Archive for November, 2009

It’s been 30-some years since I last played the piano. In the 1970s I resumed piano lessons, abandoned in 1953 when I entered college. In 1970, living alone (that’s a story for another time), the first piece of furniture I bought after a bed was a piano. I began to practice again. As soon as I could afford to, I found a teacher and practiced daily. But after a few years, my right arm began to ache, the muscles tightened, whenever I moved my fingers quickly—playing scales and runs up to speed. No one, not even the Sports Medicine doctors at Union Memorial Hospital, could figure out why. I could no longer play anything fast. I could no longer play the piano.

Now I think that may have been an early symptom of the myalgia that became full-blown when I collapsed with ME-CFS. Whatever.

Today I played the piano, to my utter and complete astonishment. Here’s how it happened.

Every Sunday I take a resident in a wheelchair to church. Today we went to church and there was no pianist. The minister said, “We’ll just have to sing a cappella, do the best we can.”

“Will you be okay if I go play the piano?” I asked the resident, as I put the hymn book in her lap and stood up.

I had no idea I was going to do that. As I walked toward the piano I was thinking, can I do this? Can I DO this?

Well, I did. They are used to singing slowly in the Care Center. I’ve always been a good sight-reader. Of course I missed notes and hit some wrong notes, but I did okay. Each time the minister announced the hymn number, I found the page for the resident first, then went to the piano to see what I was going to have to play.


Thanks to the good training I had at the Peabody Institute (the preparatory school for Peabody Conservatory), I know how to bring out the melody. Even if I missed some other notes, I was emphasizing the melody notes. I was amazed. It still feels surreal.

I brought a hymn book home with me so that I can practice.


Whether or not I will be able to play scales and runs, I don’t know; but I can play chords, and I can play expressively, with feeling, musically.

I guess I’ve got another job. (Ernie says my readers will think I’m writing fiction. NOT.)

By the way, the piece I played for my audition for a scholarship to Peabody was the only thing I could play from memory at age 7—a gospel song. Since I got the scholarship, I must have played it well. And here I am, all these decades later, playing gospel songs and hymns.

But what on earth made me stand up and head for the piano? I don’t know myself!

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Help is on the way

Can you believe this? I have been offered driver training by County Driver Training Ltd. in Weymouth Dorset. They are in the UK. I am in Baltimore, MD, USA.

Good heavens! What were they thinking?


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Last May, when I was in the most manic phase of my recovery from ME-CFS, I could not sit still to stitch. I couldn’t bear to work on the Elizabethan embroidery I’d been laboring since January to learn. You may remember that hanging on my portable design board was a piece of orange silk scarf with some sample swatches of silks and some novelty threads. It had been there for a couple of years, I think, while I wondered what I might do with the materials. Here’s what it looked like.


Yesterday I finished the project I’ve been calling my crazy recovery improvisation. Now it looks like this. (Click to enlarge.)

You know that when I began, I had no idea of what I was doing. In fact, this piece is just a doodle cloth. There was never any design. Whenever I could make myself sit still long enough, I’d grab needle, thread, beads, or whatever came to mind and do something on this cloth. (By the way, every swatch, every patch, has been embellished.) I didn’t even count on keeping the darn thing. It was just a way to make myself do some stitching, something creative, something productive.

The closer I got to completion, however, the more I liked this crazy patchwork, this wild thing. So, how to finish it? How to make it presentable for display? It had to be stretched over foamcore to keep some of the sequin waste, motifs, and stitches in place. It couldn’t be a quilt-like wall hanging. It had to be firmly mounted. It also had to have a border, as I had stitched right up to the edges of the orange fabric. That made adding a border problematic. See what happens when I don’t plan?

I knew I wanted to use the purple scarf for the border, but it is thin silk, not sturdy enough in itself. I pulled out all my fusibles—6 or 7, looking for one that I could use to back the scarf.  No. Wouldn’t work.


I just folded the scarf so that I could use it doubled.

Ironing border

As you can see here, I had almost no margin of orange fabric to which to attach the border.

No margin

Moreover, the border fabric did not give me enough material to wrap around the foamcore and it is not strong enough to take the lacing to stretch the piece.  As backing and extension, I opted for more of my salvaged bedsheet. I hand-sewed strips of the cotton as extensions for the purple border, which then had to be hand-sewn to the orange fabric. Here’s the border, backed with white bedsheeting, pinned to the edge—barely.

Now what With the border attached, I was ready to mount the piece over padded foamcore—padded with two layers of Pellon fleece, wrapped over the edges of the board and glued to the back. Then began the lacing. Does anyone know a better way of stretching a large work like this over mounting board? I used fine crochet cotton for the lacing and the biggest-eye needle I could find.

First lacing

Using pins to hold the yarn/thread in place, I estimated how much I would need

Using pins

And what a lot of loose “string” I had to deal with, repeatedly tangled, of course.


But here it is, successfully laced and stretched taut.


Now, with such an opulent front, I couldn’t leave the back like this. Did I have a piece of fabric large enough to cover the back? The first piece in my under-bed stash that caught my eye was Tibetan brocade, the kind that’s used to border thangkas. I’ve had it and some other pieces of Tibetan fabrics for years.

The back

This brocade had to be hand-stitched to the wrapped-around border with the foamcore underneath. Not easy. Not easy.

And after I’d done that, I belatedly decided to put a label on it. I printed the label on cotton, then stitched over the printed letters and numbers. To attach the label, once again, I was stitching to fabric already stretched over board.

What a job of work I made for myself when I started this project—without a plan. Everything about it was so much harder to do than it would have been had I planned it out in advance, had I known what I was doing.

Nevertheless, I am surprised at how pleased I am with this project. Not elegant. Not, definitely not, impeccable stitching. Not refined. As far from Elizabethan embroidery as I could get with a needle and thread! Wild, exuberant, flamboyant. Crazy!

As crazy as I’ve been feeling since I began to recover. Though I am 100% functional, can do anything that my circumstances allow, I am still dealing with residual symptoms of ADHD—agitation and anxiety, restlessness, and difficulty getting to sleep. Some evenings I pace the hallways, sometimes seeing one or two other, perhaps equally frantic, inmates. I am not the calm, content, reclusive contemplative I was for 15 years or more. More work to be done, figuring this out.

Anyhow, my recovery crazy patchwork improvisation announces that I have recovered, right in the entry-way of our apartment. At Ernie’s suggestion, it is attached to the wall with Velcro.


Now I have to prepare to teach my course. I’m having even worse panic attacks!

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Like Rembrandt, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and other great artists, I have had my work stolen.

(Click to enlarge.)

This crazy patchwork piece, which I blogged about here, was part of a touring exhibit in Australia, organized by The ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Society of NSW.

You can see some of the exhibit, including my piece, at this YouTube clip

Last night I received a phone call from Sydney by a very concerned, upset woman who told me that my work had been stolen from a library where it was on display and where there had been hundreds of people viewing the exhibit.

My reaction was, “Somebody wanted it!” How exciting, having my work stolen.

I told her it was okay. I am not distressed about it. They should not be distressed about it. It was okay.

My piece has already been included in the book Creative for a Second.


Below is the caption that accompanied the patchwork piece in the exhibit.


Here’s my signature on the back of the piece.

As most of you know, this was a practice cloth! It was never intended to be mounted and displayed. It lived in a notebook until Kirrily Anderson saw a shot of it at my Flickr site and asked if she could use it.

Now, I hope, it has found a home where it will be enjoyed.

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A strong 80-year-old

On Saturday I spent the afternoon at my daughter-in-love’s fitness studio, Transform Fitness, where she put me through a 90-minute workout. Throughout the workout, she was making notes, which she developed into a plan for me.

For the past six months or so, for half an hour after my swim, I have been doing abdominal and strengthening exercises, some remembered from post-partum days, some found online, and some I made up. I’ve been using a 7-lb dumbbell. Now, thanks to Anne, I have been given a customized workout program with instructions for doing the exercises correctly, with good form. (I love trying to do things correctly, with good form!)

My immediate objectives are to straighten my back, which has begun to curl old-lady-like, and to flatten my abdomen, which bulges, also old-lady-like. Anne added a long-term objective—the stronger I am, the healthier I’ll be, the less likely to have falls, the more functional as I continue to age.

By putting a folded blanket under my husband’s old stretching mat, I’ve made myself a floor mat to use instead of my bed.


Here’s my workout program.

When you lower your buttocks to take the body to a parallel position with the floor, be sure to squeeze the abs, the gluteals, and the quadriceps very tight so the lower back does not take on the work.
HOLD plank for 15 seconds, rest in Prayer Position for 15 seconds, Repeat an additional 5 times.


Bicycle abs:
Whatever you had been doing, continue to do.

(In the picture of the mat, you can see my new 10-lb dumbbells under the chair on the left.)

Seated Overhead Press:
Sit upright in your chair in front of your mirror.  Hold the weights in your hands and position your palms so that they are facing the mirror.  Squeeze the shoulder blades together draw them down your back so that you chest lifts.  Push the weights straight up and slightly inward over your head.  Return to shoulder position.
Use your 7lb weights for the first 3 sets — 7lb x 10 repetitions x 2 sets   REST 30 seconds between each set.
Then use your 10lb weights for the next 3 sets — 10lb x 4 repetitions x 2 sets    REST 45 seconds between each set

Side bends with weight:

As best you can, use the mirror to be sure you are keeping your torso in line with your legs.
Hold your 7lb weight in your right hand.  Open your legs wide, keeping your feet parallel to each other.  Keeping the weight straight up, slowly bend to the side.  Allow your free hand to trace down your left leg to help keep your torso aligned.  Go directly to the side, do not allow the torso to come forward.  Squeeze the shoulder blades.
4 times  REST 30 seconds and repeat on the other side
REST 45 seconds and go through each side an additional 4 times but this time begin with the weight in the LEFT hand

Skater’s squat:
Be sure that you move the hip before you bend the knee and try to keep your body upright for as long as you can — do not pitch forward with the chest until you have to to balance the movement.  The free leg should travel behind you in a straight line, not curving inward or outward.  Keep the free leg bent.
4 squats on the right leg   REST 30 seconds
4 squats on the left leg      REST 30 seconds
Repeat 1-2 more times, each time alternating the starting leg.


(I’m doing this standing on the floor, on one leg.)

Triceps pressdown:

Attach the YELLOW tube high on the door, above your head.  Stand very close to the tube.  Bend the elbows and hold them tightly to your sides.  Do not let the elbows stray from your sides as you bend and extend the arms.  Stand up straight, with your shoulder blades squeezing together and your chest lifted.  Push the arms straight down by your sides.  Return to a ninety degree bend at the elbow.
10 repetitions x 3 sets   REST 30 seconds between each set


(For this exercise, I’m using these stretchy tubes:)


Modified V-ups:
Begin with a v-sit balance on your tailbone.  SLOWLY lower your shoulders and your legs simultaneously until you are nearly parallel to the floor (bed), then thrust up to catch your legs back in the v-sit position.  REST a moment.  Repeat 5 more times.
Then do the modified v-sit that you showed me as many times as you are used to doing.

Modified fish:

This is the exercise that you made up to target your pelvic region.  Do this exercise as you have been.


Single-leg reach:
Stand up tall.  Take one foot off the floor and bend forward from the hip to reach the hand to the floor.  Bring yourself back to standing upright.  As you get good at this exercise, keep the foot off the floor throughout the entire set.  In the beginning, let the foot come to the floor each time you return to upright.
4 times each leg x 2 sets  No rest necessary unless you need it
Go slow on this exercise, it is about finding internal balance.


Stand-ups: these are optional
Sit in a chair and stand straight up.  Keep your feet approx. shoulder width and slightly toed out.  Press into the heels as you stand and squeeze the buttocks.  Squeeze your shoulder blades and draw them down your back to keep the chest lifted throughout the entire movement.  If you can, hold the arms straight out at chest height, parallel to the floor.
8 stand-ups, rest 10 seconds, repeat 7 additional rounds

Tube high pull:

Attach the RED tube high on the door (above your head).  Stand with your feet hip width and staggered, one foot forward one foot back.  Relax the knees and pull the abdomen in tight.  Stand up very tall with the shoulders back and the chest lifted.  Think about pulling the elbows (not the hands) back.  Squeeze the shoulder blades in and pull them down as the elbows travel back.  Lift the chest even more.
8 repetitions x 4 sets  REST 30 seconds between each set


Tube reverse fly:
Attach the YELLOW tube at chest height as you are seated (above the doorknob).  Sit up tall with the shoulder blades pulling in and downward.  Chest is lifted.  Straighten your arms but keep the elbows relaxed.  Keep the wrists straight.  Pull the arms wide without changing the elbow or wrist position.  Feel the shoulder blades squeeze together.
8 repetitions x 4 sets  REST 30 seconds between each set


(I do this seated on a chair.)

Bicep curls:
7lb x 10 repetitions x 3 sets   REST 30 seconds between each set  Be sure to stand or sit up tall with the shoulder blades squeezing in and down.  Extend the arm all the way straight and curl upwards.

At Transform Fitness, I was eager to see what I could do, how strong I am, and I was very pleased that I could do everything Anne instructed me to do—not the repetitions, but I could do everything at least once. I was also impressed by how much Anne knows. She’s a very competent trainer and I loved seeing and experiencing her, doing what she does so well.

I am going to be a strong 80-year-old. Thanks, Anne.

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Lost e-mail

I cannot open Outlook Express, nor can I get help from Microsoft. So if you are trying to reach me, use this address: jowynn3037@gmail.com


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