Thursday, August 27, 2015

Elul Challah

It's the Hebrew month of Elul, the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkos, and Shemini Atzeret-Simchat Torah. Most of the year we eat braided challah bread on Shabbos and holidays. For the holidays mentioned above of the month of Tishrei, we often use round challahs formed in a spiral. So logically (not) in Elul I like to make braided round challahs. 
First I divide each challah's dough into four sections,
rolle them into snakes, and do this center cross-over

Next I do the next-most-outer cross-overs,
starting with any pair, going around consistently
in a circle crossing one snake over it's paired neighbor

See, I've now crossed the left snakes and the top snakes

After that, I cross the snakes to their neighbors, continuing
the weave pattern. At this point it's messy but you'll see that
it doesn't matter because the messy part gets tucked underneath.

I've tucked the mess underneath and made nice tall round braided loaves.

And now they're cooling, along with pumpkin bread, and brownies are in the oven.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I really tried

My doctor had two alternative suggestions: either hospitalization or as long as possible a solo vacation. Needless to say I picked trying the getaway first. I'm not so fond of full nor partial hospitalization, thank you very much. I did a little digging and found a listing for a place up outside of Gettysburg, just inside the MD state line (I tried to keep track of the Confederate flags and frankly it was pretty much a toss-up between the two sides of the Mason-Dixon line right there). I booked, I went up and it seemed lovely.

On a private family farm, hundreds of acres owned by one person, a whole floor of a separate farmhouse with private kitchen, dining area, meditation room, bedroom, full bathroom, and enclosed porch.

First though I found out I was really lost at what I was doing there. I tried breaking up my time with a very little bit of shopping and sightseeing (I did go to the Utz outlet in Hanover to bring back treats for the family to thank them for seeing me through all of this and especially seeing me go and not complaining about it). I took a lot of walks, around the fields, through the paths, around the pond, amidst all the great dye plants (couldn't turn that part of my brain off, apparently). All sorts of pretty, calming things. And I figured I'd do some crafting while I had peace, especially seeing it as an opportunity to focus on a really fiendish-to-learn-until-you-get-it-down weave known as Jens Pind Linkage, and then a multi-media piece that had been bouncing around in my head for weeks.
JPL bracelet, at last after many previous attempts

Pure copper rings, sterling silver rings, metal seed beads,
Swarovski crystals,  glass seed beads, and base metal findings
Then I realized I was getting nowhere healing-wise. Not physically, not mentally. My shoulder hurt worse than ever, and I wasn't feeling more whole even after journaling 50 pages in my newly bought journal.  So I switched to no planning, no crafting, no accomplishing. No product-driven thinking. Process-only. I did a little coloring, which is well outside of my comfort area. But I went ahead with it. I even told myself it was okay not to plan it, not to make rules for myself while coloring either. I wasn't so good at that, at letting go of conscious control, and allowing myself freedom to not think and not plan and to ground myself in a more meditative or open ended mental state. I really just couldn't do it. But I did do the coloring and made the effort.
And then everything just crashed down on top of me once and for all and I just felt more physically and mentally ill than when I arrived, because I realized that the bites I was getting in lines on my arms, legs, torso, everywhere, were bed bug bites. I hadn't noticed the first few nights.
Of course I hadn't because I had never encountered bed bugs before and so my body hadn't developed an immune response allergy yet. After a few nights though, I was waking up each morning with more. This morning I realized and confirmed what I was thinking was in fact right, and what could I do but quickly do all my laundry in as hot water as available and leave as soon as possible? I've done everything I can to avoid having introduced them to the house. I'll be even more sick if my efforts weren't enough. I just don't know what to do now. Hospitalization isn't high on my list of what to try next. But with school coming up for the kids, and the holidays in just a few weeks running for a full month, going away again isn't possible. I'm so very lost in myself.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

From the past, a hedgehog returns

I've posted several embroideries from this last year, ones I'm submitting to the county fair (and thanks again, Alicia for picking them up to take them in for me). Here's one I thought I'd share that I believe pre-dates my blogging, so it's just never been posted anywhere. The pattern is completely original, it was an attempt to begin teaching myself thread painting. The scale turned out to be slightly too small for that really, but the various stitches and the hedgehog came out very well and I'm quite happy with it.  One day we just have to hang it up on the wall. This was done so long ago I was comfortable working all sorts of stitches for the various flowers, I'm not even sure today exactly how each one was worked.
It's actually all framed and ready to hang and everything. I just have had it sitting doing nothing for years.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Almost as set as I'm going to get

This is my follow-up to yesterday's preliminary post about county fair entries. I do have my two last embroidery pieces ready to go now, in the sense of all stitch work and finishing completed.
This black work Tudor rose is the piece I used to teach
myself black work; somehow I had never tried it before.
It's set in the top of a wooden box.

This reads, "Wisdom is better than strength," a quote from
Ecclesiastes.  Chochma, wisdom, was considered the feminine
form of the divine in Judaism before the destruction of the first
Temple; it was not just thought of as a female aspect of G-d but
was actually worshipped in its own right as much as the male
nature. After the Babylonian exile and exposure of the leaders to
goddess worship in other nations, on return to rebuild the Temple
the religious leaders of the nation suppressed the goddess cults
and with them the acceptance of worshipping a feminine concept.

Now I just have to get paperwork filled out and cards written up explaining all of this. I hope that's gentler on my shoulder than the hemming has been.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Almost that time of year in the US...

If you live in almost any part of the United States, it's already or almost county fair time. Our fair has one of the largest in the state (I think it's the largest, but I'm not 100% sure).

Most years I have entered a number of items in the Home Arts competition, in the knitting, spinning, and occasionally weaving categories. Since I really haven't done any knitting, spinning, or weaving to speak of since last year I don't have much.  I have three pieces totally ready to go, all in embroidery of one kind or another…I have to figure out a whole new areas of categories.
Embroidered triptych of a bee, a dragonfly, and a butterfly
in matching saffron floss on black linen

A Rosh Hashanah challah (bread) cover; the center says "A good
and sweet year;" the outer area has pictures of the different
foods we eat as "simanim," symbols of peace, plenty, well-being,
and success, and the partial texts we say with each of those foods..
As of tonight, it's finally edged and lined and pressed and finished.

A tiny (about 4") blackwork piece of a geometric web with a
tiny spider in the top right corner.

I do have one more blackwork piece finished in terms of embroidery. The question is whether I'll get it hemmed or not. At least I'm happy with these, I have something to enter, and if I don't win anything, it's fine, this is the first year I'm entering any of these areas.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Depression, physical pain, the Nine Days edition

I haven't been posting at all because my brief musings, brief being all my brain can produce most days, have been more suited for Facebook postings than blog writings. I do want to check in though, and I guess I should push my mind to produce a few more words at a time even if it's all in one- and two-syllable bites still rather than my former erudite prose.

I'll start back, yet again, with my surgery last winter. I had been noticing a cognitive decline and other neurologic issues no one could explain, not even two well thought of neurologists who declared me neurologically intact as far as physical exam and MRI could determine (they never did any cognition testing at all, not one thing) for quite some time, probably for up to about 8 years. Finally in the fall, my GP realized I had a huge and exponentially growing benign tumor in my neck that just happened to be pressing on my carotid artery, and that was successfully removed in a complex but brief outpatient surgery. The tumor, though, had a lot of adhesions to the brachial complex (nerve core for the arm) and soft tissue of the shoulder, so the surgeon had to do a lot of careful work since while benign this is the kind of growth that will return if any tissue is left behind. So not long after that, I found I needed to have rotator cuff surgery; at times, the pain in my shoulder was equal to that of labor (and I've had 6 kids, I know whereof I speak). Again, it was the simple kind of surgery; I had a lot of inflammation so the bone had to be cut down, but there were no tears of any soft tissue, just all the inflammation reaction from the first surgery. Following that there were months of physical therapy.  Meanwhile I had another simple surgical procedure (this one you don't want the details, trust me). Unfortunately, that one ALSO resulted in damage and inflammation in an organ which already had scar tissue attaching it to the surgical area. Fast forward, yada, yada, yada, my shoulder started getting worse and not better, return to the orthopedist, the inflammation is now affecting not the rotator cuff but the A/C joint, the next area over. Yet another cortisone injection in a new spot, and recommendations to see if the pain is better in another week.

Meanwhile, since childhood, I've been affected by crippling clinical depression. I'd say on a 1-10 depression scale, I've reached 9 at times. Right now I'm probably hovering around 6-7 with occasional 8 moments (9 to me is I'm sitting in my room in the dark sobbing or hiding under blankets, hoping the world itself just goes away, unable to face reality and responsibility despite being in my late 40's with real life responsibilities).

So here I am. Pain levels around 6-7. Depression levels around 6-7. Incidentally both are related to inflammatory processes in the body according to the most recent research, and pain is well-proven to exacerbate depression just as depression worsens pain.

Did I mention I have six children? At least three of whom (it's complicated what you define as a diagnosis) have serious medical or developmental disabilities themselves? Two of whom are elementary school aged and need direct care and interaction and such? That my husband works full time with a lot of out-of-hours calls and 24 hour on call status every day of the week except our Sabbath?

Now it's the end of the Nine Days and Three Weeks, a period of mourning on the Jewish calendar. The Nine Days is meant to be intensive mourning. This hasn't affected me directly too badly, but it has been particularly difficult for the children. One thing I had been able to do despite my own limitations was to take them to the pool. That's forbidden during the Nine Days, though. No movies, even though I did manage to take them to one a few weeks ago and had congratulated myself on feeling relatively comfortable about it and ready to do that again (for some reason going to the movies is an anxiety trigger for me often). Naturally, after a cool and wet early summer, this week the thermometer topped 90F every single day…so no nature walks, no berry picking expeditions, those things I generally am comfortable with.

In addition, my shoulder pain is made worse by driving. This has meant we're not even running errands to limit the monotony.

It's been so hard for the children, I know it is. They see my depression, they see my pain; I do my best to limit the effect on them, but there's only so much I can do. And all they can do is laze about. I know that's not the worst thing in the world for children, to be living in a safe suburban home and told that for one week they're just going to have to hang out, play video games, amuse themselves.

It hurst, it pains me though that the reason they're told this is all there is for them for the week is that their mother isn't who she is supposed to be, who she used to be, who she has managed sometimes to be. She's truly less than that right now. I shouldn't be, I don't want to be, I hate being this way. I am this way now though, pained, depressed, limited, disabled, locked away from them in so many ways. I'm fighting as much as I can. It's not enough yet.

After consultation with one of my doctors, I've found one therapy. In about two and a half weeks I'm going away for a meditative solo retreat. Nothing formal, I've just booked a room on a working farm about an hour and a half away (hopefully not too long a drive for my shoulder--I've had to drive longer recently, it was very painful, but it was physically possible), where there's nothing and everything to do. I can spend my time literally doing nothing but meditating and wandering the farm and environs. I'll bring books, crafts, and so on to see if I'm up to those. There are things within easy driving distance if I choose to wander farther: a cider house which makes hard cider from their own orchards; a renown fiber arts shop which is closing at the end of the calendar year to which I might as well make a pilgrimage, Gettysburg VA with all its history. I suspect I won't take advantage of much of that though. What this means for the family though is that for that whole period of time they don't even have access to the partial me that has been here--the entire burden of care is on my husband, who already has too much on his shoulders and naturally can't possibly carry it all himself.

One of the things which is weighing on me the most is the loss of art. Knitting for many years has been my most therapeutic tool. I've published patterns, I've knit from others' patterns, I've just knit. There are times when I knit so compulsively I finish pairs of full adult socks in 4 days (for most people that would take anywhere from 1-6 weeks). When I wasn't knitting, I was spinning yarn. 

All of that has been taken away from me for the last eight months. This scarf I began last October, about a week before my first surgery. Since then I have completed two rows--one row was enough to discover how painful knitting is to my shoulder; the second row I just had to complete to be comfortable setting the piece down and being able to pick it back up at a future date.

This is where my spinning has sat for months since I tried it again.

I've tried substitutes. I've been working with chain maille and beading. I love the art forms and I'm grateful I've started to learn them, but even the work with these leads to ice and wishes that prescription pain killers made the shoulder pain go away rather than just making me tired and loopy.



I'm going to try adult coloring, which is a big thing, if I can tack down the paper so I don't have to brace it with my bad arm. I'm searching for other creative arts to sample that might work. I yearn for something to fix it all. To make my shoulder recover, my neural synapses to take up their hormones properly. To fix my family for my husband and children's sake much more than my own.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Words directly from their hearts and hands

Seven years ago, I launched a BookMooch Journal (if you don't know about BookMooch or BookMooch Journals, here are your links).

Today the journal was returned to me because the section people were filling in was full. I simply have to share what people added to this over the years. Women across the US as well as in England and Wales participated (it was quite a large heavy book, and so it was difficult to have it cross international borders by post too often unfortunately). 
People shared their thoughts, their histories, their lives, their dreams and their work. They included original art, bits and swatches, useful hand made items for other contributors to keep and share, and so much more. Here is a taste of what this project produced so you can share in it too, virtually.