Strolling through the Stitches

snowI couldn’t decorate this year for Christmas – no tree, no tinsel, no lights, no pretty shiny bulbs with ribbons and glitter – but I sure had a lot of cheer. That’s something folks in the apparel decorating industry rarely get a chance to experience during the holiday season. But I was more or less forced into it during my long and “hoppy” month since my tumble from the step stool. My leg injury has opened my eyes to many wonderful things, but it’s been an up-and-down ride. A couple of weeks after the X-rays determined the damage was no more than a hefty sprain, the clinic called with a different story.

Further investigation of the X-rays had been done as a routine double-check by the Mayo Clinic (the parent clinic to our local Mayo Clinic Health Systems, lucky me). They had determined the X-rays revealed what might be avascular nervosis. Geez, sounded bad. (Even spell check doesn’t recognize it.) Well, all big medical words sound bad to me, considering the biggest word in my vocabulary for the last 27 years has been “digitizing”. But I’m not one to take chances with health issues, so, without hesitation, I agreed to add “MRI” to my schedule.

Now understand, this was my first MRI, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how long it would take. I had heard horror stories from the claustrophobic, but assured myself, that I’d never had that problem. I envisioned perhaps a half hour inside a tube and convinced myself it would be a dandy opportunity to meditate. (HA!)  I was wheeled outside in the cold to the large heated trailer that is parked in front of the clinic once a week (our rural facility is serviced by a “MRI-mobile”.) The technician explained how the process worked, while dangling a metal washer on a string in front of the white tubular opening. The washer flew up and danced around like a drunk fly until it glued itself to the inside opening of the tube. Eerie.

I then realized why the doctor had asked if I had any metal in my body, to which I had answered, “only if it was left behind the last time you guys were digging around and cutting things out.” She had snickered in a slightly devilish tone and remarked that we’d soon find out. Touche. I watched the tech pull away the metal washer and let it spring back a few times to display just how strong the magnetic current is, and imagined my body slamming up to the top of the cylinder, glued at the abdomen, limbs flailing, helplessly. I was so very relieved to be told only my lower body need be scanned.

I shoved the ear plugs in my ears as instructed, which then muffled the tech’s voice as she pointed to various digital panels on the front of the tube. So I pulled out one plug requesting she repeat the instructions and she replied, “I know, sorry. I’m like the dentist who asks you a question when they are digging in your mouth,” after which she promptly walked away to another room of the trailer to engineer the process.

No wait! Really, what did you say?!! The words got stuck in my throat as she disappeared too quickly behind a wall. I didn’t dare move. She had told me not to. And I recalled the metal in my dental work and didn’t want my head slamming into that thing. I struggled to read a tiny notice on the tube, “Do not stare directly into the light … severe damage ….” What light?! The one right above the notice? Maybe that’s not a light, but it sure looks like one. If that’s not the light, which light and just where am I not to stare? Why did they make such a warning so damn small?!

Then my attention was directed to the digital panels she had pointed to as they lighted and I discovered they were count-down timers that I was able to watch – something to keep the mind busy, I suppose, perhaps an attempt to comfort the patient, but they only reminded me of the digital count-down for a bomb. And then suddenly I found out what the ear plugs were for. As it scanned in 3-5 minute intervals, its swishing rat-a-tat-tat began, a sound similar to a worn out washing machine I once had when it went into the spin cycle – the one we had named “Old Tommy-Gun”. For 15 minutes I pondered, why in this new high-tech world does this sophisticated device have to make such a racket? What the hell goes on inside that thing? Well, I’ll probably never know the answer to that, but I decided that an MRI experience is certainly not the ideal time to meditate!

A few days later, a day after I was limping around the house, catching up cat-chairon domestic chores, the clinic called again. The specialists determined that they didn’t find what they were looking for but indeed, trouble was lurking on the inside where X-rays couldn’t go; a couple of small fractures in the area of the knee cap and one in the ball of the tibia. Long story short, I am now on crutches, wearing a knee brace and still very thankful for that chair on wheels that I had traveled on (to the dismay of one cat who had decided the new chair in the hall was hers.  I actually had to fight her for it.)  “You were lucky,” said the physical therapist, “if you hadn’t used your office chair to get around for the last few weeks, we might be talking about surgery.” … whew!

He instructed to not put any weight on it for two weeks, and afterward, only a bit at a time. And then he gave me an approved application for a handicap parking sticker good till April.  April?! It’s going to be one long winter!  I felt some relief when he said I need not use the brace, if I can remember to not bend or put weight on the leg when trying to get around on the crutches. I have one cat who has claimed that particular leg as her bed for the last 15 years and another cat who found the brace so disgusting she has tried tearing it off with her teeth. After spending a good amount of time trying to pick cat hair off the Velcro straps, I tried the “no brace method”, but quickly found out how easy it is to forget the rules. It was quite frightening to find myself standing in one part of the house, suddenly aware my crutches were no where to be seen.  I had been so preoccupied I couldn’t even recall if I had babied the leg and limped there!  I now keep the furry brace on as a reminder. I do not want surgery.

Fortunately, I’ve found that my work station for is the most comfortable place to sit because it has ample space for my leg to stretch straight out with my foot resting on a pillow. But I hadn’t given much thought to needing such a position when establishing my digitizing station. Punching has been slow-going because it’s very difficult to concentrate and let creativity flow when uncomfortable. I’m planning to set up my I-Cliqq digitizing software soon on my laptop, so I can punch while stretched out on the couch. Perhaps I won’t move through a design as swift as when working in my office, but I intend to take advantage of my forced slow-down. Digitizing is more enjoyable when you can stroll through the stitches, instead of rushing without recall to the end.  And so is life.

Although the dust and cat hair are merging into puffy bunnies, my husband is learning to do laundry and at least trying to cook something other than toasted bagels. I am sincerely appreciating the snowflakes drifting by the windows, the serenity and moments of silence.

fluteI even took my Native American flute out of its case, a custom made Christmas gift from my husband that I have only spent time with when creating a design to embroider on buckskin.  I had been thrilled with the gift and had vowed I’d start learning how to play it “as soon as the holiday rush was over.”  I was shocked to realize it had been hanging there for 13 years, waiting to sing. My name is engraved on its underside, followed by the name of its maker, friend, Lakota George Estes, dated 12/6/00. “A flute should be played,” George had told me.  I wanted to.  I just did not.  No time for play, I had to work.  Didn’t I?

After more than a decade, it’s finally being used for its intention other than a wall decoration; a personal quest for my ears and spirit only, but I am now committed to not stop until I learn to play Love Mountain – Wayra the Wind.  So that could mean I’ll be trying till I die.  Alas, a flutes I may never be, but I’m definitely finding a wonderful, inspiring peace within the process.  And that’s what it’s all about.

Yes, it has actually turned out to be the most enjoyable month of December I’ve had in 27 years. Not once did I have to crawl out of bed before 7 a.m. and if I stayed awake past 10 p.m. it was because I wanted to. I have not fretted over lost or delayed orders, and by gosh, it hasn’t hurt at all. So, let me also take a moment in this post to suggest you all learn to gear down a little during the holiday rush; something I know well is so very difficult to do for those who are in an industry of “Santa’s elves.”

If your holidays have been zipping by blindly, now is the time to take stock of how you handled things these last few months – or how things controlled you. Acknowledge where changes can be made for the better, and then resolve to make those changes next Fall! Don’t let the years of precious holiday smiles get smothered during the stress of deadlines and chaos of caps, polos and jackets. Slow the pace a notch, enjoy. Stop the machines now and then and step away from the computer to smell the pine and and taste the peppermint. Don’t wait to break a leg to remember how special the holiday season can be!

Wishing you all a most prosperous and peaceful New Year! 🙂

What I Really Want for Christmas

It’s a few days before Christmas and all through the house, not a gift is in sight, not even a tree. What?!  Oh, I’ll dig out that plastic, partially decorated tree that sits in the store room, protected under an old sheet most of the year when I’m done with this blog post, but the only thing that will be found underneath it will be a cat enjoying a nap. Perhaps, in some eyes that seems a bit odd, so allow me to sprinkle a twinkle of my reality into this holiday post.

At the risk of sounding baby-boomer cliche’ (but trust me, it’s true) I came from a blue collar family at the lower part of the pay scale, but my sister and I never knew we were “poor”. Sure there were gifts, but as soon as we realized who Santa Claus was, the gifts became something the entire family could enjoy – a reel-to-reel tape recorder so we could converse with family thousands of miles away (AT&T long distance was $5-7 a minute), a camera to capture precious memories during special occasions (film and development costs were a luxury), a used station wagon so we ladies didn’t have to ride to church squished in the cab of Dad’s dirty work pick-up, and one year we voted for a new refrigerator (we lived in Southern California with no AC and we were ecstatic that we finally had ice cubes again!)

Our “real gifts” were family moments – decorating the tree together and singing carols, reading the Bible and stringing popcorn with Mom, baking cookies or making fudge with my sister and roasting a 25 lb. turkey with Dad; topped off with visiting relatives and attending Midnight Mass. Christmas Day was spent relaxing and chatting with visitors who stopped by for a cup of eggnog and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on our black and white TV – the only one in the house. We were together, laughing and smiling. Nope, I just can’t see how a box with a surprise inside would have made Christmas any brighter!

Today, now that there are a few more pennies in my pocket book, I do give a few gifts to the children whose sparkling eyes and giggles fill me with joy, or to a special, grateful few who have a real need.  But personally, I don’t expect, nor do I want any store-bought gifts piling up under the tree tagged with my name.  My husband and I agreed before we were married to give what we’d otherwise spend on each other to a children’s charity each year, and I also have an agreement with most other adult family members – don’t buy for me, I won’t buy for you; make something if you like (fudge is always welcomed!), but let’s just appreciate and celebrate the fact we still have each other in this world.

So for those who have an uncontrollable urge to hand me a gift – if you really must because it makes you happy – I request the following:

  • Don’t buy me a book or movie video – do read or view it and write a poem or tell me a story about how it inspired you and what you’ve learned from it.
  • Don’t buy me music – do sing me a song or join me in a carol or two.
  • Don’t buy me jewelry, trinkets or clothes – do give me something you’ve made with your own two hands from recycled materials or those found in Nature (that includes fudge).
  • Don’t buy me a bank gift card – do give that amount to the Food Shelf and visit or write me after so I can experience the love that your sharing surely created.
  • Don’t give me a frown if you’re not able to buy what you wanted to give me – do please give me your beautiful smile.

That’s all I really want for Christmas – just a smile – because to me, a loving smile is the most precious gift of all.

So, having said that, I’m headed for the store room for that Christmas tree that needs to be decorated with the only ornaments that I carefully put away each year – handmade gifts and family heirlooms that bring to mind loved ones who have given me tons of wonderful smiles. Some ornaments are as brilliant as the day they were new, others are a bit tattered with age, but each and every one comes with a cherished memory that makes my heart sing.

And so I’ll leave you now until next year, wishing you and yours the best of holidays! Make some memories, string some popcorn, whip up a batch of fudge. May your homes be blessed with cheerful laughter, and may the only tears be that of joy!  Merry Christmas to all and to all many, many smiles! 🙂