Archive for the ‘recovery’ Category

At last I’ve embarked on a serious, designed project—embellishing another jacket. Here’s the inspiration:


This beadwork is on a knit jacket I saw daughter-in-law Carolyn wearing at Thanksgiving. It includes bugle beads, seed beads, and wooden beads, all in copper tones. Immediately I knew I wanted to have something like it. That’s why I carefully photographed it. Soon after, I bought, or maybe I already had bought, a black jacket, sleeveless top, and pants from Deva. But I couldn’t do anything with this inspiration until I had finished teaching the two Elderhostel courses I’d committed to offer here at Charlestown.

Here’s my jacket. It’s cotton Deva cloth, which is textured, kind of crinkly.


It has a stand-up collar, a two-inch-wide self-border down the front, and pockets. I plan to embroider the border, the tops of the pockets, the hems (or cuffs) of the sleeves, and maybe the collar, depending on the technical challenges that part may present.

As soon as I’d done all the sample doodle cloths I needed for the class, I began gathering materials for the jacket, first from my stash, then online. Here are some of the threads, beads, and copper metal threads I had on hand. You can also see some of my pencil and ink doodling.


Looking for design inspirations in books that included beadwork, I decided that I wanted to use silk ribbon embroidery as well. While I waited for the ordered beads and ribbons to arrive, I began doodling with pencil and paper. It didn’t take long for my favorite shape—the S, to appear in my doodles, but it did take a while for me to figure out how to draw it so I could stitch it and how to make a border design featuring the spiraling S.

After a lot of pencil design, I decided on the size, shape, and placement of the S, cut out paper Ss, and pinned them to the jacket, thus:


But an evening of looking at this arrangement made me realize that the Ss should be facing each other, thus:


(In these shots, the jacket is hanging over a white t-shirt with the collar pinned together in the lower one.)

As soon as I had a fixed S shape, I transferred it to a doodle cloth for experimenting with threads, beads, and stitches. The effect I want to achieve is of copper-colored Ss when seen at a distance, but I want a lot of texture and shading to achieve that effect. Here’s my doodle cloth showing a copper S on black linen.


Up close it looks like this:


And even closer, you can see the variety of materials and stitches I’ve used.


This is by no means what the final shapes, the final stitching, will look like. This is a doodle cloth. I’ve been trying out different ideas, seeking the look that most appeals to me. It isn’t finished. Also, I have not been able to get the color right in these photographs. In reality, the darker stitches are less red, more copper-like. Despite appearances, there are no blue beads: all are copper-toned, or pearl, but some are iridescent.  Now I think I know how I want to stitch these Ss–basically, at least.

And, by the way, there’s going to be silk ribbon stitching between the Ss. That part I haven’t designed yet, but I do have the silk ribbons in the colors I want to use. (Think I want to use.)


If I fill in six Ss in this textured manner, the project will probably take all year. And when I’ve finished working the Ss, I may not want the silk ribbon embroidery. Maybe just some copper beads. That’s okay: I’m working on something purposefully, knowing what I want to do, instead of just randomly, wildly, stitching.

Although I’m not “normal” yet, I’ve calmed down quite a bit. Now I can finish a task I begin without jumping up to do something else. I still feel kind of panicky and tremulous at times, especially in the evenings. Then I do not feel good. But I expect that this, too, will pass.


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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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As you know, since about the beginning of May, my recovery from ME-CFS has been explosive. No amount of activity has been too much. Saturday night I danced most of 2 1/2 hours and could have danced all night. That was after swimming half a mile in the morning and walking more than a mile in the afternoon. But this excessive energy has been driving me crazy. Often it’s as though I have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—out of control.

And that’s what my Recovery Improvisation project reflects. It is crazy, and anybody doing the work on it that I’ve been doing has to be crazy, too. I want to show you what working on this project looks like.

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I hold the unwieldy frame against my table and various parts of my body, turning it frequently to put the stitches or beads where I want them. Because I started with no plan and have been working randomly, many areas to be stitched are hard to get to, no matter how I position the frame. And when I tried using hoops for small areas, I couldn’t. There are too many hard bits—wrapped plastic rings, clay beads, and glass beads; and places too heavily stitched—to put hoops where I need them. When I tried putting the frame in my floor stand, I shattered some beads—the work is so close to the edge. In fact, I’ve even stitched right against the wooden frame! Anyhow, I have to keep turning it too frequently for a frame holder to be of use.

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The work has taken a terrific beating, as I toss it around to get to where I want to stitch. In the sequence below you can see some of my contortions. (I’m wearing magnifying lenses; I guess I was attaching beads.)

Here I was bracing the frame between my knees and holding it in various positions as I stitched.

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It is really, really difficult to work this way. I  must be crazy, doing this! Here are some damaged areas that I have to re-work.

One of these beads went missing. I re-attached all five of them for security.


Somehow, in the rough treatment, the Sculpey bead with the glass bead in the center got broken.


Here’s where I smashed a glass bead by clamping down on it with my floor stand frame holder.


And here, the bottom oyster stitch has come apart.


Now, though, I’m eager to finish it, and for a few weeks, I’ve been able to work concentratedly, several hours at a time, many days. I seem to be settling down, getting calmer. Meanwhile, the piece keeps getting crazier. I think I’m almost done.

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I’m not going to drive because I failed the driving test!

Some time in June or July, after I had been leaving home and going places for a while, I began to wonder whether I would want a car. Would it be an asset? Since I couldn’t think of many places I would want to go or many reasons why I would need a car, I never got very far in thinking about it. By the time I asked Ernie how much an acceptable used car would cost, we had already lost enough from our savings to pay for a new car; so I didn’t like the idea of spending much money.

While I was still dithering about a car, my sons and other people encouraged me first to get a driver’s license, then decide whether I needed a car.

I have not driven in fifteen years. The last car I drove was a 1986 Subaru. When we moved to Charlestown, back to Maryland from our remote home in West Virginia, there was no reason for me to get a Maryland license. My WV license expired in 2002. And in 1999, Ernie had sold the Subaru because at Charlestown, we weren’t using it much.

Although I can (and have) paid Charlestown Transportation to have drivers take me wherever I want to go, and come bring me home, I usually have to plan such rides, or wait until a driver is available for a same-day request. I can’t leave Charlestown spontaneously, and there are times when I desperately want to get away from here. With continuing encouragement from my family and others, I decided to investigate getting a driver’s license.

On July 17th, I e-mailed to the Maryland MVA for information and learned that, if I could provide a certified copy of my West Virginia driving record, and acceptable documentation of my identity, age, and residence, and if I took the driving tests, I could get a license.

Next, I contacted the West Virginia MVA and sent them a bunch of documents (I’ve changed my name more than once!) with a check for $6.00. A week later, I received my driving record. Now all I needed was a car to practice driving.

One morning, in the swimming pool, I impulsively asked a man who swims at the same time I do and who was obviously hale and hearty, if he would like to help me get a driver’s license. Talk about brass! We’d only spoken a few times. But he said, “How about early Saturday morning?”  Good Neighbor Sam to the rescue! I was astounded.

After the first driving session, on our campus with no traffic and empty parking lots, he asked if I wanted to do it again the next Saturday. And we did it.

By this time, mid-August, it was clear to me that I needed more practice parallel parking than I could expect my good neighbor to provide. Also, I was having an ongoing e-mail exchange with the MVA about the process. I realized that I had to find a certified driving instructor whom I could pay for enough practice, and I had to find someone with a car to take me to the MVA for testing. Luckily, I found Elite Driving School,


which offered exactly the services I needed—individual behind-the-wheel instruction and an instructor who would take me for testing, wait for me, and bring me back to the school. Sounded great.

I scheduled my test with the MVA. Then I scheduled and paid for two hours of driving practice plus the trip to and from the MVA—all to be done on the same day, so that I had only to pay Charlestown for one round-trip to Elite. By this time, I had only a week before my driving record from WV would become invalid. It had to get done on the scheduled day—September 2nd—two days before the WV record was no good.

What I got that day, instead of two hours of practice, was about 45 minutes of practice, before the instructor said we had to head for the MVA to be in time for my appointment there—where we waited for an hour. An hour in which I could have been practicing. I knew I wasn’t ready to parallel park, and I failed to do so. The examiner, however, told my driving instructor that I knew how to handle a car. I could drive.

Well, back at Elite, I told my story to the school owner and asked him what he thought was a reasonable accommodation, since I would have to have more practice and another trip to the MVA because I had not received the two hours of practice I had paid for.

Next day he e-mailed me that he had contacted the MVA about my situation and learned that it was illegal for me to practice driving without a learner’s permit. (Although the MVA had clearly written to me that I could be tested without a learner’s permit. And he had allowed me to practice with his instructor already.) Consequently, he wrote, he could not allow me to drive one of his cars.

Thanks to the prudence of my good neighbor, I asked the MVA for confirmation. But meanwhile, Good Neighbor said that he’d had an idea of how he could teach me to parallel park in our parking lot. So, early Saturday morning, he did.

Then I got this response from the MVA.

Effective October 1, 2008, applicants must hold a valid learner’s permit prior to the behind-the-wheel driver education training and driving on Maryland highways.”

So……… I added up the costs of being driven to the MVA to get a learner’s permit, paying for the permit, getting more instruction and practice, going back to the MVA for testing, which would require one or two more Charlestown round-trips, and paying for the license. That total would pay for Charlestown drivers taking me to a LOT of places. Not to mention the time and effort involved for me.

And why, exactly, do I need to drive?

So, for now at least, I won’t be driving.

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Every year in our conference center Charlestown holds an exhibition called Fruits of Our Labor. The purpose is to acquaint all residents with the opportunities available for them to participate in resident-led activities.  Groups showcase their activities and accomplishments and try to recruit new members. There are more than 200 resident-created and run groups at Charlestown, and over 90 of them had tables at Fruits of Our Labor this year.

A few weeks ago I agreed to take responsibility for arranging the display of the Nature Trail Committee, of which I am a member. The woman who has been making this display for the past 15 years decided it was time for her to resign that responsibility. She still did the display of the Chess Club, though.

Fortunately, she had accumulated good materials over the years, including a very large, mounted photograph of the Nature Trail, and an exact replica of one of the covered bridges that cross Herbert’s Run, the stream that courses along the trail, through the woods. The scale model was made in the Wood Shop here 15 years ago by a now-deceased resident. She also had small cardboard boxes she had constructed to hold plant materials, wood chips from the actual trail that she had sterilized, rocks and pieces of bark, as well as strips of wood such as those that line the trail. She even had a photograph of a stream that she had covered in clear plastic to give the illusion of water. My job was to collect plant materials to represent the trail and to arrange the display.

The display was to be set up on Wednesday for the exhibition on Thursday. With rain forecast for late Tuesday and Wednesday, I went down to the trail Tuesday morning and filled a large bag with fern fronds, cuttings of various green plants, and soil in which to place these materials. Concerned about keeping them presentable until Thursday, I decided to wrap them in a damp bath towel that I placed in a plastic bag.

Tuesday night I had an anxiety attack. What happens to plant material kept in a warm, humid environment? It rots. What if my collection was already decaying inside the towel? What if it was pouring rain on Thursday morning, making it impossible for me to replace it?

To my relief, almost all my cuttings looked just fine Wednesday morning, but, wanting some color, some blooms, and hoping to find some mushrooms or toadstools, I went out with my bag and tools early that morning. Instead of going back to the trail, where nothing was blooming, I walked around the campus, surreptitiously cutting small bits. I scraped moss off some rocks, and I even found three mushrooms.

By then it was time to head for the Conference Center to set up the display with the help of the Nature Trail Committee chairman, Carol Rexford. Boy, was I glad to have her there, as I had never been to one of these exhibitions and had some trepidation about my ability to create an attractive display—one that lived up to the much-acclaimed ones created by my predecessor. With lots of materials to work with, Carol and I collaborated in deciding where to put what, and we were pleased with our result, shown below.


All the space we had was half a meeting table, about 3’ X 4’, and we needed to have handouts and signup sheets on that space.

Here are some details. First, the stream flowing under the bridge. The small stones were from my collection, used in flower arranging.


Another view of the bridge and stream:


The other side of the bridge:


The fungi I found, and the moss:


Here’s Carol, seated at our table:


Although we did not win the Best of Show prize, we got a lot of compliments. At the end of the event, Carol and I dismantled our display and took everything to her apartment for storage.

Doing this job gave me a chance to get to know Carol, which I appreciate. She does fine watercolor art and ink drawings. She’s been investigating meditation practice for healing. Among other interests we share, we both have grandsons who are in their junior year at McDonogh School. About my dissatisfaction with living at Charlestown and my desire to help bring about some changes, she wrote me this message:

“Wow, good for you–……and I’m behind you all the way to try and make some changes here. I met a new neighbor on my hall yesterday–……she feels the way you do–kinda in shock with all the “old people” here–I told her there was change coming and to search out us 70 somethings ……..”

So I’m very glad to be getting to know Carol.

But is this (Fruits of Our Labor) how I want to be spending my time?


By all my experimenting with things I can do at Charlestown, I’m finding out what I DON’T want to do, but I’m still trying to find what I DO want to do, that my body will allow me to do.

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Lots has been going on here, which I will probably write about eventually. In the meantime, I’ll show you some details of the “recovery improvisation”—some far-out “patchwork.”





I’m just going on, no plan; but now I am motivated to finish this piece, to be finished with it.

I started working on this project in May, after weeks of not being able to stitch at all,  not knowing what I was doing. I still don’t.

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Though I still don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t stop. Now I’m adding curving lines of feather stitch in spaces between patches—patches of fabric and patches of stitching around wrapped rings and over sequin waste. For these lines I’m using strong values of the dominant hues—red, green, and purple in #8 pearl cotton.

Connecting the patches

See the purple bit hanging from the bottom left? That’s a silk scarf that I plan to use for a border. (See, there is some planning going on.)

This is the wildest, most chaotic needlework I have ever done. Improvised. It very much represents the way my life has been since around April—wild and weird. After 17 years of solitary, sedentary life, I’m bursting with energy and going off in many directions. It’s as though I have ADHD. Whereas I spent the past many years reading, studying, stitching, and meditating, now I can’t sit still, can hardly read for any length of time, and I stitch only for an hour or two, and not every day.

During the 11 years we have lived at Charlestown, I loved everything about it except the food, which I deal with creatively at home. But I had no knowledge of the culture of Charlestown, what the resident population was like. The only Charlestown residents with whom Ernie and I have socialized are Gloria and Esther. Now I’ve tried out some of the many activities and events offered here and I’m meeting people.

Oh my goodness! What a discovery! I feel as though I am living among my parents—the very people against whom I rebelled and from whom I fled in the 1960s. They’re all here! White, suburban, Republican, homogeneous, and mostly women who were homemakers and volunteers, not “career women”, as they were called in the 1950s when I was growing up. I don’t mean everyone, of course. This is simply the general impression I’ve gotten as I’ve come out of my room into the community. It lacks diversity!

In meetings this week, I’ve made some more discoveries: firstly, that I am not alone in my perception of Charlestown’s culture. The Community Resources Manager told me that the population here ranges in age from 60 to over 100—three generations, in effect, living here. Further, she said, newer and younger people moving in are finding it not as hospitable a community as they had expected. Not that people aren’t friendly and helpful; they certainly are. But that their interests and, said Mary, “way of thinking” are so different from the newcomers.

Well, those differences can only be exacerbated as baby-boomers start to move in! There was such an immense cultural shift during the 1960s and 70s that the generational differences are much greater than in earlier eras. These thoughts were reinforced in a meeting I had with our campus television channel staff. They have already observed the disconnect between the dominant culture at Charlestown and that of some new residents. Although we’ve been here for 11 years, I qualify as a newcomer. I’m just getting to know Charlestown. What I’ve realized is that I have to make Charlestown hospitable to me, and for people more like me. Mary said there is a “hunger for it” but that people have not taken the initiative to make changes.

As I adapt to my recovery, struggle with my abundant energy, and work at creating a satisfying and different life for myself, my life feels chaotic: exuberant, full of potential, and joyful but at the same time, unorganized, random, strange, (did I already say “chaotic”?) and therefore, not yet satisfying. It’s messy and it’s vibrant.

Some new things I’m doing:

  • visiting in the Care Center two people with dementia and taking one of them to church on Sundays;
  • praying the liturgy of the hours every Monday with my new Roman Catholic friend, a long-time contemplative Christian who is also interested in Buddhism;
  • organizing Charlestown transportation for season subscribers to Center Stage and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which I hope will lead to the formation of groups that attend together;
  • hosting the leader of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation center for a showing of the video of his pilgrimage to India’s most holy Buddhist sites; and
  • preparing to teach two courses: Fabric of Survival and Playing with Stitches (to be described later).

Of course you know that I swim half a mile every morning, walk several miles a day, and do the shopping. (When I returned from walking to the Giant and back with my groceries, the security guard at the Charlestown entrance told me I should not be down there so late –8:45 p.m., by myself. Who knew that our shopping center was dangerous?)

I feel the way this work looks—vibrant and messy. Unsettled.

Connecting the patches

P.S. It’s now 9:05 p.m. here. I posted this a few hours ago. I’ve just come back after walking for 40 minutes, two miles.

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