Getting crafty

Back in the day when I was a child, I was quite crafty. I learned to sew from my grandmother who taught me on her treadle sewing machine. The first thing I made was a bag for scrabble tiles, complete with the hand embroidered word “Scrabble” on the outside. The embroidery was terrible, puckered and wonky. The bag endured nonetheless: my parents still used it until my mother died at age 92 and my father had no one to play with. 

My mother taught me to knit, and I did a lot of it. As teenagers my friends and I would spend our lunchtimes knitting. This was a thing at the time so I wasn’t unusually nerdy. 

I’ve continued to sew throughout much of my adult life, with mixed results. I do it more for the pleasure of sewing rather than the garment at the end. Knitting I haven’t continued with. Occasionally I’ve felt the urge but I haven’t searched out yarn and patterns. Yarn has got very expensive too so I don’t want to make something I won’t use. 

Crochet is one crafty form I have never tried. Until today. I bought some jute twine and fired up YouTube. About an hour later I had my first little basket completed. 

There is something very therapeutic and relaxing about handcrafts. They involve repetitive motions, which are soothing and relaxing, but they also require concentration, counting stitches and rows and so on. In combination this makes them absorbing, and the gradual emergence of the finished product, growing slowly as you go, is enormously satisfying. 

I realise how much I have missed this. Making things is inherently satisfying, and learning new skills is too. It’s a great way to spend a weekend, and a retirement. 


Learning to pace myself

I am still learning how to pace myself under the changes to health and lifestyle that RA brings. I keep trying to do what I did before, and I simply cannot. I pay the price one way or another – pain, fatigue, infection, or if I’m particularly unlucky, all three. 

I have a tendency to try to do everything when I’m feeling good, taking advantage of the times when I do have energy. This backfires, unsurprisingly. I haven’t yet reliably identified that zone between “enough” and “too much” – the zone where I can push my boundaries just enough to stretch them but not break them. 

But I’m starting to learn and make better calls. I decided to make this a “personal” long weekend because, even though we just had one last week for Easter, I felt very tired all week and knew I was headed for a crash. But I didn’t want to sit around for four days feeling tired and pathetic. That wasn’t going to help me recuperate and restore my depleted batteries. 

I had been invited on a day hike on Saturday. Ordinarily this would have been a great plan, but I didn’t sleep well, was worn out from the work week, and woke feeling very lethargic. I briefly argued with myself about going – would it be good for me or too much? I decided it would be too much and cancelled. I’ve gradually learned to distinguish between the kind of tired that benefits from a walk, and the fatigue that is exacerbated by exercise. This was the latter. 

I was inclined to lie on the couch and watch TV but I know that when I’m exhausted, this does nothing for my mental state and consequently has no positive impact on my fatigue. So I opted for sketching. I found a photo on Google of Amsterdam’s canal houses, and spent about an hour drawing them. And I felt pretty darn good when I was done. Good enough that after a decent long sleep I called my friend on Sunday morning about that hike and off we went. 
Now I’m back home resting and feeling tired in that good way, when your body has done something to justify the fatigue you feel. 

I made the right call not to go hiking on Saturday even though the weather was glorious. I made the right call to sketch rather than passively sit in front of Netflix. Both those choices helped recharge me. Perhaps because I know I can spend tomorrow in bed, I was willing to push the walking today, but I did feel less exhausted this morning and more up for exercise. It wasn’t a great distance – about 5km – but it involved sun, fresh air, beautiful scenery and good company. 

I’ve never been very good at paying attention to how my body feels. RA has forced me to pay attention, and not just to what hurts. As a result I’m getting better at recognising what my body can tolerate, which is frequently quite different from what my mind thinks I should do. Pacing myself seems to be, at least in part, about learning to shut off the “should” voice and trust that my body is telling me the truth. 


Easter, and feasts

This weekend is a long one, four days for Easter. One thing I like about the Easter break is that it is one public holiday that has resisted the urge to turn into a shopping frenzy. Even supermarkets are closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Years ago I read a Bon Appetit magazine that had a feature on a Greek Orthodox family’s Easter feast. It was beautifully styled of course, the family very photogenic and the food delicious. Many of the dishes served were laden with symbolic meaning or were traditional celebratory food. But what has stuck in my memory all these years were the photos of the family, extended and multi-generational, all sitting down to a large table laden with food and partaking in this ritual.

There was no such ritual in my family, where Easter seemed to be more about “having” to go to church, and not being allowed Easter eggs until after church. But I don’t remember a special Easter feast, and I think part of why that Bon Appetit article stuck in my mind was because it was the first time it had occurred to me that Easter was a “feast day” (and in fact the church’s greatest feast day of the year), in a very literal sense. Since my family didn’t celebrate with a feast, there wasn’t anything particularly feast-like about it.

My failure to register Easter as a feast day had nothing to do with a lack of religious conviction. My parents were avid church goers all their lives – my father still is.  The lack of feast had, I think, more to do with a puritanical streak in my mother’s upbringing that saw celebrations as unneecessary indulgences and a slippery slope leading directly to moral decay.

The church calendar is in fact filled with feast days. Feast days provide structure to the year and an opportunity to express gratitude (for a harvest), relief (that we didn’t die of cold), to celebrate births or acknowledge deaths.Specific rituals, whether food or activity based, lend distinct character to each feast. Hence – presents and cakes on birthdays, costumes and candy at Halloween, lamb, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs (a bunch of mixed metaphors) at Easter.

Every year, I debate whether this year I will ‘indulge’ for Easter, for Christmas, for birthday, for New Year. In general I decide I can’t be bothered. Or rather, I indulge in spending the ‘feast’ alone. There is nothing wrong with spending holidays alone, and nothing wrong with not cooking up a 5 course spread for one. What I do have to guard against is unconsciously embracing a puritanical attitude towards celebrations and shutting them out for fear they will result in my ruination.

Because I don’t think eating a 6-pack of hot cross buns at a sitting, once a year, is going to be the cause of my downfall.

The irony of moving out of town to live alone

I have now gone unconditional on the land, so there’s no going back! Not that I want to. I’m planning and dreaming and tying myself up in knots over logistics. It’s fun. 

A curious phenomenon: I have told friends about this purchase and my plan to build a small house and retreat there to live a quiet and solo life. And everyone’s first reaction? “I’ll come and visit you!”

The irony of it. I am frankly quite delighted and weirdly flattered, or is it encouraged ? that so many people are interested in my plans and excited for me, while also being excited they’ve now got a cheap or free place to stay when they travel up that way. (They’re wrong about free: the guest accommodation will be part of my income so they will have to pay, although at reduced rates). 

But it’s not my intention in moving there to have a constant stream of guests. I want to live alone. And that means being alone for more of the time, much more of the time, than being with people. 

In reality I doubt this will be the inundation it sounds like at the moment, with everyone excited and the idea of it all brimming with possibilities. Already, friends travelling up that way have asked for the address to go check it out. 

This is all fine right now. And maybe I’m reading too much into people’s enthusiasm. What I’m concerned about for myself is being able to pace myself, to regulate the amount of visitor time I have, to ensure that I have enough time alone. 

I cannot do back to back weekends with visitors. Last weekend’s tramping trip was great but it was enough people contact for several weeks. Having friends to stay in my house is hard going for me. Entertaining people – being responsible for showing them a good time – is exhausting. 

I am going to need an approach to having people to stay that makes it clear they are on their own in terms of entertaining themselves from after breakfast until dinner time or even until next morning. I need to know I can retreat to my own space and get on with my own projects without being interrupted or forced to socialise. 

In fact I think this approach can be very freeing for guests too. They can do their thing and not feel dependent on me. The fact they’ll have to have a car to even stay there means they’ll have that freedom without needing me to drive them. 

Ironic that, in planning for my great escape, my first need is to protect my privacy and solitude. 

A new adventure begins

I got the land. I am now the proud owner of 23ha (55 acres) of prime grazing land facing north (sun – I’m in the Southern Hemisphere ) with a view of the river valley and the mountains behind. 

I’m a bit stunned, to be honest. Not quite buyers remorse, but I’ve been having some moments of terror of the “what was I thinking?” variety. Because this is a slightly mad adventure to be embarking on. Mind you, all the best adventures are mad. 

Twenty three hectares is a lot of land. It’s not farm sized, but it’s way bigger than lifestyle block. How on earth am I going to manage it all? On my own?

Tackling something like this would be an ambitious plan for a strong, healthy couple. For a single woman with rheumatoid arthritis, it doesn’t seem like a very sensible course of action. It’s going to take work, lots of it, and time and energy, and it’s that last one I’m most concerned about because it’s been in short supply. 

On the other hand, I’m really excited about this and I feel energised thinking about it, and it’s been a while since I felt that way about anything. In practical terms, the one thing I have on my side is time, so I can learn to pace myself with physical work. I am hoping that regular not-too-physical physical work, or not too much of it in a day, might in fact help with my RA and with my energy. Being enthusiastic counts for a lot. 

Farming neighbours are generally very willing to help out with local knowledge and advice. I know that my new neighbours will steer me in the right direction and of course there will always be people available who I can hire to help with things I can’t do on my own. So although I’m doing this alone, I can choose how alone I want to be. 

My procedure outcome was good news in disguise: they found nothing so I don’t know what’s causing the troubles, but it’s nothing big and obviously serious, so that counts as a win in my book. 

It’s been a pretty stressful week and it was hectic at work. And instead of recovering on my couch, I’m reuniting with old friends and doing a very easy tramping trip into the mountains. The fact I even said yes to this is an indication of just how energising the land purchase has been. 

Amazing how different life can look at the end of a week.