fortunate  of French peasants probably couldn’t have made. Yet the wagon wheels of Change have clattered their way to my gate, loudly demanding entrance. I have quaked inside my little fictional French hut, but in the end have had to open the door. I can’t say it has been the worst of times, but it hasn’t been pleasant. If you recall from your history studies, the French Revolution was a time of great upheaval. It took the storming of the Bastille, the Reign of Terror and I don’t know what all else, but in the end the monarchy and feudalism no longer existed.  Like the crusaders for change in France, I too have hoped to achieve lofty goals, except I have tried unsuccessfully to avoid the painful parts.

Here is what has happened. I have had to accept that in order to follow my creative pursuits AND be the grandmother I want to be that I must reduce my clinical social work practice considerably. And like the French Revolution, this has caused great chaos  in my psyche. I think it is all going to turn out fine, but the inner suffering has not been fun. And I’ve had to go about my daily business just as if there were not a shiny guillotine inside my head preparing to lop off  long standing therapeutic relationships and possibly my professional reputation.

In the midst of change we all seek inspiration from people who have traveled similar roads. At first, my situation seemed so unique to me that I just stumbled on alone. But after a time I found solidarity with the characters from  A Tale Of Two Cities.

First, I sent my inner doppelgänger to do my dirty work. Just as Sydney Carton took the rap for Charles Darnay, some part of me managed to tell clients that my schedule will be changing, that I will no longer take their insurance, and that they may choose to continue their therapy with someone else. The changes in my life don’t make me guilty any more than Charles Darnay was, but it felt pretty dangerous anyway. I also sent the doppelgänger out to social events over the holidays because I was so preoccupied. Sadly, the doppelgänger refused to write any blog posts for me, but no one gets everything they want.

Second, I have kept careful notice of the whole process, not to keep score as did Madame  Du Farge, but in order to be as present as possible. When I was building my practice I never thought about what it would be like to dismantle it. Like a faithful servant I supposed all of that would be taken care of by my Master when the time came. And then I realized that I am the Master, so I had better pay attention and remember. I want to honor the hard work done through the years by many courageous clients.

Third, like Dr. Mornay when he was finally released from prison, I have isolated and tried to make shoes. Really and truly. I have tried for months to make one lousy pair of slippers.  When one is under stress even the most simple task can seem monumental. All through the fall I tried to make these VERY SIMPLE felted slippers, and time after time I failed. Want to see  the lineup?

My first effort can’t be shown because  THEY FELL APART while felting. Sigh. Bought more yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-13Wondered why they wouldn’t felt. Because I used the WRONG YARN. That’s why. Bought the correct yarn. Tried again.slippers (1 of 1)-15Finished the first slipper. Why did it look so different from the previous ones? Because I forgot to double the yarn, that’s why. Started over with doubled yarn.slippers (1 of 1)-14Finished this slipper. Washed and washed until I realized that my brand new washing machine was just not going to felt. I would have to buy a felting machine. Felt like storming the Bastille. Bought felting machine. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-16Ripped the back of these trying to cram them on my feet. Why were they so little? Checked needle size. Wrong sized needle. Why, oh why, didn’t my doppelgänger know how to follow a simple pattern? Such are the trials of revolution. Started over.slippers (1 of 1)-9Finally a pair of slippers that seemed  like reasonable candidates for felting. Now to felt, decorate in a low key manner, because one could not tempt fate with conspicuous frippery nor appear to be a member of the aristocracy, and apply fabric paint to the soles for traction.slippers (1 of 1)-17How about these understated beauties?slippers (1 of 1)-18And here are the soles after a few celebratory wearings.

I admired  my feet in my darling little slippers. I had struggled to make these all through the time I was wrestling with the changes I needed to make in my life. I could see the parallels. The past few months have  been the best in some ways, and the worst in others. Revolution has definitely been in the air. But today, my toes are  wriggling appreciatively in their new warm slippers. Everything is going to be fine.

What It’s All About

Sometimes I just don’t pay attention to what is really important. Instead I   allow myself to be carried along by what strikes me at the moment. I suppose that is what happened when several months ago I agreed to attend a retreat called The Chemistry Of Connection at Garrison Institute in upstate New York. My colleague and I were familiar with two of the presenters, authors of books on mindfulness, so that meant it would probably be worthwhile. Also we were entranced by the description of the Institute – a former Capuchin monastery, overlooking the Hudson River. We skipped right over the part where the weekend was open to the general public, as well as the part where the other two speakers did not seem connected to mental health. After all, we could just skip their parts if we wanted to.

Once we realized we would need to fly into New York City we decided to stay there for a day and a half before taking the train to the Institute. Planning those days involved furiously comparing hotels and airline flights and scoping out museums. We were sure  we needed to have a quality experience before we went on to whatever that thing was we had signed up for.

The next thing I knew I was in New York City, surrounded by the sensory overload of the crowds, the traffic and the trappings of the holidays. I quickly adapted to city mode; staring straight ahead, paying attention only to what I was doing. Our advance planning paid off, for we enjoyed the Met and a food tour at the Tenement Museum without mishap.new york (35 of 99)-2  True, out hotel was overbooked for the first night, causing us to have to go “up the block” to another hotel for the night, but we were handsomely upgraded on the second night. We left New York City feeling like royalty.

We disembarked from the train at the hamlet of Garrison, which seemed to consist of four buildings and a fierce wind blowing off the Hudson River. A fast phone call to the Institute informed us that it was lunch hour, so we would have to wait in the cold for twenty minutes…unless we could find some humans to let us into one of those buildings. We crossed over the heated railroad overpass, bent on survival, past a lone man with a backpack, to said buildings, where we were  able to wheedle our way into an art gallery holiday sale. In due time, we crossed back across the tracks, past the backpack man, to wait for the shuttle.new york (92 of 99)-2

To our surprise when the shuttle arrived, that same man climbed on the shuttle with us. The shuttle driver asked us what we were here for and we told her. She mentioned that our retreat would be featuring horses. HORSES?? I heard my colleague say “I didn’t know this was a horsey weekend!” What was this retreat about, anyway?

We drove up a winding driveway to the imposing brick monastery. new york (76 of 99)-2new york (78 of 99)-2Inside we checked in and were  assigned rooms. I heard the backpack man say his name was Aaron Wolf. Wait a minute! Wasn’t that the name of one of the presenters? Quick – what had we said in the shuttle, and did it sound reasonably intelligent? In order to avoid further embarrassment we fled the reception area, barely registering the directive to report to the refectory at 5:00P.M. to be trained for the house jobs we had apparently signed up for.

We climbed the stairs to behold a long empty hallway of former monk cells. The clatter of our heels on the wide plank floor was the only sound. My cell was bathed in the weakening winter sunlight. new york (73 of 99)I turned on the radiator and made the bed with crisp white sheets. new york (41 of 99)-2This was to be my sanctuary for the next two nights. I longed to spend the whole weekend in this simple room, absorbing the peace and quiet and savoring each passing moment of the days.

But that was not to be, for I was at a retreat planned by someone else. Meaning I had not made the plan, and this made me uneasy, for I have not been able to entirely rid myself of the idea that I have control over things.new york (38 of 99)

After some time on our own my colleague and I reported to the refectory for training. There we were treated to  a thorough tour of the industrial kitchen, where it turned out that we would be doing the dishes for eighty people. And not only that, we were to eat quickly so as to report to kitchen in a timely manner. WHAT????!!! Wasn’t it bad enough that food was only available at certain times, but now when I did eat I would have to hurry? My neck muscles were clenched so tightly I’m surprised no one heard them squealing.

What to do? Embrace my control issues or move forward with as open a heart as possible? I decided upon the latter and found that the delicious and plentiful food left no room for a sense of deprivation. Many plates, cups, and glasses later I joined my co-retreatants in the meditation hall to hear Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence    and Tara Goleman, author of Emotional Alchemy   and Mind Whisperer.   Their reviews of neurobiology and the travails of the amygdala were good to hear.  I could have used some help with my own amygdala that very day.new york (75 of 99)-2

As I listened to the discussion it dawned on me that this was not a roomful of burned out therapists sitting silently diagnosing one another. In fact there were very few mental health people. Instead there were lawyers, teachers, pastors and non profit gurus, all interested in how to make better connections with others. It was heart warming to see such enthusiasm.

The next morning we met for some basic meditation and practice. Despite my having spent a lovely night in my austere cell, I was restless. I had had it in my mind that we would be given long periods of time for personal reflection, but instead we were to interact with one another. I have a hard time sitting still and had neglected to bring my knitting. I longed to take to the hiking paths on my own. But I stayed, either because of some inner strength or the desire not to call attention to myself by getting up and leaving. I’ll say it was a well of inner resolve.new york (87 of 99)-2

That  resolve was put to the test that afternoon when we met outside in the wind for a demonstration by a horse whisperer. His goal I believe was to reinforce the point that in order to have a true connection, both parties must feel safe and respected. I found I was mesmerized by R.J. the horse whisperer, whose gentle way of the horses conveyed such love and caring. He reminded us that it is better to lead by suggestion than to rely on intimidation.new york (51 of 99)

Sitting on that cold bench, I had to be honest with myself. How many times did I enter a new situation fully convinced that I know the right thing to do and that others should just do as I say? Had I not come to this very retreat all tied up in my own agenda? This was certainly food for thought.

Our evening session was led by Dr. Aaron Wolf, the man I had been too self important to notice at the train station. Who knew that Dr. Wolf was a well known hydrologist and known internationally for helping mediate disputes over water rights? He was so kind that I cannot believe he held my snub against him; after all I had just come from the big city where we don’t approach strange men. Still… Anyway, in his dynamic way he showed his approach to conflict resolution: know your own process, and stop, breathe, and listen.new york (83 of 99)-2

Suddenly it was Sunday morning, and time for the wrap up session. The chairs were arranged in a circle, to reinforce the equality among the participants. Every person was allowed to comment briefly or ask a question. I chose not to speak,because I tend to be long winded, but if I had I would have said how fortunate I felt to have stumbled upon this diverse group in such peaceful surroundings, and from such an apparently unlikely team of a husband and wife, a horse whisperer and a hydrologist to have learned such valuable lessons about how to respect myself and others. That I need to approach situations without my own agenda if I hope to make a true connection. That washing the dishes wan’t so bad. That though I had no idea what this weekend was supposed to be about, I had learned just what I was supposed to. Guess that’s what it was all about!new york (98 of 99)-2

Mayhem, Anyone?

You know Kelly Suellentrop from over at “Are You Finished Yet,” right? I’m pleased to share the news that her  new read aloud children’s picture book, “Absolute Mayhem”, is being released just in time for holiday shopping and holiday memory making. Let me tell you about it! 9780692311011.MAIN As a new grandmother, watching my daughter center her entire day around my grandson, knowing her focus on his every move will last for years, it dawns on me that parenting is a whole lot of work. Why must it be so hard? Why can’t we just let the little critters do whatever they want to do? Because it’s not good for them; that’s why! Take Lulu and Milo, the protagonists of Kelly Suellentrop’s delightful new read aloud picture book “Absolute Mayhem”. What a grueling week these two have, working math problems, eating balanced meals, doing chores, and going to bed early. I’ll bet Lulu and Milo feel like the most put upon children on the block. Sound familiar? But the siblings have a secret weapon – the “absolute mayhem” they’re looking forward to on the weekend. Suellentrop’s use of color helps show the contrast between the weekday world and the weekend world. All week life is pictured in an oh- so- mundane back and white, while the weekend erupts in riotous color as the children become royalty, explorers, and adventurers, able to live life on their own terms. Anything goes on the weekend, because absolute mayhem means “fun rules the day”. And the children indulge to their heart’s content. The trouble is that they indulge past their hearts’ content, and soon are tired, cranky and way over-sugared. Mayhem indeed. Could it be that by the end of the weekend with no limits whatsoever  – dare I say it – the children are looking forward to their once hated weekday routine? I am thrilled to see a read aloud picture book that helps children learn in a fun way that there is a time for everything. There is a time for imagination and flight of fancy – as long as they help get those fractions done. But there is also a time to keep to commitment, routine and repetition, which help children feel safe and secure. Children won’t thank us for the rules we impose, but it is our job as parents nonetheless. I predict that every overworked, under appreciated parent will feel some much needed validation when they read “Absolute Mayhem” aloud with their children. The story is crafted so skillfully that even the children will be nodding their heads in agreement that Lulu and Milo had best have an early bedtime. No parent will want to miss that moment! Here’s a you tube  video of Lulu and Milo coming to life. After you watch the video fifteen times, head on over to Amazon and order yourself a copy… and let the mayhem begin!

Play It Again

The empty brown book stared at me reproachfully, I thought, as I passed by it several times each day. I pretended not to hear it remind me that I was supposed to be filling the blank pages with sketches… of something, but what could the something be? Ever since I had excitedly unwrapped my sketchbook it had been languishing on the bookcase, light brown, nondescript, practically invisible to all but me.

Several months before, I had sent for the book, eager to participate in The Sketchbook Project. ( I learned about the project from Andra Watkins at The Accidental Cootchie Mama.) If you have not heard of the Sketchbook Project, it  is a crowd sourced library of sketchbooks. You fill in your book, send it in, and it goes on traveling exhibits to museums. If you digitize your book, you will receive an email every time someone checks out your book from the exhibit. At least that is how I understand the process.

So now all I had to do was fill in the book. One day my grandmotherly thoughts mixed in with my thoughts of needing to complete the book. And Eureka! I had it! I would make the book be about what we old people used to play when we were little.

As a perpetual child, parent, grandparent, and play therapist, the idea of a book about playing  resonated with me. Play is the work of children, but adults need to play as well. Documenting my play history would be a way to preserve memories for my grandchildren but would also be fun for me right now.

Psst. Hey.  I’m Mindfulmagpie’s inner sixth grader. While Mindful is at the post office mailing in our sketchbook, I’m going to surprise her and complete her post. I should be writing the post anyway because I’m the one who completed the sketchbook!  I know lots of sketchbooks are probably done by adult artists but that’s OK. I may be an adult artist one day. Here’s the cover!
sketchbook (100 of 121)

The cover was brown card stock. I covered it with construction paper and photos, and topped it off with two coats of Mod Podge. sketchbook (102 of 121) I didn’t mind letting Mindful dedicate the book to her grandchildren. We’re all children anyway. Mindful and I had a really good time remembering what all we used to play when we were very young.

sketchbook (74 of 121) My first playmate was my older brother. He’s in the eighth grade now so we don’t have much to do with each other.sketchbook (106 of 121) sketchbook (77 of 121)  I don’t remember the Hansel and Gretel episode. But I do remember the time we played ‘saloon” with mugs and soapy water while my mother was taking a nap. As we slid each mug down the countertop just the way they did in the Westerns, our mugs hit the broken tile floor with a resounding crash. Our Mother was not amused.sketchbook (79 of 121)

Next I began to play with the children in the neighborhood. Someone was always outside playing.
sketchbook (80 of 121)sketchbook (81 of 121) We had good times displaying our art at Mammaw’s house.sketchbook (110 of 121) Oops! I made a mistake on this page, making  a colored test pattern on a black and white TV. Maybe I thought in color. Now, in sixth grade, we do have a color TV. And central air, finally.sketchbook (112 of 121) Our mothers and our maids always made us go outside. In fact they still do. sketchbook (113 of 121) I’ve always loved to be in the water. When I grow up I’m going to have my own swimming pool so I can swim whenever I want!sketchbook (114 of 121) Most years we have some lemonade stands and carnivals to earn money. But now that I’m in the sixth grade I’m going to try to start baby sitting. That’s much more sophisticated.sketchbook (94 of 121) I was MUCH younger when we did this play!sketchbook (95 of 121)

In the school year we had the whole afternoon to play until our Mothers called us for dinner. All we had after school was Girl Scouts. Our homework never seemed to take long. This year  I mostly do mine on the school bus. Sometimes we meet right after school for Miss America. My answers to the contest questions are pretty good, but I get marked down on poise a lot.sketchbook (117 of 121) I ended the book here. Magpie tells me I’ll soon not be playing any of this any more, that we girls will all be passing notes in class and talking about boys and clothes. But what I want most right now is to not have to wear glasses and to be able to get braces like the older girls on the school bus. Braces look cool and you get excused from school a lot. 

But since I’m not going to be playing this stuff much longer just remember this book is TOP   SECRET!! If I find out any of you told about Chambermaids or Miss America you are DEAD MEAT!! I’ll tell EVERYBODY on the school bus that you are a BIG LIAR!!!!

What?? Who wrote all this on my blog post?

I did. You were having too much trouble writing it.  Since I did something for you you should tell me some things about the future. Am I going to quit wearing glasses? Am I? Am I going to get braces? Am I? Am I?

That’s true. I was having trouble writing the post. And fair enough, you helped me so  I should tell you some things. Sorry honey, but you’re going to keep wearing glasses FOREVER. The braces are also a no.

But I have a SPACE between my teeth!

You’ll be surprised how little you’re going to be bothered by that space. But I do have some good news. The swimming pool is a YES!

Yippee! I’m going to tell all my friends this afternoon at “Miss America”! Can I go now?

Knitting Dreams

Have you ever looked closely at that sweater you’re wearing, into the weave of stitches? Your sweater used to be skeins of yarn, which used to be bundles of roving, and before that, used to warm the backs of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere. A sweater is knit one stitch at a time. Loops of yarn form interlocking stitches. Stitches make rows, and in time those rows take on the shape of a garment.

I don’t know if yarn can talk, but I like to imagine that as it is knit together, each loop encourages the others to stay connected, but to flex when necessary, because in the end they must all work together to form something that has never been made before.

And then  there are the humans who knit the yarn. To envision a finished project,  to choose or design a pattern, to  be willing to join thousands of loops of yarn together into stitches and eventually into a garment takes a certain amount of risk. Knowing what the proper materials are is a job in itself. What if one chooses the wrong yarn, and one’s garment has the drape of a cement block? What if one does not adequately understand the directions, and one’s project resembles a long sleeved bra more than the sweater it was supposed to be? What if it is expensive? What if no one appreciates the hours of work and attention that went into the scarves one gave for Christmas gifts? Knitters perservere despite the risks, for the rewards are great.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-9

Dreams come to life in much the same way. All our lives we entertain mental pictures of what  we would like to do or make. So many times we have ideas, but get stuck in the wishing- we could- do- something- but- unfortunately- we- just- can’t- stage. But then there are those of us  who know what we want and are willing to gather the materials and to do  the work one single task at a time, investing emotionally and financially in an uncertain outcome.

Thanks to several stellar Memphis  knitters doing just that, I had the opportunity  this past weekend to participate in the inaugural annual Tenntucky Knitting Retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Three  remarkable people,  Ann, Joseph, and Rachel, saw a a creative black hole in our community and worked for a year to fill it.

I know this story because once upon a time I took a risk and showed up for a weekly knitting night, organized by the three above mentioned knitters, at a local restaurant. Let me say right now that although my knitting skills are literally laughable, I wanted to know other knitters. I wanted to feel the sense of community that comes from a gathering of folks looping yarn together one stitch at a time.

Despite my lack of skills, I was welcomed by a small group of knitters: older, younger, all more experienced then I was.  No matter what silly mistakes I had made, I knew I could ask someone at the table for help. Though I could not help anyone in return, I satisfied myself that at least my knitting foibles added some humor to the gathering. Over time I came to feel accepted for who I was, not for what I knew how to do.

With my clever listening skills  I learned that the organizers of the knit night had bigger goals in mind. They were going to organize an area  knitting retreat ALL BY THEMSELVES, and they had never done it before. Since this  Magpie is especially interested in big ideas and in what people can accomplish as a team, I was vicariously thrilled each time the Tenntucky Board accomplished another milestone in project planning.

Spots were filling quickly for the retreat. Surely I was coming,  the organizers said. Moi?asked I. I can barely knit! But as I was assured that all levels were welcomed I decided to take the plunge, and invited my sister to accompany me. Maybe, I pondered shrewdly,  HER knitting skills would prove as backward as mine, and I would not be the anomaly at the retreat.

This past Friday evening approximately fifty knitters from several states checked in to the lovely Lake Barkley Lodge.

Source: KentuckyLake.com

Source: KentuckyLake.com

And so began a magical weekend which  included restful views, pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-30  opportunities to commune with nature,pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-7

time to reflect,

One with nature, even in windy weather.

One with nature, even in windy weather.

plentiful food, friendly staff, informative classes, and color, color, color.pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-34

How delightful it was that our organizers  had thought of everything! All of their advance  planning, networking and plain old elbow grease came together just like a well knit sweater. I remembered snippets of conversation about vendors, goodie bags and the like. Now I would  benefit from the fruits of their labor.

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And the knitters? If you did not already know this, knitters are special people. They’re friendly and welcoming. They want you to sit for a spell and knit up a few stitches and share a story or two, or even sit in companionable silence.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-39 Having never been to a knitting retreat I was unprepared for the exquisite l hand knit items worn by my fellow retreatants.  I asked if I could take pictures of their stunning work and they all said yes.That’s how special knitters are! Take a look:

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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-19pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-21pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-2pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-4I CAN’T STOP!!!
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pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-20pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-11Whom did we meet? Why we met Kelly, who makes her own earrings out of knitting needles. And her brother, who surprised her with the gift of this retreat! We met Jo, who is studying to become a master knitter. We met Charlotte who didn’t learn to knit until after the age of 60. Charlotte wore a skirt she had knitted herself, by the way. We met the Haus of Yarn vendor who stayed up late Saturday night to felt our knitted slippers. No comment on mine, bet here are my sister’s:

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone but I feel as though I did; that’s just the community vibe that exists among knitters.

On Saturday my sister and I took a gauge class and a crochet class.

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite skill  for the  crochet class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

Sadly I did not have the prerequisite for the class, which was knowing how to crochet. Oops! Someone helped me anyway!

One of the teachers evidently knew  me, for she used phrases such as “the difference between homemade and handmade’, and mentioned how it feels to give disclaimers along with our knitted gifts. Here is  your sweater, Uncle Alvin. Just don’t turn around while wearing it.

After the classes were over we met for a rousing game of Last Knitter Standing.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-24Full disclosure compels me to say that my sister’s and my singing during timed knitting contests did not help anyone at our table to win. Anyone for a couple of verses of “Twist and Shout?”

Lake Barkley is one of those places where the whole time you are there you are planning your return visit, for there is more to do there than can be done in one weekend.  Every chance we got we sat in rockers on our balcony, gazing at the water and taking in the deep calming sounds of the natural world.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-28pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-32We just didn’t have time to do everything Lake Barkley  has to offer.  But we did manage to fit in some ping pong and pinball down in the rec room.

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Too soon it was Sunday and time to go. But not before we shopped with the vendors who had kindly visited us. Knitters patiently waited their chance to run their hands over luscious hanks of yarn and choose their own patterns.

pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-35pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-36As we drove away we exulted in the success of the weekend. From door prizes to pencils on the tables to write down gauge measurements, our organizers gave great attention to detail and it showed. Packed in the back of the car were our goodie bags full of free patterns, needles, and yarn. Some participants went home with stunning door prizes.We were inspired by what we had seen other knitters doing, and eager to improve our own knitting. pictures of retreat (1 of 1)-37

Our hearts were full of gratitude to the organizers  for having the wherewithal to do what many may dream about but never accomplish. How did this trio manage to put on this amazing weekend? I don’t have the slightest idea, but I suspect they did it together, one painstaking step at a time, connecting and bending as necessary, to form something that had never been done before.

P. S. : They’ve set the date for next year. Interested? Check out Tenntucky on Ravelry or contact Joseph at ACallToYarns. I don’t think he’ll mind my giving out his contact info. Knitters are neighborly like that.

September Summer

October has begun and with it will come falling leaves. But even the weather takes its own time in the South. Our uncharacteristically mild summer stayed all through September, urging folks to go one last time to the pool or to take a nap in the sun.  Cooler days are forecast for next week, but before they get here I just want to linger a moment over some late summer pleasures. DSC_0108 I’ve spent the waning weeks of summer enamored with this farro and chickpea salad. With the zing of za’ atar,  this salad is perfect for hot days.DSC_0091I took my friend R. through my yard so he could practice using his new camera. He gleefully snatched up a passion fruit off the vine and demonstrated how he used to eat them when he lived out in the country.DSC_0068We documented the flowers’ demise, DSC_0102the day’s deepening shadows,IMG_3051and how the blue of the sky peeked through the pergola roof.
IMG_3014On another warm Saturday I helped a friend with a yard sale. I put a few things out  to sell but my friend sold more than I did. Could the figure above have jinxed me?DSC_0060One  lovely Sunday night I made some fish tacos for an al fresco dinner.DSC_0063DSC_0066And it tasted as good as it looked.IMG_3065Finally, we met some friends at the Levitt Shell to hear an outstanding concert by the Memphis Dawls. Usually summer is a season I tolerate but do not enjoy. Humidity is not my friend. But thanks to these last mild weeks I’m able to usher it out with kinder regard than ever before. Goodbye, summer, and thanks for each moment and memory!

And how about all of you? What late summer fun did you enjoy?

Memphis Is More

To hear some Memphians talk, our city has already arrived via hand basket at a very hot place. Whenever  a violent  or undesirable event takes place, the hand basket crowd sees nothing good about our  community. It’s THOSE  people, they say. Those all- bad people who  make Memphis a hopelessly inferior all- crime- all -the -time- place where no citizen can ever be safe.  Make sweeping generalizations much?

Recently there was another deplorable incident  in Memphis. A large group of teens attacked some people at random in a grocery store parking lot. Of course this is bad news. The behavior of the teens was unacceptable. Eleven persons were arrested, and will hopefully make appropriate amends for their crimes.

In the wake of such an occurrence, what is a person to do? A  first impulse may be to harden one’s heart, and to add to the suffering with pejorative remarks about our citizens and city administration. But  negative talk does not solve problems. The social ills which contribute to violent crimes are way too complex for simple solutions. I do not claim to have the answers, but I know  Memphis is more than crime,  hatred, and judgement. I know that Memphis is also friendly, kind, and quirky, just like that relative you all have that everyone agrees is a “character”.

As an individual I try not to harden my heart against the perpetrators, their families, and the trash talkers, and ponder what more I  can do to make Memphis a better place. I am not the only one to take this stance, as evidenced by the “Love Mob” that gathered a few days after the incident in the grocery parking lot. The “Mob’s” purpose was to express their support for the victims but also to display their love for Memphis, most of whose citizens are hard working law abiding people.

I had all this in my mind last weekend when I set out for the annual Cooper Young Festival. After all the negative press and hateful talk around the city, how would Memphis rebound? Would this last round of senseless violence render us unable to come together, unable to mourn our losses and heal our wounds?

I set out early Saturday morning for the one day neighborhood festival. The weather had become cool, causing me to walk briskly from my condo to the festival to warm up, as I had worn a thin shirt with no jacket.DSC_0037

And there was the festival, my old friend, with its music, food, and family activities, just getting underway. I was glad to know Memphis had such a welcoming event planned.

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Here was my favorite junk shopping booth. I  bought two items here which I cannot show because they are gifts. May I leave my items here and pick them up on my way out, I asked the saleslady. In typical Memphis fashion, the answer was of course you may. We’ll remember you.

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Next was the vintage clothing booth. I needed to stop  in there to buy something to wear because I was cold! After I picked out this highly appropriate sweater, I stayed to help two young African American ladies pick out a jacket.

DSC_1731I think they appreciated my taste.

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And speaking of cold, these two young men were freezing over their water bottle concession stand.  For the price of a bottle of water, they agreed to pose. And since there has been a lot of talk about poorly behaved youth, let me say that giving them the price of a bottle of water was my idea. I am sure they would have posed without it, but they were here to make money.

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In just a few minutes I fell into a comfortable stride at the festival. With my companion I wandered in and out of booths, shopping, listening, and feeling the vibe of my fellow festival goers.  I didn’t always buy, but maybe I should have.

Why did I pass you up?

Why did I pass you up?

 

Do you need your own original poem?

Do you need your own original poem?

And here was The House of Mews, Cat rescue organization, where a volunteer induced Spice to pose for me.DSC_0051

Then the Choose 901 booth, full of Memphis-proud items.

DSC_0052I paused at one booth and renewed my membership to the Memphis Heritage  Society, where the director took the time to speak with me about some ongoing projects. After all this meandering, I found I needed to stop for refreshment at Growler’s, a beer tasting garden that was not open this time last year.

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From our spot at the window we could watch the crowds which were now streaming in – folks in costumes, families, couples, all mingling and having fun. Yes, this is Memphis.

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DSC_0072Next we stopped into Celtic Crossing for some lunch. The hostess showed us to a table beside a loud beer truck, but cheerfully moved us when we objected. We sat on a back patio, enjoying a sandwich while people watching. Across from me several young woman were lunching. I approached their table. “Excuse me dear, but your purse is on the ground behind you; I didn’t think you would want it there.” Grateful, she scooped her purse up. It felt good to be helpful to someone.

I must share that if I drink beer it is best for me to have food with it. Since Growler has no food, I was in just the right shape to accidentally call our male server “ma’am.” But he let it roll off his back, even as he was run right off his feet serving the patio crowd.

Back on the street, I  was able to resist the enticing aromas of the food trucks, as I had already had a sandwich.

DSC_0055 The crowds were gathering to listen to the music on several stages. I heard the Memphis Brass Band playing, but couldn’t get very close through the dense thicket of people. Taking pictures was becoming more  difficult, so for some time I gave that up and simply flowed on with everyone else.

DSC_0059Spying Goner Records, I made a beeline to their one dollar album display. Guess what I found? YEEEES!  Jeanne C. Riley’s Harper Valley P.T.A. !  I was thrilled because one of my biggest problems when I was taking care of my new grandson was that I couldn’t remember the words to this priceless tune. What kind of grandmother can’t sing “Harper Valley P.T.A.? But… oh no, there was no record inside the sleeve. I  marched right  inside the store and explained my whole sad predicament to a very nice clerk who came out from around the counter and found me a copy of Jeanne C. Reilly’s Greatest Hits. Crisis averted. And he threw in the empty album cover for free.IMG_3017

Having come early, we were ready to make our exit. We would have stayed longer but we had a commitment for later in the day. We won’t make that mistake next year. On the way out we stopped for my two gifts, still safely held by the ladies at the booth. They were a little thrown off by my new sweater, but they remembered my  red hair.

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Turning off Central onto Cox, I heard someone call my name. Oh, what delight for my feet! It was a neighbor from a zero lot line close to our condo, offering us a ride home. We squooshed ourselves straight into her back seat. Could she come in and see our condo? Well, not today because her husband was waiting on her, but on another day, certainly.

We got upstairs and I put up my poor little feet. I mused upon how almost every single person I had come across had been welcoming and willing to go beyond just the basics in service or compassion. Memphis has social problems, no doubt. I would never be so naive as to try to sweep poverty, crime, and an uneducated populace under the rug. But I felt encouraged by what I had seen and felt at the Cooper Young. Just as I thought, Memphis is more. More friendliness, more diversity, more hospitality, more hope.

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Optimistic much?

Please Touch My “Ta- zhear”!

For some reason I was  in the dining room taking a quick swipe around the furniture with a dust rag. I approached  my grandmother’s étagère and began to carefully  pick up each figurine in order to dust the shelf beneath.  Some of the decorative pieces belonged to me, and some had belonged to my mother, grandmother, or great aunts. I wiped off each keepsake dutifully, wondering as I always did what was eventually going to happen to this repository of memories and holder of outdated pieces of ceramic.DSC_0138

I don't care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama's epergne.

I don’t care too much for the figurines, but some gladiolas do look wonderful in Mama’s epergne.

I really didn’t want to keep all these Royal Doultons and Royal Copenhagens, much less the Lladros, but what was I going to do with them? I doubted my children would be interested in them.  And I didn’t see too much point in having the étagère either, except for sentimental value. Perhaps if I decorated in a  traditional style, the piece would be more prominently displayed in my home, rather than languishing in the rarely used dining room.

When I was a child the étagère loomed large in my grandmother’s living room, but as an adult I could see that the shelves were too narrow to satisfactorily display one’s treasures. What I had done when I inherited the piece was to try to rotate all the figurines so that they were all displayed at some point. My newer things did not look right on the shelves, so I rearranged the same old pieces, feeling like the clerk at a seldom visited antique store.As I worked at my  task, an unmistakeable voice wafted through the air behind me.

Don’t  touch my ta- zhear, now!

What? Startled, I forced myself to turn around slowly, so as not to drop a ceramic shepherd boy.  And there she was, in her housedress, with her glasses hanging around her neck on a chain.

“Mama! It’s so good to see you!” Quickly I set down my dust rag to envelop my tiny grandmother in a big hug. I insisted she sit down in a chair that once belonged to my Aunt May.

What’s my ta- zhear  doing over at your house?

Mama had always gotten right to the point.

“It’s mine now, Mama”. Pointing to the large piece made of some dark wood, I reminded her. “Don’t you remember it was your Mother’s, then yours, then my mother’s? And now I have it.”

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

My great grandmother, Etta Blanche Miles Morarity, to my knowledge the original owner of the etagere.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Mama, Marie Blanche Morarity James, the second owner of the etagere, with Grandaddy, William Martin James.

Well, I don’t want you grandchildren touching my ta- zhear.

“Yes, Mama, how could I forget? Those were the first words out of your mouth every time we walked in your front door. Plus I’m fifty seven years old now.”  And feeling a little snippy, I added, “Actually the piece is called an étagère”.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

Here is a lady we were not allowed to touch. In the background is a painting that jus much more my style.

My Mama pronounced it ta- zhear. And where’s Bessie? 

“My mother? Well, Mama I thought you would know. She died about six years ago. That’s why I have the ta- zhear.”

 Oh, yes, I remember now. She’s usually over in the smoking section.

“She probably is, Mama, or avoiding you because you keep calling her Bessie instead of Elizabeth.” I was sure Mama must remember how vehemently my mother had always objected to being called Bessie. No one else but Mama dared to call her that.

I couldn’t  help looking over at the étagère shelf which held  the small  framed   photograph of Mama’a beloved sister in law, Bessie James, as a child. Bessie, who bears  a startling resemblance to my niece Alexis, died as a young woman after walking in front of an airplane propeller.

The original Bessie

The original Bessie. The back of the photo says, “To my grandparents in Kingston Ontario from your little granddaughter Bessie James”.

Wanting to move to a happier subject I added, “I’m a grandmother myself now, Mama. I already have one precious grandson, and in a few months I’m going to have a second grandchild to love.”

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Mama chuckled. Yes, I heard about that up where I live.

“Yep, Mama, one of these days pretty soon  MY doorbell is going to ring, and when I open it, little people are going to race through MY front door, and what do you think MY first words will be to those little folks?”

Before Mama could say anything I answered my own question.

“Here’s what I’m going to say. Please  DO touch my ta- zhear! I’ve got some things on it that are just for you!”

Well, I declare.

I turned my back to Mama for just a moment so I could envision what I had just realized was the perfect use for  this venerable piece of furniture.

When I turned around, Mama’s chair was empty once again. Probably it was best for her not to see what I had done to her showpiece.

We're safe here until we start climbing.

We’re safe here until we start climbing.

Of course I’ll have different things out when I know what each grandchild enjoys. These were just some toys I had handy.

From this...

From this…

 

To this!

To this!

It’s important to cherish  the memories of those who have gone before us. We thrive on feeling connected to others down through the centuries. But there also comes a time to embrace what is new, to start  traditions that make sense today,which will hopefully be enjoyed and passed on to others. The ta-zhear is mine  now, so let the good times begin. You’re welcome to touch!

Swaddled

Big, big exhalation. How long have I been holding my breath? About nine months and three weeks, the exact length of time it took for my grandson to grow large enough to come into the world and for me to get out there to meet him.

Amid all the fun of watching my daughter grow huge with child and seeing she and her husband prepare to be parents,  I struggled mightily on the inside  with becoming a grandparent. I held an incessant  nine month inner dialogue that went something like this:

(Read to self quickly, then repeat. For a more realistic experience, read at 4:00 A.M.)

How can I be a grandmother I don’t know how to be a grandmother all I know is what my mother did which was come over every day for weeks and weeks and wash the clothes and cook and clean  and help with the baby and sometimes she brought her sisters for reinforcement and there C. and E. are out there in California with no relatives, well they know some people but not that many why haven’t I retired what if she needs help and I’m not there it’s not like I can just get in a plane and fly over there anytime stop overwhelming yourself and what will I do when I miss the baby that is going to be intolerable it hurts my stomach right now and I don’t even know what to be called all I know is nothing countryfied, like, not Meemaw or Mawmaw or no undignified baby talk words like MooMoo or PooPoo you’ll eventually be called something  yes but  when I do go out there how can I get all the cleaning and cooking and baby stuff done so they will be all caught up by the time we leave so she won’t need me after we’ve gone and so nothing will upset or depress her the way I always was postpartum oh groan it was so awful that would be unacceptable I’ll just have to get everything done that’s all and what if I’m not good with the baby I never thought I was good with babies and what if I can’t do anything with him that would be a disaster  I haven’t taken care of a baby in twenty seven years but they’ll EXPECT me to be good with soothing  upset babies because that is what grandmothers know how to do and I am going to be declared one, but how can I be a grandmother?

Got it?

As with most unknowns, there was nothing to do but wait, and to be sure, one day before his due date Micah was born. Without me. We already had our dates planned to come out, according to  the way my daughter and son in law wanted things to be, in case anyone wonders why we didn’t charter the first plane out of Memphis.

Waiting for the unknown.

Waiting for the unknown.

Finally we met our baby. When I held him, I felt a deep, peaceful  knowing, as if reconnected to an old soul. I know you, I thought, and you are mine. I rushed headlong  into baby love.

We meet baby Micah.

We meet baby Micah.

What about my worries? About soothing the baby, the best news ever was this little invention, the swaddler,  which did not exist in my day. The blanket like garment soothes a fractious baby and makes him feel warm, safe and secure. The old fashioned…uh… grandmother in me was skeptical at first but soon I was won over when Micah, bundled, relaxed immediately in my arms.

Micah in his swaddler.

Micah in his swaddler.

What about the sleep deprived parents? It turns out that these people know how to take naps, something I was never able to do. When we arrived each morning from our nearby motel we relieved whichever parent was awake to retreat to bed. The parents would say they were tired, but they seemed pretty sane to me. They were wearing clothes, for example, and seemed to be taking showers. I saw them reading sometimes.

The new parents are holding their own.

The new parents are holding their own.

What about being helpful? Within the first few minutes of our arrival, my daughter said to me, “Thanks for holding the baby so I can have an adult conversation.” Aaaah, we were already helping! And speaking of helping, Micah’s grandfather turned out to be the most effective baby whisperer in the house. Whenever he wasn’t doing some manual labor for my daughter, such as hanging pictures, he could be found with Micah in his arms.

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But what about my daughter’s mood? SHE WAS FINE!!!!!!! Her focus was on baby’s well being, not seeming a bit overwhelmed, just taking things moment by moment.  I did have to make some changes in the eating arena. One can only choke down so many dry turkey sandwiches. Though the meals I fixed were often consumed more hurriedly than in the past, hopefully they made the new parents feel nurtured.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

I wanted them to have fresh, delicious food.

And about the cleaning, my daughter did allow me to clean her kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Pregnant ladies can’t see their own feet, let alone a floor. She was very appreciative that I had done it, but the good news was that had I not gotten around to it, it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. Finally the memories of myself as a new mother, feeling sad and defeated because my house was so cluttered, faded in my mind. Actually, I had been the one in disarray, not the house.Thankfully, my daughter does not have those burdens.

As the days went by we settled into an easy routine of baby care. It came to me that we were all pitching in to take care of the baby, the parents, and their home. Why had I thought all the emotional responsibility was going to fall only on me? I found I could relax and just be a grandmother!

This is the tree I'm planning to climb with Micah.

This is the tree I’m planning to climb with Micah.

All too soon it was time to leave. I came to Pasadena in hypervigilant mode, ready to do whatever battles were necessary for my people. I anticipated it to be hard. Yes, I did work all day and retire each night to sleep as hard as a brick bat, but it was fun, joyous and fulfilling.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I retired each night, opened the shutters to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete silence before we crashed.

The Saga Motor Inn, where my husband and I returned each night, opened the shutters of our room to let in the cool evening air, and read our books in complete, delightful silence before we crashed.

We were all bound by our love for Micah, and enjoyed seeing one another enjoy him. The arrival of this precious little fellow had changed all our previous, familiar configurations. Wife to mother. Husband to father. Mother to grandmother. Father to grandfather. We all revolved, gracefully, I thought, around our new sun.

I marveled at my son in law’s transformation into a Daddy. He has won my heart over and over with his devotion and thoughtfulness.

Showing Micah Mommy's artwork.

Showing Micah Mommy’s artwork.

My sweet son in law. Now he's a Daddy.

My sweet son in law. Now he’s a Daddy.

I beamed at seeing my daughter in action as a Mother.

She's a natural!

She’s a natural!

IMG_2825I marveled at this this couple, reassured at their priorities and partnership.

The happy new family.

The happy new family.

I treasured seeing  Grandaddy gaze at the baby.DSC_0058

I drank in each moment with Micah, just as I had hoped to do. I have memorized him now.IMG_2867

Families are all more than the sum of their parts, but now we have more parts in the mix, and it’s glorious. More relationships. More ties. More moments to savor now and memories to plan for the future.IMG_2865

I was not ready to leave, but I did so with a heart that was  full and peaceful.

Swaddled, really.