Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Use It or Lose It

I had the strangest dream the other night, and it's one I've had before.  I was dancing (I often dance in my sleep) and I did the splits.  It was a vivid dream; I remember feeling the cool floor under my thighs and the stretch in my groin and hamstrings.  It's amazing how muscle or body memory persists - I haven't done the splits since the early 1990s.  Sadly, having a body memory doesn't mean I can still do it.  I don't know why I stopped practising the splits, but I know now it would be very difficult to work towards doing them again. And there are all sorts of other things I can no longer do. I wish I had taken the advice to 'use it or lose it' more seriously.

This loss of flexibility is seen as a natural part of ageing and it might well be, but it probably has more to do with everyday habits; use, abuse, misuse and lack of use.  It's not just use, but proper use which makes the difference.

I've had a problem with the big toe on my right foot since my late 20s, when it started stiffening up and the joint started to grow.  I came down with rather a 'snap' onto that toe in a gym session when I was 17 and although it was bruised and sore, it was just before half term, so it got a few days rest.  Now it doesn't bend enough for me to wear more than a lowish heel, and extended dancing makes my foot ache as I know I compensate for the lack of flexibility by allowing the ankle to sickle (curve outwards). I've had stiff knees for ages; they seemed to get really bad when I was driving for a few hours to commute here from Berkshire at the weekends. The X rays prompted by my sore right knee show that I have severe osteoarthritis in the knee and the toe joint.  On the other hand, it's not stopping me dancing as it seems better once I'm warmed up and dancing than lying in bed at night, even though I can't bend it very well.

While I try to lose weight and pop painkillers while waiting for my consultant's appointment, (which could be 3 or 4 months away), obviously I need to use and maintain or hopefully improve on any flexibility and strength I have. I haven't been offered physiotherapy - perhaps they think as a dance teacher I can provide for myself, although I'm not a trained physio!  So I've decided that I shall carry on with some careful exercises and record them here. Watch out, the first one (or more) will arrive soon!

Please feel free to join me, but be careful and gentle with yourself!  Your body is your responsibility!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bring on the Butterflies!

I don't think I have ever seen so much Ladies' Smock (Cuckooflower - Cardamine pratensis) in flower on the farm as there is at the moment.  Some meadows have great patches of it.  If the weather were better, I would go out and take some photos, but at the moment the sun only seems to come out when I'm somewhere else.  We should be knee deep in Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) butterflies, but the cool, wet weather seems to be holding them back.  I saw one (while it was sunny and I was somewhere else!) at the end of April, but haven't seen one here yet.  Ladies' Smock is their main larval food plant (LFP), but they also use Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and we have a fair amount of that around here as well.

I was berating myself yesterday for not doing any moth recording in a long time.  I have started to see increasing numbers of moths on my journeys back from teaching and generally numbers really start to increase in May each year as the weather gets warmer (hah!). It looks like we might have a dry night on Saturday.  I'll be on my own at the weekend, so the bright light won't disturb anyone else in the house, but I shall have to remember to set up the moth trap before I go out to the hafla. And then try to get up early the following morning (hmmm ...).

There was no National Moth Night last year, but it's on again this year (now simply renamed 'Moth Night').  Instead of a single day/night, it now spans 3 days; which I think is a big improvement, allowing for changes in the weather and perhaps recording in a couple of different locations.  This year it's 21st-23th June, see the website for more details.  Over the years I've noticed that it starts to rain here at midsummer - I hope we get at least one dry night for recording, otherwise I might have to put the moth trap in one of the barns, much to the disgust of the Barn Owls. They get quite vocal about it and sit on the roof, screeching the Barn Owl equivalent of 'Turn that %£##@^ light out'!

I need to get myself some more specimen pots before then.  And perhaps a nicer net with a telescopic handle.  I'm so out of practice that I shall need them to be able to study the moths to identify them properly.  Not only that, but a long-awaited Field Guide to Micromoths of GB and Ireland is due to be published on 31st May, so hopefully that will arrive in time as well.  I have high hopes of it.  The illustrations are by Richard Lewington, whose illustrations in the Field Guide to Moths are so good that you can put a moth in a specimen pot alongside the illustration and they look the same.  There's a special offer on until 31st August 2012.  I had an order form with British Wildlife magazine, but I think I might order online from the British Wildlife website.

I see from Butterfly Conservation that there is a 'Save Our Butterflies Week' from 19th to 27th May.  I'm already a member, but if I weren't I would definitely take the opportunity to join while there's a special offer on membership until the end of May.  Butterfly Conservation are interested in moths too, and should really be called Lepidoptera Conservation except that no-one would be able to get their tongues around it! The president is my hero, Sir David Attenborough. I'm rather too busy that week already, but I am looking forward to the Big Butterfly Count from 14th July to 5th August and shall make more of an effort this year.  It's such an easy way to record butterflies.  Who wants to join me for a butterfly count picnic?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Comfort Zone

Emboldened by the completion of the Colour Play crochet blanket, and in the spirit of this year's resolution of 'no more UFOs' (and finish the WIPs), I picked up a project which had been hibernating since May 1996.  Yes, really, 16 years!  My first thought on opening the bag again was: What was I thinking?  Luckily, I had left myself some design notes.  The idea was to knit shapes in autumn shades of red, gold, brown, beige and orange mohair, then sew them together to create maple leaves, then the leaves as if they were patchwork to create a throw.  The original maple leaf shape was a design from a 1993 issue of Patchwork and Quilting.  My Mum bought me a selection of odd balls of mohair yarn as an early Christmas present - the receipt dated December 1995 is still in the bag.  I had also added an odd ball left over from a mohair jumper (I wonder where that went?) I knitted during rehearsals for Barnum at the local arts centre where I used to live.  It was meant to be a project to take my mind off impending surgery and convalescence, but after surgery I couldn't sit up for long.  By the time I could sit up supported without too much discomfort, it was time to go back to work. Then I had more surgery a couple of months later, after which I couldn't sit up unsupported at all.  I think I came to associate the project with that less-than-pleasant period and it remained a UFO.

It looks as though I was initially going to do 4 leaves in each of 9 colours and managed to do about half before I put the project down. The leaves end up about 6"/15 cm high and 8"/20 cm wide, so a throw 6 x 6 leaves would be quite small.  Perhaps I was going to do 8 of each colour, then I would get a throw big enough to be worthwhile.  I noted that I did a test swatch and worked out the shapes from there, but the resulting leaf should be as long as it is wide, so something didn't go to plan.

But, really, what was I thinking?  Surely it would have been easier to chart out the design and learn to do colour work? Or even, if I wanted to go with leaf shapes, to learn how to increase and decrease properly to make a whole leaf, instead of piece work?  Evidently I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, doing what I thought I knew how to do.  The trouble with comfort zones is that you can end up doing things the hard way.  And now - Do I really want to finish this? Can I bear to create another 18 leaves, and if so, what do I do with them?  And the idea of unpicking and frogging, especially mohair ....  Felt?  The mohair is pretty hairy and looks like it might felt as soon as it's washed.  The yarn from the jumper I knitted is a little finer and is the only one with a ball band.

I think I will pick this up again, do all 36 leaves and see what occurs to me.  36 is an interesting number; 2 x 18, 3 x 12, 4 x 9, 5 x 7 (with one over) and 6 x 6.  Or perhaps a triangle 8 leaves high and 8 leaves across the top ....

A few weeks ago, my right knee (which I wrenched back in February during a dog attack on my poultry) has become horribly painful, especially at night.  I haven't slept properly for 3 weeks now, despite painkillers.  While I'm waiting for the results of X rays and blood tests, I'm trying to carry on regardless.  This is a busy month, with the usual weekly lessons, extra workshops, a hafla this weekend, a brief performance next week as part of Adult Learners Week and a show in the Torch Studio Theatre on 25th.  Even sitting here at my desk, my knee is painful, so my comfort zone is currently sitting on the sofa with my leg up, hot water and blanket keeping my knee warm.  Might as well have a cup of tea and get knitting!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Finished - Colour Play Crochet Blanket

May already! I meant to blog on the progress of the Colour Play crochet blanket, but just got too busy with everything else, as usual. Anyway, Hurrah!  I have a finished object! The 'Colour Play Crochet' blanket is finished and in use as a snuggle on the sofa. The living room is the lowest point in this cottage, and the cold air tends to pool in there.  I like it (so does my cat Greebo).

It's roughly 1.05 x 1.25 m (42 x 50"). I bought yarn for this project and didn't use much of the various colours, but doing a final round on each square in cream, then joining the squares and edging with a single row of double crochet used 3 x 50g balls. So I now have a stash to play with for future projects.  I can't see myself doing another join-the-squares blanket for a bit though. I found weaving in ends and joining the squares quite tedious, but I feel like I've got this creative desire out of my system.

To connect all the squares, I held the squares right side uppermost, edge stitches matching, and hooked down through matching edge stitches to pick up the yarn, bringing it up through the loops and then working a single crochet chain. It creates a flattish ridge and I was pleased with the effect, although it was rather fiddly.  The blanket edges were a bit wavy and uneven, but I went once around the edge with double crochet and it seemed to give the blanket an even, shallowly scalloped edge.

There, one rather scrappy montage (sorry, learning to do those, too and some of the photos are a bit dark because it is dark in this cottage!). Clockwise from top left; some of the green-yellow permutations, unedged squares, squares edged in cream yarn, and the finished blanket being enjoyed.

I learnt a lot from this project.  I needed to relearn how to join in yarn, and am not convinced about the weave-in-as-you-go method I found from somewhere or other - it results in some knobbly raised stitches. I'm not sure about the final arrangement of the coloured squares, with orange-yellow in the centre (I think I was thinking about flowers).  And I realised how little I know about crochet, really, so next projects will aim to continue learning.