My Autism Project Begins

Throughout my years teaching in a public elementary school, I had various students with autism in my classroom. During the early years, it was difficult for me to find helpful information on how to best reach these children or to provide me with any insight into what autism even is. I could find dry lists of “characteristics” and equally dry lists and articles of techniques. Books, also, seemed to lack what I might call a human element. Once I discovered “Thinking in Pictures” by Temple Grandin, I realized that memoirs about individuals with autism could be much more revealing and interesting. I was hooked.

About fourteen years ago (who knows, life flies), I was taking some graduate level school counseling classes. Each of my required research papers provided me with another opportunity to learn more about autism, as I blended research from professional journals with insights from memoirs to try to present a realistic yet practical approach. By this point, I even found professional articles interesting. I was hooked.

So fast forward to 2014, my retirement. My “Things I Want to Do When I Retire” list included possibly writing a book, probably a children’s book or a book full of teaching anecdotes. I had been working on ideas for several years, and had a writer’s notebook with several first chapters of children’s fiction, a list of other possible topics, and thoughts of children’s nonfiction books.

After retirement, I began to write down some of the funny and interesting little stories of life with elementary children. Once I had several stories written down I realized two things. Many of my most memorable stories were about children with autism and what I learned from them. More importantly, I realized that I really didn’t want to write a book about me or my experiences, but I wanted to write a book about the children themselves.

What would I do and how would I begin? I called a friend whose life path had crossed mine at opportune times in the past (long story also connected to autism). She is very tuned into the local autism community both because she has a son on the spectrum and because her work for many years has been connected to autism. She thought a book was a wonderful idea. She explained that the board at the organization for which she works had considered trying to gather and share stories, but didn’t quite know where to begin. Well neither did I! But my “Project that I Hope Will Become a Book about Autism” began.

Thus began yet another “new reality” in retirement and I jumped in with both feet. That’s a scary thought, because of the water analogy and the fact that I don’t swim and am petrified of water higher than my knees!

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Why Autism?

When I tell people that I am writing a book about families who have children with autism, I am invariably asked, “Why autism?” The answer is long and complicated. It’s hard to explain, because my interest in autism goes back to 1994. It reads like the introductory scenes of a movie, the part before the opening credits and title.

 

The room was crowded. Some people stood clustered in groups talking to new or old friends. Others hunkered down in kindergarten chairs not meant to accommodate their height or width. The air was charged with anticipation, excitement, uncertainty and nervousness, this latter mostly emanating from me. About the time I invited everyone to have a seat, in strode a woman and a child of about five. The child’s hair had not been combed and he wore no shoes. Neither he or the woman seemed concerned by the fact that he was the only child in the room, nor by his dirty bare feet. Some of the other visitors seemed a little hesitant. Some seemed curious. Myself, I was a little unsure but welcomed all my guests, introduced myself, and began the Open House for the parents of kindergarteners who would be entering my classroom the following week. I was reentering the teaching profession after having pursued other paths for twenty years, and who was this boy without shoes at a parents’ only event?

 

I can’t recall a word I said that night of my kindergarten open house. I do remember that I was constantly wondering about this woman and her child. Smiling parents said their goodbyes before leaving. Soon I was left with the woman and her barefoot son. While I may not remember what I said, she was evidently encouraged by my words. She informed me that her son had autism and she had heard that our school was very welcoming to children with special needs. She was at the open house to check us out and after listening to my presentation she was going to ask that her son be enrolled in my kindergarten class.

She left and I thought, “Autism?” I remembered a neighbor telling me she believed a neighbor’s preschooler had autism because he walked on his toes. That’s all I “knew” about autism, even having earned both a general education and special education certification almost 25 years earlier. (Maybe I should say because I had earned my special education certification in the dinosaur age!)  This boy was not walking on his barefoot toes like my neighbor’s child. The term had never come up in all of the special education classes I took in the early seventies. It had not been mentioned at the school at which I taught nor did we discuss it in the graduate education and Gifted education classes in which I was currently enrolled. I hadn’t even watched Rainman. I wondered, “What on earth is autism?”  I knew that I better figure it out quickly.

That is why I began to read everything I could about autism, and didn’t stop reading for the next twenty years.

Beginning my Autism Project

One of my top strengths, according to an assessment I took many years ago, is something the program called “Woo.”  Most people I know who have this strength are extroverted individuals who love to socialize and party. Well that description does not fit me! I am an introvert who prefers one on one conversations rather than large crowds.

I remember that for many years I jokingly told my husband that I must wear two signs that many people can’t see. The first sign said, “I am a Kindergarten teacher, so if you are under 6 and see me in the store come and talk to me. I am not a stranger.”  I would just smile at a kiddo and he or she would start talking to me, leaving parents worried, I’m sure, that I was a kidnapper in disguise! My second sign said, “Tell me all your problems, especially those that others would consider TMI.”  There was a time I knew more about mere acquaintances than seemed appropriate. Really, why are you telling me this?! Yet, I always tried to provide an understanding ear.

I realize, now, that I actually wore and still wear a third sign. It reads, “It doesn’t matter if you never saw me before, strike up a conversation with me and we will find something in common.” I can encounter someone in the grocery line or shopping over a pair of pants and walk away knowing her life story, through asking curiously strategic or strategically curious questions, and then just listening. Once I even had lunch with a lady who was buying the same jacket as I was! This is what Woo looks like in me.

I guess it is this same talent, if you want to call it that, which enabled me to call mothers of children with autism and ask them to share their stories for what I identified as “a project I hope will turn into a book.” With each of ladies, some of whom were mere acquaintances and others total strangers, I put a recorder on the table between us as I asked her to tell her story. Each of these women talked for well over an hour, with few prompts from me, sharing events and realities from her daily life as a parent of a child or children on the spectrum. Only then, did I begin to ask a few interview-like questions.

When I first began the writing portion of my autism project, I shared the stories as they were told to me, adding my own narrative to fill in background and describe the emotions that these women showed as they opened their lives to me. I loved so many aspects of the way these accounts unfolded and could imagine how these stories would benefit other families who were just beginning their journey.

I changed the names of the children and the schools in an attempt at providing privacy, however, my stomach literally churned when I realized that this was not enough to protect the anonymity of the families. I know that in my city, the community of families of children with autism is interconnected in many ways. Some of the families who shared their stories knew each other. Although all the parents told me that I could share everything they said, I quickly realized that some details of their stories made them readily identifiable. Someone might easily recognize a family through some of the innocuous details of their road to diagnosis, the family make-up, or a particular path through the educational system. That seemed pretty harmless. Once I got to details in the story that shared more personal information about how parenting a child with autism challenges a marriage, or how family finances are affected by having a child with autism, or about a time the family had to call the police to help them manage their older child in melt-down mode, I knew that I was not comfortable with the way in which I was reporting these personal details.

I eventually decided to divide the stories by topics, such as funding, marriage, education, and meltdowns. The first rewrite began. The rewrites continue.

Settling into a Mission

My last blog post was over 2 years ago!  Amazingly, I still have a few hits on this blog almost every day, so I thought I would take it in a slightly new direction.  Or, maybe it’s not really a new direction as much as a “settling in” for me. I spent the first few years of retirement trying things, “exploring my new reality.” Don’t get me wrong, I am still constantly discovering new things to do, but I have settled in somewhat to 2 undertakings.  These are the tasks that I feel are beginning to define me in my new reality.  It is interesting that I never thought of it this way, defining me, until just now, but these are the things I talk about to my friends and family. These are the activities over which I stew and rejoice, the activities about which I complain and brag, activities which make me feel productive and alive.

This is the beginning of my fourth fall teaching at a local university.  I teach only in the fall. As I tell everyone, “I did not retire from teaching full time to teach full time.” I teach what are known as methods math classes to students studying to be elementary school teachers.  Teaching college students how to teach math, a subject that many despise(d), has its own set of rewards and challenges.  Some years one outweighs the other.

The role that most lights up my life nowadays, is my new role as author.  In my last post, I was beginning to focus more on writing, and I left you, my virtual audience, hanging in the air as to what direction my writing might take. I was as yet uncertain about what that direction would be. I mentioned in that post that I had begun jotting down anecdotes about my experiences as an elementary classroom teacher.  Just as writing blogs for a virtual audience did not spark my creative juices or light any fires in me, neither did my stories about my own personal experiences. I did not have enough interesting material to fuel my writing.  I realized that many of my short pieces were actually about my interactions with children on the autism spectrum and what I learned from having those special children in my classroom. The stories were, however, about me, not about the children. Boring. Suddenly, it hit me!  I would share, not my own stories, but the stories of families who have children with autism.

For the last year and a half, I have listened to more than a dozen mothers pour out stories about their lives as they share examples of how having a child with autism has impacted all aspects of their daily living. This is what I am chronicling, not my story, but theirs. For me, it is a remarkable journey, a journey that finds me humbled by how open these women were in their conversations with me. For some of them, the experience was therapeutic, as we cried and laughed together over events they revealed. Most of these women seemed motivated by the desire to help other families feel less alone in their own journey.  A few of these women knew me slightly, some I had never met, yet all were willing to share their hearts and their lives.  I have met some of the most remarkable families during this time and have found a new mission and passion in my retirement.

 

 

 

Retirement Aspirations

 

When nearing retirement age most people begin to consider what life will look like post-retirement.  For some, sadly, retirement only means escape from a job that requires more energy and mental stamina than they can muster.  They do not think of what comes next, of what they may enjoy doing.  For many, retirement means an opportunity to try new things or to travel.  There are those who think about things they have been wanting to do for years but couldn’t fit into their working schedule.  Some people begin to think about their “bucket list”*.  Several months before I retired I found a little metal sign in one of the dollar bins at a craft store.  The message “Follow your dreams and explore your new reality” became my retirement motto and was even written on the sheet cake at my retirement party.  Long before I retired I had many ideas about what I might want to try in retirement.  I will share a few of the more ambitious thoughts.

For years before I had a retirement date in mind I began to consider retirement possibilities. One of the things I considered was opening a teashop.  When I was in my twenties I developed a taste for tea and began searching out stores where I could be buy assorted loose teas.  I recently subscribed to a tea magazine.  I felt I could almost open a tea store with the variety of teas that filled two shelves of my cabinet, with overflow of my daily favorites on my counter top. I began to research tea organizations, suppliers, and conventions.  Several years ago I even considered going to the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas to learn more about tea.  When I finally retired several of my friends asked me if I was going to open that tea shop I had talked about it so frequently.  It seems I had customers lined up and waiting!  By then, however, I realized that having my own retail business involved more hours and weekends then I was prepared to invest.  I knew I wanted more freedom in retirement.

When I was teaching, I took a “writing workshop for teachers” class offered by my school district.  As a result of that class I have several partial or completed drafts of children’s books that I considered editing and trying to get published someday.  I felt particularly interested in writing chapter books for children who are early readers or a children’s story about selected events of my childhood. (My author mentors are Donald Crews and Cynthia Rylant for those of you who know about such things or such people.)  After taking part in a three- year history grant which included traveling with peers to the Smithsonian Institute and following the Civil Rights trail through Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta, I also thought it might be interesting to write biographies for children.

When I first retired I dabbled in writing. I began a collection of some short anecdotes of teaching experiences that I felt might make interesting reading for adults.  I started this blog because writing a blog for adults was something I wanted to try. I purchased a text and DVD from the “Great Courses” series and did some writing for that.  I found this challenging as the course assigned writing tasks for no audience but myself and I craved some feedback on the pieces I wrote. Writing is still on my list of things to pursue.  I need to decide  which genre I really want to pursue first.

For each of the last eight years of my teaching career, I hosted a student teacher in my classroom.  I enjoyed mentoring these young people and learned from them as well.  It seemed like a natural move for me to work with students in the university setting. About three years before I actually retired, with no certain retirement year in mind, I began networking with people at the universities attended by my student teachers.  I updated my resume and sent it to my Alma Mater after talking with the Dean of the School of Education.  The universities prefer hiring experienced teachers who are newly retired as adjuncts in their education departments and people who secure these positions keep them for years. There were no openings available before or after I retired but I had so many projects and activities to keep me occupied the first year that I set the idea aside to think about at a later time.  Spoiler alert…I received an unexpected call late last summer regarding an adjunct position. I taught last fall and will again this fall.

At, this point, two years into my retirement, I still embrace some of the same large and small goals that I set for myself.  Now that the wedding is behind me and the basement on the path to recovery I am feeling motivated to once again tackle writing.  Hence, I am once again posting to the blog.  I also began a short course on writing memoirs at the local community college.  We will see how that progresses.

 

*In case you’ve wondered, according to the Wallstreet Journal (http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-origins-of-bucket-list-1432909572) the term “bucket list” was coined by screenwriter Justin Zackham  in 1999.  He composed a list of things that he wanted to do before he “kicked the bucket.” Looking for a shorter title he called it “Justin’s Bucket List” which eventually led him to write the screenplay that starred Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.  The term has become a part of our language and now represents any list of things that someone wants to do, without the thought of dying even considered.

 

 

When it Rains…the Basement Leaks

December 2015 brought us record setting rains which caused our basement to flood.  The carpet soaked up much of the rain and kept the water from moving swiftly to the sewer on the other side of the basement.  While the majority of the finished area of the basement was affected, there were areas that remained water free because of diligence on our part.  When he discovered the water at 10 AM, my husband immediately started the shop vac roaring.  At some point family members lent their shop vacs and hands and by the time the rain finally stopped at 8 PM we had three vacs and five people working frantically. The water came in as quickly as we vacuumed it up.  Furniture was put on plastic lids and books were carried upstairs. Our insurance company informed us nothing was covered since it wasn’t sewer water. (Thank goodness it wasn’t.)  Water mitigation companies were called.  We were placed on waiting lists because they had more calls than they could handle. By the time we dropped to bed in exhaustion that night every fan we owned was running in our basement and the water was no longer flowing.

The enormity of trying to prevent mold and trying to take care of our belongings seemed paralyzing. For days we moved things up, down, and around. Our double garage was filled with things from the basement. Every room of the house had (and still has) extra books, chairs, and other belongings. The main plan was to get things off the damp carpet but we had no place to put all of the things we had accumulated through the years.  We knew it would take months to get the basement repaired and things put back in place.

Some of our “stuff” began to lose its importance.  We started purging those items we could easily decide were unimportant.  These we piled in boxes and took to a local thrift store.  Purging became a little more of a challenge after the first few times we filled the minivan with donations.  But when we waited several days between our assaults and trekked things immediately to the thrift store we began to throw caution to the wind.  Some unidentified containers and containers full of needed items are buried so deeply in the depths of our garage that we won’t be able to tackle those for months.  After nine or ten trips to the thrift store, one thrift store pick up of furniture and larger items, and many weekly bags of trash, we were finally able to get one car in the garage and find the lawn mower.  Of course the other half of the garage is stacked about five feet high. My husband and I made a pact that nothing goes back in the basement without the approval of both of us.

Probably my own personal biggest “collection” was books, both adult and children’s books.  I had books I had never read, books I knew I’d read again, books I thought I’d read again. The PTO at my old school held used book sales every year and I always walked out with bags of books, some of which sounded only mildly interesting.  For years I have used my Nook Glow for most of my reading as I can check out books online from the library and don’t have to remember to return them to avoid hefty fines. I can also carry many books with me on one small device, which is great for traveling. My first book purge was pretty simple.  If I hadn’t read or thought about reading a book in the last five years it would go.  It became a little more difficult when I started perusing my shelves full of beautiful gardening books.  I kept my dog-eared favorites of course, including my first gardening book which is honest about which plants are aggressive or health hazards to dogs or people.  Several of my books were printed in England and had information on plants that are difficult to find here. Although beautifully illustrated, these books were big and bulky and out the door.  I use the Kemper Plant Finder site to research my plants now so I haven’t opened these books in years.  My children’s books, left over from my teaching days, were mostly in rubber containers and they got carried out and buried in the garage some place.  Those I may use some day if I ever decided to tutor or if I have grandchildren. (I know purging means parting with things you might use “some day”… but children’s books don’t count.) I purged more than 50% of my adult books.

My husband’s biggest collection was old paint.  It’s not easy to dispose of used paint and so it has accumulated.  He has spent months drying out paint in every way he can so that it can be discarded.  It’s a process!

Meanwhile, the actual basement has been partially taken apart and is still in the process of being rebuilt.  The mitigation company sent a team a few days after the event. Drywall was cut and fans and dehumidifiers ran for days.  We decided to have drain tile and a sump pump installed, which involved research, bids, a wait time, and six days of construction.  The remodeling company has rebuilt the drywall.  We are currently making decisions about carpeting and looking for sturdy shelving as the wooden storage shelves were torn out when the drain tile was laid.  It’s been a process that has been all consuming and keeps us tied to the house.

I saw the quote below one day and immediately thought about all of the old energy being removed from our house.  I am patiently waiting to see what new energy will now enter.

energy quote

The Basement

December 2015 marked the end of our 29th year in this house.  When we first moved into our home, we had some cracks in the foundation in the laundry and storage area that leaked a bit during heavy rains.  A professional company used epoxy injection to alleviate that problem and we lived with a dry basement after that.  Years later, when we decided to have our basement refinished, the repaired area was not even part of the living area so we had no concerns.

Our basement has gone through an evolutionary process over the years. Our children, three in number at the time our basement was remodeled, used the space to entertain friends.  Our son’s bedroom was also down there. Because our stairs enter the basement at an inconvenient place, the living spaces are separated.  Through the years, various sections of the basement have included a foosball table, a television viewing area, a dart board, two desktop computer stations, a treadmill, a weight machine, a fairly extensive library of books and several old tables used for a variety of activities.  The storage area near the laundry space held whatever we needed to store. The closet under the stairs was home to off season clothes, luggage, and Christmas decorations.

The college years arrived.  Each year of their college career our children brought home their belongings “for the summer.”  After the freshman dorm experience, they each moved to new apartments every year.  Many of the belongings that came home in the spring did not go back with them in the fall.

Our son and daughters graduated and left us with a “not so empty” nest. After college my oldest, our only son, moved into an apartment with a friend.  His collection of Legos, Playmobile sets, photography magazines, Pinewood Derby cars, model cars, rocket sets, shop class projects and foosball table stayed behind.  Eventually the foosball table found its way to his flat, but the other sadly abandoned items seemed to multiply.  My second child left college and moved to another city.  She bought new things for her apartment, took some of her belongings from her younger years, and left others behind, including a fragile 4 cubic foot dollhouse that my husband had constructed from a kit. After several years away she decided to move back home and work on her Master’s Degree, asking to stay with us for six months.  At this point she brought with her an extensive collection of furniture, home décor items, kitchen appliances, and clothing.  When she moved out two and a half years later, she left behind things that somehow would not fit into her new apartment because her roommate had duplicates.  These items, too, seemed to produce progeny.  Then my youngest moved to another city.  She left behind drawers full of scrapbooking materials, a guitar, a keyboard, juggling equipment, and prom dresses.  Of course all three of them left behind shelves full of textbooks that they knew they would use again!

By 2013 all of the children were gone from the nest, but it was far from empty.  The foosball area gave way to stacks of plastic containers and the bedroom became a walk-in closet. The wardrobes that were meant to hold desktop computers now were used for storage as my husband and I had graduated to laptops.  The basement that had been crowded but seemed to provide sufficient storage when the children were home was now packed with bits and pieces of the lives of five people because, of course, my husband and I had also accumulated new things. My children occasionally took things that they realized they wanted, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. I think they were secretly adding other things to the collection.

So….December 2015 marked the end of our 29th year in our house.  Then the rains came. This is what the National Weather Service reports about our St. Louis precipitation for that month.

The following weather records were broken during this event:

                St. Louis

  • Wettest Year on Record   61.24”   (Old Record 57.96” in 2008)
  • Wettest December on Record 11.74” (Old Record 7.82” in 1982
  • December 26th Record Rainfall of 4.87”
  • December 26th Rainfall of 4.87” set Daily Rainfall Record for December
  • December 26th Rainfall was 3rd Wettest Day Ever Recorded in St. Louis History
  • December 28th Record Rainfall of 2.59”

 

The week after Christmas my husband went to the basement one morning and found puddles about an inch deep at the bottom of the basement steps.

 

 

 

Where Did the Second Year Go?

 

     Over the last week I have thought about all the end of the year school activities that have been occurring. The school at which I taught is at the end of my subdivision and I pass it many times during the week.  My first year of retirement I sometimes felt like a stalker, looking each day to see whose cars were in the parking lot or which teachers were on the playground.   I noticed when the Maypoles were in place and what was written on the sign by the street. I even felt a bit of nostalgia on nights when cars crowded the parking lot as parents attended conferences.  I know from talking to neighbor children that all of the normal end of year activities have been taking place and I have thought about the feeling of exhaustion that all of the staff have been experiencing.  But this week, like the rest of this past school year, I barely glanced at the building except on those few days when I volunteered.

     Still, the teacher in me surfaces as students and staff begin summer vacation.  While some people reflect and project on January 1, I find the distraction and excitement of the holiday season to hinder serious reflection.  After the holidays, one goes back to normal routines.  The rhythms of life don’t really change. Conversely, the last day of school affords a distinct interruption of the norm. As a teacher I always attended numerous summer workshops, but these experiences were very different from being in a classroom.  The teachers sitting by my side were not the same.  I was absorbing information with the gift of time…time to soak in the learning, time to digest it, time to reflect on the most effective way to use this new learning with my students not that day, but weeks in the future.  When the school year began again my students were different and some of the staff had also changed.  I found the distinct variation of the summer months the perfect time for reflection and transformation. 

     This year has brought its own ebb and flow.  My husband retired. My basement flooded. I followed one of my dreams. I found a new volunteer opportunity. My daughter got married. I sadly discontinued some things while I started others.  Today I ask myself, “Where do I go from here?”  ……and so…..I’m back!

Feeding My Creative Side

I have always enjoyed various forms of arts and crafts.  Since I was 5 and my mother taught me to use embroidery thread to outline the apple she drew on a hopsacking dishtowel, I have always had some kind of “project” in process. Sewing and other needle arts were always among my favorites, but I’ve also done my share of scrapbooking and beading through the years.  In retirement I was hoping to explore some new creative paths.

Before retirement, the only drawings I had done were in my school notebooks.  I doodled as I took notes in high school, college, grad school, and faculty meetings.  I had a particular form of brainless squiggles that required little thought and fit nicely in the margins.  Standing in line one day at a local craft store I noticed a $25 book which teaches how to do similar doodles.  This art form is considered meditative and is called zentangle.  I never knew!   I explored zentangle on the internet and I have learned many new interesting doodle patterns that I enjoy trying.

zentangle

I also enjoyed drawing facial profiles and naked trees (as in leafless winter trees) in the middle of my notes.  Last spring I unearthed the graphite pencils and sketch pads that I had purchased years ago. I again searched the web for tutorials and videos. I began my exploration of drawing.  I learned more about ways to draw the trees I always found so fascinating and even learned techniques for adding leaves.  During my doodling days, facial profiles were all I would attempt.  Now I am practicing drawing faces from the front and am making progress in creating some dimension.  Because I date all my drawings, I am able to refer back to some of my earlier work and see my growth.  I draw almost every evening while my husband and I sit in front of the television shows we only half watch.  Sometimes a face can take me three or four hours over several nights!  It is more relaxing to create my own faces than to try to copy a face from a photograph, but my copies are improving( except in the case of self-portraits.) Most of my work is in graphite and I have enjoyed experimenting with different pencils.

Portraits and trees

Charcoal is a medium that I had never tried in the past.  When I took a basic drawing class at the community college, almost all of our work was done with charcoal.  It’s pretty messy! I probably should say I am pretty messy when using it, as some of the others in the class did not get quite as covered in sooty smudge as I did.  I enjoyed working with charcoal someplace other than my own house and learned a lot in that class about training my hands and eyes to copy a live model or still life.  My plans are to take the same class over, as many people do, once my construction project allows me the freedom to leave my house.

For Christmas, I received a set of 200 colored pencils.  I once again visited the school of YouTube to learn about blending colors and shading with colored pencils.  Once again I can see progress in what I am producing.  At this point, I find drawing with graphite pencils to be the most relaxing.

colored pencil

My daughter is getting married next year and asked if I would learn calligraphy to address her envelopes.  That art is one I had considered learning before I had the gift of time offered by retirement.  I bought an inexpensive calligraphy kit and supplemented the included directions with internet videos.  If I continue practicing a little every week  I should be able to address envelopes without too much difficulty.

Mixed media is also something I have been noticing on the internet.  It seems like a good way to make use of the scrapbooking supplies that fill my closets. I enjoyed making a recipe Smash Book for my youngest.  I have gathered some supplies to make a quote book incorporating mixed media and calligraphy.  This will be a fun activity while I am stuck at home with “the construction project.”

Of course, I also have a knitting project in process.  I usually buy yarn every winter and make a scarf for someone.  This year I did not complete my scarf, however, since I spent most of my free time drawing.  My left hand is still not functioning as it did in the past.  I can knit fairly easily, but my hand gets tired. I believe some of the strength will return.  I was able to repair a tear in a crocheted afghan but struggled with achieving uniform tension since I have always controlled the yarn with fingers that are not as flexible and will probably never be. When I am ready to crochet something, I will need to practice controlling the tension differently.  Currently, however, drawing is my creative interest.

It appears that I need to work a bit on my photographic skills and improve on photographic clarity when posting!  By the time a manipulated the photos, put them in a slide show, screen captured slides and posted them, they lost something. I din’t want to post a dozen pictures and couldn’t think of a more direct way to post them.  My apologies.

 

Retired and Gardening

Through the years, the gardens in my yard have grown in size and number.  When the weather breaks each spring, I am ready to get out and begin the spring cleanup.  In the past I had to work around rainy weekends.  One of the perks of retirement has been the freedom to work in the garden whenever the urge strikes.

 

Last spring, a week before retirement, I injured my hand and underwent surgery.  I couldn’t get my hand wet for almost 2 months so gardening was not a good option.  I am the kind of gardener who always has dirt under her fingernails on both hands in spite of wearing gloves and using only one hand!  I forced myself to stay away from the gardens … most of the time. As a result of  neglect, my aggressive perennials began to smother some of my other plants.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to uproot these intruders early and frequently this spring.  Crowd control in my garden is a continual issue since I don’t have the heart to totally eliminate some of these pretty invaders.  My gardening philosophy is simple.  If a plant thrives in my claylike garden filled with tree roots it has earned a place there.  If I try a beautiful plant several times and it dies each time, it doesn’t belong in my garden.  Why fight mother nature?  But if my aggressive tall phlox don’t stop popping up in the middle of my hydrangeas they may lose a spot in my gardens forever!

There was one fortunate gardening result that came from my neglect last year.  I had intended to redo my front beds after retiring.  I have a beautiful old magnolia tree which nicely shaded my hostas, astilbe and ferns for many years.  Unfortunately the higher limbs rested on the roof and the lower limbs attacked my husband when he mowed.  Several years ago, when I was not at home, he helpfully limbed up the tree “so the plants would get more sun.”  Everything suffered, including my husband who listened to me tell the story of his “help” many times.  Once the sun entered the picture another of my aggressive beauties, phystostegia, started taking over. My front garden is the only garden in my yard that I have tried to keep somewhat formal looking, so it needed an extreme makeover.  As retirement gifts from friends and students I received several nice gift certificates which were all to the same local garden center.  I realized I would need to wait a year to spend them.  That was a fortunate situation.  When our sewer backed up in the fall it was determined that we needed to have lateral sewer repair done which entailed bulldozing much of that garden. It would have been very sad to have destroyed several hundred dollars in new plantings.  By the way, the bulldozer didn’t fit under the magnolia tree so now there are a few more limbs missing.