Saturday, May 31, 2014

Grief and gratitude

It's funny how close grief and gratitude can be, how they can inform and weigh upon each other.

A few weeks ago, my Romantics students and I had a pretty great class looking at This Lime Tree Bower My Prison, by Coleridge. While I am by no means a die-hard Coleridge fan (I'm more of a Keats girl myself), I loved working through this poem with my students, and I was particularly touched by the notion that, if you're open to it, you can find beauty anywhere. This concept of openness is, I think, a useful one, and one that I try to engage with daily in my life, especially during challenging times.

The week after my encounter with the Lime Tree Bower, I started chemo, and my wise and beautiful friend Peta (who's had her own experiences with the Big C) somewhat telepathically reminded me that being in gratitude can be a powerful healer. And indeed it did help me, in the weeks after the chemo treatment, when I was feeling like I'd been run over by a bus, to focus my energies upon the things I was grateful for, both great and small, rather than just feeling sorry for myself. 
The love of my family, the care and compassion of my community, my gorgeous farming-lady, the surprise of finding a pair of pink borage blossoms among the blue, a day-bed in the sun on which to lie, abundance in the garden, a flock of galahs flying past the window of my hospital room making a LOT of noise, good food, happy chickens, a swan-shaped troboncini-squash, sunny days, kisses from my kids.
I had wanted to write a blog post about some of these things, but I have a strange relationship with gratitude, especially as it exists within the blog-world context, where it sometimes detracts from (or even stands in place of) rigorous or even thoughtful engagement with the reasons why we, in the privileged west, have the opportunity to be grateful and then write a blog about it. So I held off.
And then one of the most unimaginable tragedies befell one of my most beloved friends: the loss of a child. My gratitude, instantaneously, was deepened, sharpened and tainted by grief. It's a multi-hued kind of feeling and it exists and operates on so many levels, and I am so so sad for so many reasons, not least of all because my dear friend is right now experiencing an unimaginable pain that I am so completely unable to ease. 

I am deeply honoured that one of the things I made for little Lucien is going to be used in his funeral rites, and I am crocheting and writing now to ease the pain in my heart and also to honour the love that his spirit inspired. I wish I could do more, but I can't.
This blog is a journal of sorts, and I felt that to continue writing posts about craft and building a cooking and living without acknowledging this tragedy and the shift of emotion it has provoked would be a betrayal. So here it is - a little garbled, perhaps - my musings upon sadness and love and grief and gratitude. It might not seem like it, but they're closer friends than you might think.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Craft really is the answer to everything

The day I found out I was going to have to have a mastectomy, I came straight home and started googling crochet patterns for prosthetic breasts. When I told our dear and beautiful friend Ruth this story, she laughed and said: "I love the way you think Annie - craft really is the answer to everything". This phrase has now become something of an ongoing in-joke around these parts, mostly because it's just kind of partly true! Craft (if you're craftily inclined), in times of crisis, can be soothing, mind-centring, distracting, pro-actively-taking-control-of-an-otherwise-crap-situation, beautiful, calming, fun, satisfying and (maybe my favourite) productive. Is that not COOL???

In the midst of all the medicalised insane-ness going on in our own family's lives at the moment, Ruth's beautiful family has also been wading through some pretty crazy intense medicalised crap of their own, involving her 7 year old daughter Edie. Now let's just say right here that Edie is a trooper. She's a friggin cool, smart, sassy kid, and we miss her. Because of the fact that she is cool, smart and sassy (and has pretty much the BEST parents in the world EVER) I know that she's going to learn from and grow with her particular situation, and come out tougher and cooler. She just will. Coz she's awesome.
But we wanted to send her a love package in the mail to cheer her up, distract her, and let her know we're thinking of her and we love her.

 In case you didn't realise, love packages are THE BEST and I strongly encourage you to send one to someone you love TOMORROW. We usually include: something handmade in the craft category, something handmade in the food category, some reading material, some music, and whatever else we find lying around at time of parcel assembly that we believe will tickle the recipient. Package carefully and well, and decorate the box nicely, then send it on its way.

Edie's a reader, like our Olive, so her love package is full of books she (hopefully) hasn't read yet, recommended by Olive. And I also made her a pair of reading gloves.

Reading gloves are my crocheted take on driving gloves. For some reason, in my mind, driving gloves are very sophisticated, glamorous things, fingerless, made from soft stuff like 'kid leather', and held together with little buckles and neat buttons. If you're very fancy, your driving gloves are monogrammed or personalised in some other nifty way. I'm vaguely attracted to them for the same reason I love sailing ships: I'm a highly imaginative person who has read way too many novels, resulting in romantic attachments to ideas, concepts and objects I actually know nothing about. 

Given that Edie is a reader, not a driver, I wanted to make her some reading gloves, which she could wear while sitting up in bed devouring novels, to keep her hands warm while also allowing her to turn the page with ease. And I wanted them to have all the (possibly made-up) things I love about (my idea of) driving gloves. 

The answer? Crocheted fingerless mitts, made appropriately in Edie's favourite colours, adorned with neat little buttons and personalised with a Scrabble 'E'.
I didn't have a pattern for the gloves, so made it up, embellishing with scalloped edges. While everything started relatively well (I remembered to count the stitches in my initial chain so that the gloves would be the same size) I forgot to write down several other things I did on the first glove, so the second glove is a little bit different. But I was still pretty happy with how they came out. They're basically just tubes, with little thumb holes and scalloped edges. If you're a beginner crocheter, I reckon they'd be an excellent first (or second) project - I'm sure you could find a pattern for some online, though I'm more into improvisation myself...

So Edie, lovely girl, here's to you and your amazing awesomeness. While the reality of being thrust into scary and potentially overwhelming medical situations is not so great, you will be OK. You are so so loved. I hope you like your gloves. May your warm-handed novel-reading lead to a rich and fulfilling life full of highly-romanticised and possibly not very accurate ideas about things. Always better than the real thing. 
As modeled by Miss Olive

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Number nine

Yesterday, the day after my first chemo treatment, was Pearl's and my ninth wedding anniversary.

I wasn't much up for celebrating, having been intravenously poisoned for 6 hours on Tuesday, so we didn't mark the occasion, other than to happily, though wearily, acknowledge the day and how happy we are to be together. Oh and of course, there was a little gift-giving of the RedPeg variety.

The thing about having an eminently talented jewellery-crafter as a good friend is that pretty much every single gift-giving opportunity calls for a glorious visit to a glorious shop. After much deliberation, I selected one of Gab's perfectly imperfect recycled silver bangles, and brainstormed how to personalise it for the anniversary occasion. We decided on stamped letters - A's and G's - randomly scattered on one side of the bangle, with two O's hidden in there for good measure. And Gab even let me stamp them myself, as Olive pottered away at Gab's work bench, which was kind of fun and exciting as I'd never done anything like that before.
It was nice to be chatting away there in the beauty of the studio, working and just thinking about the event being commemorated by the piece, admiring all of Gab's amazing trinkets and artworks, distracting myself from the terror that was chemo-eve.

Pearl and I had our wedding party at the Bundanoon Youth Hostel in 2005. It was a beautiful, fun, joyful day of emotion and deep love and happiness (a little bit more on this, and some pics, here). I love remembering that day - what it meant and continues to mean for us, how each year's passing, and each acknowledgement and remembrance of the day allows us (yes, even amidst the tumult of cancer scariness) a moment to pause and consider and be thankful for the life we have together which has grown, at least in part, from the words we said and the commitment we made on that day.

We had no "sickness and in health" in our vows, but we didn't need to. We've both seen each other at our lowest ebbs, and we've both pulled each other through with tenderness and love and as much strength as we can muster. I'm hoping that this experience of mine - a mastectomy and months of chemo - will mark a low point that we don't have to return to. But even if we do, I know it'll be OK. Because when you find someone who you can get through the shit with, and not just survive but also end up more in love than before the shit, you know you're on a good thing.

A few weeks ago, my grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Here I am, so elated at celebrating number nine, I can't even imagine how rewarding and satisfying it must be to look back over 60 years of joy and love and sadness and brilliance and big downs and utter crappiness and super-unmatched-awesomeness, all with the chosen person by your side. Something to look forward to, I say.

And in the mean time, all I can do is (literally) sit back and watch in wonder and awe as this lady I chose soldiers on through the shittiness of our current situation, tending chickens and dogs and ducks from dawn til dusk, feeding our family, loving our kids, and looking after me in all my bald, one-boobed messiness with a big smile on her face and so much love in her heart. I have to try hard not to wonder: How did I get to be so lucky?
A handmade wedding ring, a handmade anniversary bangle and a bunch of nasturtiums.
** For those of you not lucky enough to be living in the gorgeous Bega Valley with close proximity to RedPeg ecostudio, you can purchase Gab's creations online, or visit her at the upcoming Finder's Keepers Market in Sydney on the 6th and 7th of June. Make no mistake, RedPeg jewellery is the real deal - recycled silver, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind jewellery, which is TOTALLY beautiful and lovely to wear, and makes the most EXCELLENT gift for loved ones of all shapes and sizes.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A frock in action

One thing I love love love about making clothes for people is getting feedback on the clothes in action, seeing the clothes in action, and getting photos of the clothes in action - especially when the action happens to be on a stage playing beautiful music! 
A couple of days ago Hilary Blackshaw (the recipient of a rather lovely pregnant-singing-mumma-stage-frock) sent me these gorgeous photos of her frock in action, accompanied by the following words: 

"Your dress has been so comfortable to wear as my midriff has been expanding with our new bubba- I'm due on Tuesday, so your dress has served me very well so far! I've had so many lovely comments about it, too. And as you can see, it worked brilliantly well with my electric guitar ; )"

What better compliment than a dress working brilliantly well with an electric guitar?? I was so pleased to see the pics, and to hear that the dress had lasted the distance and performed its duties as an on-stage preggo dress, that I just had to share these pics. Makes me wish I was in a folk club, listening to Hilary and her Philosophers and sipping an ale right now....