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what i learned on my late summer vacation…

my samples from “Line Matters” stitching class with Paula Kovarik

Last week I drove 1281 miles to San Diego (from No. California) and back for a 3 day art conference. Hubs rode along as extra set of eyes, as he no longer drives. It might seem silly to some to drive 4 days to stay 3, but I counted on all 7 days being an adventure! And indeed, it was.

For months beforehand, I spent many a night, between 3-4 am obsessing about driving through the LA Basin, notorious for the worst traffic in the US! I messaged old friends and new, who all live in that area, asking for their wisdom on the best times to drive it; or even the best routes. I asked a local friend who takes their RV to SD annually to rest and refresh, which way they go? Most of the responses were about timing; try to avoid commutes! So I took all that advice and filtered it down to go between 10 am-1 pm!

Although we hit heavy traffic late Wednesday morning where 101 meets 405 near the Getty, I soon discovered the HOV lane which jetted us through the area with no problem. On the return, we again chose the 405 at 10 am on a Sunday but bowed out in Santa Monica to drive the Pacific Coast Highway to Oxnard. It was brilliant! I felt so proud of myself for tackling this huge fear. Granted I had a little help from Chinese herbs, but I did it! What I really learned from that experience was that old adage of doing what scares you. Granted it had been 40 years since we drove through LA, and it might be 40 years before I repeat, if I am still driving at 114! But I faced down something that scared me no end and just did it. And really it was not so hard!

Another thing I learned was in a wonderful stitching class with Paula Kovarik. As witness to young women having incredible imaginations for designing stitching shapes, my brain seemed to lean on my old familiar shapes, the curving line or the pointed peaks. My inability to come up with any new shapes reminded me that I need to put down the nightly mah-jong and block puzzles on the iPad and sketch instead. I need to stretch my drawing muscles! I remember thinking a nightly sketch was a great idea nearly 20 years ago when I shared a room at Asilomar with my good friend Martha Grant from TX. Every evening she pulled out a (paper) notebook full of drawn circles, the size of CDs. Every night she filled in a circle with lines and shapes, just a random sketch. So now I have learned this lesson at least twice in 20 years, maybe I can actually do it!

I took Paula’s class because 1) I am mad for her work and 2) I wanted to stretch my stitching portfolio. As much as I free-motion stitch, and that is essentially all I do to “quilt” my work, I tend to do the same design all the time, the curving line, or the flame shape. Maybe one could say it is my trademark?! In free-motion stitching, I stitch forward and backwards all the time. Yet when I tried new shapes I struggled to stitch backwards. My brain just could not compute. I was reminded of another old adage about keeping one’s mind young and active by learning a new skill…square dancing, a foreign language, a musical instrument, etc.  So I learned I need to practice by drawing, sketching and stitching new shapes; learning a new skill is good for the aging brain.

Initially I had planned to drive it alone but later came to my senses, and asked my mostly home-bound husband if he would like to accompany me. I knew having him along would limit some of my activities, as his stage 4 Parkinsons restricts most of a normal lifestyle. He can barely walk, cannot taste, smell, or digest most foods, has trouble enunciating and swallowing, frequently choking in restaurants. I knew going in that having him along while comforting to me would also place limitations on my personal participation while there.  His challenges weighed heavily on me on this trip, but I persevered, often putting his needs before my own. Most everything we did together took 4x as long, but I kept my cool ever patient, caring and compassionate the whole time. What I learned from this was two-fold: how much strength I have to push a 167# man seated on a walker (because he refuses to use a wheelchair) and to come home and immediately cancel a short December trip I had planned for us to take together!

I had reserved a historic hotel in Silicon Valley to go celebrate my 75th birthday. What I learned on my late summer vacation was I do not want to work that hard on my big day!!! It is I who should be pampered, not anyone else. So I cancelled that reservation and instead am planning a spa day locally, just for me!

I also re-learned that time spent with those of like minds, is always good; but especially in this most challenging time of caregiving, was for me salve on my wounds. It filled my well to spend 3 days with like-minded souls; even without any one-on-one time. I have fought hard to maintain my autonomy throughout this Parkinson’s journey. I  have heard of far too many people, women mostly, who lose themselves in caregiving.  And when the ‘journey’ is over, they are lost, don’t know who they are or where they left off. I fight valiantly every day to maintain my sanity by making art, going to exhibits, visiting museums, seeing friends, having tea with my elder beloved aunt, etc. All of this is to maintain my autonomy.

And finally I learned I need to keep doing this.  After my week’s respite in April, I decided I should take a respite at least twice a year. Then I recanted deciding I would not leave hubs behind by taking solo “vacations” as his health declines. Our daughter is willing to come anytime to stay with him, so I learned to reframe this. I will still take sorely needed respite rather than take a “vacation” I would instead go where the folks of like minds are…take an art class, or a Road Scholar program. Go forth and learn something!

Between my nightly sketching and my caregiving, I am now looking at where I can go next!

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