Last month, I faced a hard task. Hard, not in the sense of strenuous work or tough negotiations; not climbing a mountain or training for a marathon or anything else that could really be deemed difficult. No, it was hard because I was not ready. It was hard because I simply did not want to do it. Likewise, my first attempt at this post was so “Wendy Whiner-ish” that I had to set it aside. I knew I needed an attitude adjustment. I just didn’t know when or from whom that inspiration might come.
You can do this hard thing,
You can do this hard thing
It's not easy I know but
I believe that it's so
You can do this hard thing.
When Richard received his Parkinson’s Disease (PD) diagnosis on July 23 last year, my first, librarian-like reaction was to dig into the research. I relied on Mayo’s website for my introduction; I joined the Parkinson’s Foundation’s online community which generates lots of helpful emails on a regular schedule; I even downloaded the 174 page care-giver’s guide. I think that is what stymied me. I wanted the Cosmo version of a guide. I wanted 10 easy steps to understanding a complicated, incurable disease or 10 easy strategies to supporting without smothering. I did not want; I could not handle 174 pages. I reverted to learning by osmosis – simply observing the changes I saw or listening to what Richard was discovering since he was doing the hard work of research. I did give PD a new name. In my head this progressive disorder that affects the nervous system became FD – that F*****g Disease.
Hearts hung like laundry
On backyard clothes lines
Impossible just takes
A little more time
This past weekend, I had the special privilege to spend time with Carrie Newcomer , a musican and songwriter the Boston Globe describes as a “prairie mystic.” As I served as chauffeur between hotel and church, sat through a rehearsal and sound checks, enjoyed a concert and particpated in two Sunday morning services at which Carrie and her accompanist, Gary Waters, were the featured musicians, Carrie’s poignant stories, inspirational lyrics, and haunting melodies jumpstarted my attitude adjustment. I felt I could step away from selfish introspective, from frustrated inability to “fix” the problem and into the simple acknowledgement that Richard and I will continue to adapt and manage.
Even as my head is full of possibilities having just completed the 3-day, Knit Camp at the Coast, VIP retreat with Marie Greene, I am planning ahead for those frigid days when the garden is in its winter rest. As a means of continuing my knitting immersion, I registered for the 2022 Have a Ball Fall Crawl and several Fireside Chats. These virtual activities were created in 2020 as our world went into pandemic lockdown and local yarn stores (LYS) scrambled to stay afloat. Even as brick-n-mortar sales picked up, shop owners had discovered these online events were an engaging marketing technique. Through the wonder of Zoom, local and distant customers could be brought together with far-flung resources which generated sales and kept ledgers in the black.
The five-day Fall Crawl will feature 28 LYSs located in the U.S. and Canada including several that I frequent often – Yarnology in Winona and 3 Kittens in Mendota Heights (always a regular stop anytime I am on my way to St. Paul); several that I only know as online vendors like Knot Another Hat in Hood River, Oregon, as well as shops that are on my wish list of places to visit like Stash in Charlotte, NC (hopefully as part of November 2023 plans to attend Verse & Vino – that library’s major fundraiser). Each participating shop will have 45-minutes to showcase its specialties, share locally designed patterns, and offer discounted sales. Plus, there are will be prizes just for participating!
The Fall 2022 Fireside Chats will connect Zoom participants and designers from California to Denmark, Uruguay to Maine and beyond. The various creators will share the story of their unique fiber journeys, showcase favorite techniques, and describe their latest creative ventures. There will be time for Q&A, pattern discounts, and (yes) more prizes.
A fundamental question was raised during last week’s sermon. A question appropriate to living our individual lives as we continue to navigate the details of re-gathering amidst viruses and variants (and move into what is predicted to be a virulent flu season) and especially poignant for a welcoming congregation:
Admittedly, in the Hutton household and, I am sure, at your house too in these nearly but not quite post-Covid days some tasks are easier to navigate than others. Some days we find ourselves almost back to a routine that feels comfortable like a well-worn flannel shirt on a cool September day or going to church on Sunday morning. But then we arrive in that sacred space and see smiling masked faces and we must admit it is the same but different.
In the midst of these ambiguous days, Richard and I decided we would add more uncertainty to our daily life. Since July, our house has been in some form of disarray due to three (count them – 3) renovation projects. Just to be clear, all of the work has been undertaken by choice and not a crisis with our nearly 100 year old house – built in 1925 and moved in ’27. All the work is being done so that we might continue to “age gracefully in place.”
Last Sunday’s homiletic imagery of drifting on the water, anchored, but with a shifting shoreline accurately described our days. Carpenters arriving on a date set two months earlier – anchored. Getting a call late Friday that the team of painters and plasterers would arrive early the next week – definitely felt like bobbing on choppy water as we scrambled to move all of the furniture from four rooms, take our eclectic collection of art off the walls, and remove all the electric faceplates.
Knowing our renovations were close to completion but with more work still to be done, I arrived at church last Sunday and felt anchored as we poured our collected water tributes into the large blue bowl and music rang joyfully. Anchored again this morning seeing familiar faces and welcoming new members as we make “a wide arrival”.
Years ago, after my parents had purchased a new portable color-TV, Dad decided he would put the still working black-n-white on the curb. Being Dad, he first made a wooden sign with a white painted background and large block letters spelling, FREE. With the giveaway item and his new sign deposited at the end of the driveway, we sat down for dinner on the screened porch. Within four minutes, we heard a car stop and then drive away, leaving only the sign which, 50+ years later, Mom still uses sometimes.
This morning’s 7am curbside giveaway lasted a tad longer … all of 13 minutes. I bought my “brodhead” rocker with going-away money gifted from my fellow teachers as I moved from being a school librarian in Brodhead, Wisconsin to my first post-MLS1 public library position in Columbus, Georgia. This 1979 purchase was inspired by an Oval Office picture of John F. Kennedy sitting in his Bentwood rocker.
This chair has gone from Wisconsin, to Georgia, to Illinois and, finally, to Minnesota. It is well traveled and well used – but we are ready for a change. With our new red-birch living room floor beautifully installed we are also replacing some of the furniture. We have a Stressless™ leather recliner on order and so I bid adieu to my “brodhead” rocker.
1 University of Wisconsin – Madison, Masters of Library Science
As our renovation project nears completion, we have painters and plasterers working in all but one first floor room. The two rooms (bathroom and upstairs bedroom) which are not getting painted are temporarily storing a large portion of the moved furniture and the safely tucked away art creating a sense of chaos throughout the house. Then, add to this disarray a semantical difference between our expectations and the language of the price quote/work order and this has become the most challenging part of a project that began in May. Through discussion and an upward movement of the price, all has been resolved and the windows, walls and the base board skirting the new red birch floor will look fresh.
The exterior work was completed yesterday. While we still have a white house, Forrest Green has replaced all of the three+ decades of Billybong Blue on the doors and windows, giving us a color combo very reminiscent of my Grandmother’s Vine Street house. The screened back porch (our favorite summer space) sports a white clean-up coat and with today’s gentle breeze and the wind chimes ringing, it has become our hideout from the plaster dust and paint fumes.
After several recent trips with destinations dependent upon multiple flights, I am ready to be a homebody and pleased that my next “excursion” will be virtual – thanks to the wonder of Zoom and WiFi on my screened porch.
Within hours of Knit Camp at the Coast registration going live in May, I was registered for Marie Greene’s third annual knitting retreat VIP package. The itinerary for this 3-Day event imbues a Pacific NW vibe with days full of new knitting skills taught by well-known practitioners. When you add in coastal drink recipes, small group breakout rooms, and retreat swag, it will be the best non-trip trip of the summer.
In prep for Marie’s Pop Knitting class, I am stash diving for contrasting fingering skeins. As advertised, her shared skills will take a simple beanie and embellish it with “bright twists, braids, and other bursts of colorful texture.”
As a fan of short rows, another session will cover the mechanics of different short row techniques, as well provide advice about when and where to use them. Short rows can be a practical devise (to add a smidge of length to the back of a sweater) or an artful design element.
My calendar is cleared; my homework is on the needles; and my excitement is mounting as I count the days to mid-September fun.
I have often wondered if the combination of these Scarborough Fair herbs in the traditional folk song, adapted by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966, was simply lyrical or a lost recipe for a marvelously concocted love potion. The parsley, rosemary, thyme referred to in the popular song lyric are garden favorites and each fall my rosemary plant migrates to the basement to continue producing under a timed gro-light.
As botanical siblings neither sage nor mint are among my triumvirate of favorite herbs – basil, oregano, and thyme. This summer’s sage was planted simply as a decorative variation in the greenery among my herbal pots. But, because I have it, I am drying a handful of leaves from my back door crop to preserve a touch of this summer’s wealth. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “in medieval Europe, sage was thought to strengthen the memory and promote wisdom” so it may be good for something other than Thanksgiving stuffing.
As the floor crew removed the scarred maple in prep for the new red birch floor, the smells were reminiscent of time spent in Dad’s workshop helping to steady boards as they passed through the table saw and from an even earlier time when he hand-sawed wood in the garage while I dulled a drill-bit. It was a favorite pastime, sitting on the garage floor, concentrating on a block of wood and carefully turning, turning, turning the crank of the hand drill through a board. He kept one bit just for me as I was imprecise in judging my stopping point and the concrete never budged.
So, too, the renovation sounds evoked memories, although less than melodic, as crowbars wrenched wood and pulled nails screeched. Previously, Richard and I performed the hours and hours of kitchen and bathroom demolition (1987). This time – older, wiser, and financial solvent – we are paying someone to do the dirty work of removing the old and much abused living room flooring that hid for decades under carpet. This week’s old house discoveries included:
An entire section of the original subfloor was never nailed to the floor joists
Maple flooring poorly patched with mystery wood when heat ducts and cold air returns were moved or replaced over time
Bowed living room walls – We have known for years that the wall between the dining room and the living room was out-of-square by nearly two inches which is why, in 1987, the dining room parquet was laid at an angle but now we know that that east and west living room walls are not straight
Electrical wiring tucked under the baseboard on what had once been a front porch as it was quicker than drilling a hole where the electrical outlet was actually located.
All relatively easy fixes or work-a-rounds, although the surprising and definitely not to code location of the electrical wire in the sunroom was discovered when nicked by a power saw which required adding a junction box and new wiring.
Oh the joys of 21st century renovations in a house built in 1925 and moved in 1927! But the new red birch hardwood floor will be beautiful.
My first travel discovery was a shift in language; the journey defined not as a trip, or a vacation or even a history tour but as “pilgrimage.” For the 15 of us, this was a time to immerse ourselves in stories; to amble the same path as Henry David Thoreau trod along the shores of Walden pond; to climb the same steep, narrow wooden stairs to the Arlington Street Church bell tower and ring the same bells that would have gathered people to hear William Ellery Channing speak; to saunter through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and touch the gravestone of Louisa May Alcott.
Some highlights of our days of pilgrimage:
King’s Chapel – touched the last bell cast and hung by Paul Revere
Arlington Street Church – tried my hand at ringing three of the 16 bells
Mount Auburn Cemetery – left memorial bouquets at the graves of William Ellery Channing, Hosea Ballou, John Murray, and Margaret Fuller
Walden Pond – walked the entire pond and left a Winona river rock at the stone cairn close to the site of Thoreau’s cabin where he lived for 2 years, 2 months and 2 days
Old Manse – saw the desks where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter and Emerson wrote Nature
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – discovered that as they were neighbors in life, so too they are neighbors today as we visited Authors Row and the family plots of the Alcotts, Thoreaus, Emersons, and Peabodys leaving pencil homages for Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, and Elizabeth Peabody.
Our days were filled visiting churches, graveyards and cemeteries (learning these two are different from one another) and touring the homes of literary giants. All the while hearing concise history lessons laced with anecdotes that put flesh and bone to revered names and made them quirkily human. We benefited from bookstore visits, invigorating conversations, time for quiet reflection, and the recitation of poetry.
The road waits.
... when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.
- Arlene Gay Levine
P.S. And six of us hopped the green line to Fenway for a Red Sox win. The green monster is really monstrously tall!
I have a copy of Michael Holroyd’s definitive biography of Lytton Strachey. A gift from a friend, the two-volume boxed set serves as a bookend anchoring a shelf of history titles. My friend was a Bloomsbury aficionado. He read everything he could about these post-Victorian intellectuals even waiting patiently to purchase The Letters of Virginia Woolf published in six volumes; book-by-book over 10 years. He also gifted me his extra copy of The Loving Friends: A Portrait of Bloomsbury by David Gadd.
When the Pilgrimage to Massachusetts reading list (yes – an actual two-page bibliography of primary and secondary sources) included American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever, I thought this title could be the primer I needed (just as The Loving Friends had been) to better understand our American literary giants. As the subtitle describes, American Bloomsbury focuses on the lives, loves, and work of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau.
These profoundly talented people moved among each other, sometimes living together, sharing books, reading what each other wrote, and relishing in deep philosophical discussions. In the introductory “Note to the Reader” Cheever describes her intent to work chronologically but to do so from each of her primary character’s perspectives thus her timeline moves back and forth as she describes overlapping incidents and conveys the stories of their lives life in Concord and the surrounding environs during the 1830s – 1890s.
Their individual accomplishments – Little Women, The Scarlett Letter, Walden, Or Life in the Woods – create for us a tableau of 19th century life; a young country, a growing divide over slavery; and women’s rights still but a wishful glimmer only in some minds. But, taken as a whole, these hearty New Englanders defined a literary, philosophical, religious, and political movement that we call Transcendentalism with its core belief in the inherent goodness of the individual and nature.
I leave early (4:45 am) tomorrow to see their homes and haunts.