looking back

dumgoyne

2013 has been a very interesting year. For us, its main event was undoubtedly leaving Edinburgh, and moving out West!

home-1

It would perhaps seem to be a massive change, moving from a busy city to a sleepy steading just off the West Highland Way. But I immediately felt at home, and the fact that this change did not seem radical at all, suggests to me how well our new surroundings suit us. I am certainly wading through much more mud and cow shit on my daily walks, and I fear my appearance has grown a wee bit more raggedy and bumpkin-like, but otherwise things go on as usual. With more space. Which is nice.

hiya

2013 was a year of new contacts and collaborations.

26177
(Peerie Flooers on Ann Cleeves’ Shetland)

. . .with the BBC

wrap
(Nepal Wrap)

. . .with Rowan

theshepherd08
(Shepherd Hoody)

. . .with Juniper Moon Farm

racheldebbiekate

. . . and, perhaps most excitingly for me, with Gawthorpe Textiles.

I have been exploring texture much more in my design work this year, and have really enjoyed using simple garment shapes to explore the potential of cables and lace.

catkin21
Catkin

braidhill3
Braid Hills

portoleith8
Port o’ Leith

cramond
Firth o’Forth

But, as Autumn turned, I was bitten by the colourwork bug again, and now find myself once more on something of a colour kick.

lawersbanner1
Tea Jenny

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First Footing

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Toatie Hottie

And perhaps most importantly on a personal post-stroke level, during the latter part of this year, I can say that I have finally begun to feel reasonably “well” on a pretty-much consistent basis. There have been far fewer bouts of debilitating fatigue, and no weird neurological incidents. I spent 6 weeks engaged in the demanding physical task of redecorating our new home with no ill effects, and I can now plan on working a full day, walking Bruce, and performing any necessary household chores: a level of “normal” activity which was completely unimaginable in the years immediately following my stroke. Part of this sensation of wellness is perhaps that I have finally adapted to my post-stroke self, and have a much better awareness of my limits (for example, I still need 10 hours sleep to function normally), but it is also important to point out that, almost four years after the event, I am still seeing significant improvements in my gait and strength on my weak side, as demonstrated in this recent swants leap.

sweeksarego

Thankyou all so much for stopping by, for reading and commenting, and for supporting my work in 2013.

Here’s to a grand new year for us all! Slainte and Happy Knitting!

wazznbruce

Meall nan Tarmachan

Yesterday was a grand day to be out and about.

The hills were in their best Autumn colours

highlandbirches

. . . and Loch Tay was looking stunning.

sunlight

We had popped over to Loch Tay so that Tom could run the Meall nan Tarmachan hill race – part of a fantastic weekend’s running that’s organised by the Outdoor Centre in Killin. This is part of the world we’ve spent a lot of time in walking and camping – I’ve been up on the Ptarmigan ridge a few times (here I am, working on a sock up there five years ago), and Beinn Ghlas was the first Munro I managed to get up after my stroke. I remember that climb very clearly, and have to say that it was very nice to be back, and to go for a wee walk not feeling quite so disabled!

teajennylawers2

Tom and the other runners could not believe their luck with the weather.

off

From our view below we could see them snaking up the mountainside . . .

runners

. . . and Bruce and I spent a happy peripatetic hour enjoying the scenery around the lower slopes.

meallnantarmachan

lochtay2

Tom really enjoyed the race and the folk at Killin were fabulously hospitable, looking after the runners with lashings of tea and scones in the Town Hall. Tom ran the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow last weekend, and the contrast between the faceless corporate organisation of such big events and these lovely local occasions could really not be more apparent. We all had a grand day out in the hills.

celebration

And after several months of preparing to move, moving, decorating, and generally settling in, it feels very nice to be out and about doing normal weekend things again!

manfiredogbeer

Slainte!

swings and roundabouts

jesus

Jesus is back. He was discovered at a neighbour’s, lured away by the promise of full Scottish breakfasts, oodles of milk, and a general lack of workmen and disruption. He is looking a bit scraggy, but certainly no thinner . . . We are keeping the wee man inside for a few days and the neighbours have been politely asked to stop feeding him fried eggs and sausages.

But my hopes of a nice, quiet few days were dashed when an idiot joyrider drove a car straight into the side of our campervan, which was parked outside our flat. Happily, no-one was injured, so I can show you what happens when a speeding car hits a stationary campervan.

van

As well as crushing the chassis on the driver’s side of the van, the force of the impact pushed it backwards into a parked car behind. The damage is significant. After some back-and-forth with our insurers, they are coming to take it away to look at it this morning and I fear that will be the last we ever see of it.

I am terribly upset. For me, that van – which we refer to as the wazzwagon – is so much more than just a vehicle. It has played a crucial part in my recovery and gave me hope at a very bad time. It has enabled me to enjoy the landscapes that I love, and has taken us all over Scotland. It may be that it can be repaired, but I very much fear the insurance company are going to want to write it off. Poor wazzwagon.

van-1

box

boo

wazzwagon

vansky

wazzwagonsky

Please keep your fingers crossed for it.

different shoes

shoes

It is almost three and a half years since my stroke. Conventional wisdom about post-stroke recovery suggests that the first neurological adjustments and improvements after a brain injury are very rapid, and then tend to plateau off after the first six months. The importance of this “six month window” was often repeated to me by various medical practitioners, and I remember very clearly that one of my biggest fears in the weeks following my stroke was that, some point in the future, I was going to feel retrospectively guilty about not having done enough to maximise my recovery during that time. But every stroke is different, and looking back now, it seems to me that these arbitrary post-stroke “recovery windows” are really of most use to those involved in making ethical / financial decisions about resources and the provision of care. Telling someone who has just had a stroke that they have six months in which to complete the difficult work of neurological recovery to the best of their abilities is frankly not that helpful and can, as it did in me, heighten the general terror and desperation of what is already a pretty desperate time. Very little research exists into long-term post-stroke improvement, and, after the OTs and physios have done what they can, one is pretty much left to one’s own devices. But from my own entirely partial perspective I would say that, though the pace of recovery is certainly much slower long-term, one can still notice improvements two and even three years down the line. Though I am resigned to the fact that my damaged left leg is never going to enjoy running, and that my balance issues will probably always make riding a two-wheeled bicycle impossible, I still occasionally discover that I can do something now that I couldn’t say, six months or a year ago.

Footwear is incredibly important if you have a neurologically damaged leg and foot, and I have found that a really effective way of making improvements in my mobility is simply by changing shoes. A different pair of shoes can initially impede one’s mobility — the gait alters, the foot drags, the limb refuses to make the routine movements that it made just yesterday. But, although effectively heightening one’s own disabilites in this way can be both uncomfortable and annoying, walking in different shoes forces the damaged limb to adapt to different billateral rhythms and movements. The good limb also shows the bad how it has to deal with the minute alterations in weight and pressure forced upon it by its new environment. The good limb helps the bad one on its way.

I tend to walk around 4 miles a day, and until very recently, my choice of footwear was limited to sturdy boots with a lot of ankle support. I could certainly walk a little in flat shoes (with orthotics) but found it difficult and tiring. Often, after a mile or so in flats, my left leg would simply give up and revert to its dead, dropped state while the right one carried it hesitantly and judderingly along. Then, in February this year, I decided to try an experiment. I would alternate my footwear daily, completing my normal walking routes in several different pairs of shoes and boots, including flats. This wasn’t particularly easy, but I noticed that after just a couple of weeks that my left foot was adapting to the changes forced upon it more rapidly, and that I could walk further without problems in shoes I was unable to before. I also found that these continual changes and adaptations helped with other, non-walking activities, such as pointing my toes in order to put on a pair of socks or pants (a gesture I have found frustratingly impossible for the past three and a half years). Then I discovered that I was able to hop (albeit briefly and inelegantly) on my left leg for the first time since my stroke. I continued with the footwear changes: things continued to improve.

In March, I bought the pair of sandals that you see above (shamelessly copying Jen, who had recently acquired a pair). They are a great fit and very comfortable but when I first stuck my orthotics in and started to walk, my left foot flapped about, clown like, and after a mile or so I’d be limping and dragging the foot quite badly. But I gradually forced the unruly foot to adapt by including the sandals in my alternating-different-shoe routine. By April, they had become my go-to shoe, and since then, I’ve walked over 350 miles in them. Last week I encountered one of my good dog-walking buddies, an elderly gent, who I first met three years ago when I was still getting about with a leg brace. As we were passing the time of day, he remarked on how very much my walking seemed to have improved of late. I was aware of this, but it was nice to hear it. “I’ve just been wearing different shoes,” I said.

I am repeating this experience for those with brain injuries or other neurological impairments who have been told that their recovery period has a window, or that it is somehow at an end. I honestly don’t think that the work of neurological recovery or adaptation will ever be over for me. I will certainly keep forcing the parts of my body and brain that were damaged by the stroke to make whatever small improvements they can. I’ll keep on wearing different shoes.

Because I know you will ask, the sandals are made by Red or Dead, and are a style called “Jade”. The socks are a pair I knitted from Rowan Fine Art sock yarn, and are holding up remarkably well to their daily mileage.

still making

yarn

Worry not . . .I’m not going anywhere.

I produced yesterday’s post because:
1) this is my space and its useful for me to have a record of such decisions
2) this is your space too, and I like to be honest with you
3) some of you may have been expecting to run into me at various events, and it is only fair to inform you of my absence

Really, I am OK — I am just someone whose health can be annoyingly variable and who, because of this, has limited resources. I have to use those resources in the best way possible, and pondering the imponderable question of whether or not I may let someone down because I may be unwell at a certain point three or four or six months down the line is simply not a good use of these resources. I have to cut myself some slack, and yesterday’s decision is simply the best way for me to do this. I know that all of you living with chronic conditions, or who have experienced the interminable frustrations of recovery from strokes and other brain injuries know exactly where I’m coming from (a big shout out here to Jen and Dancing Beastie with whom I feel tremendous solidarity).

heels

The thing is, that however rubbish I am feeling, I cannot stop making stuff. I might have felt totally crappy last week (you know things are bad when getting dressed marks the day’s first insurmountable hurdle) but I still turned out a sweater and this pair of socks. The experience of grafting the sock’s last stitch, or of putting the sweater in to block, probably represents accomplishment at its most basic, but I can tell you that such experiences have saved me from some very black places when I’ve been at my worst.

socks

So I want all of you, my virtual friends, to know that though you might not find me at a show or in a class, you will generally always find me here. Still making.

Taking stock

After a rather tricky few weeks, I’ve had some time to think, and to reflect on where things stand for me, healthwise and workwise. It is fair to say that I am really very busy at the moment — far too busy for things not to become difficult when I’m not feeling my best. So, after taking some advice, I’ve decided, with considerable regret, to step back from many fun projects I’d agreed to be involved in, including all events, talks, and teaching for the coming year. This means, for example, that I won’t be attending Woolfest, or Shetland Wool Week as I’d planned. I’m very sorry about this, but am sure you will all understand. Staying on an even keel has to take priority and I’m hoping this decision will enable this to happen.

mr porky’s thought for the day

whorl

Yesterday was the third anniversary of my stroke. It is not an anniversary I want to ‘keep’ in any way, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t occasion in me a little melancholy and grief.

berries

Bruce and me have been out walking.

bruce

Outside things are starting to grow.

growth

And Bruce found something that really interested him.

mrporky

Really, it is just another, ordinary, February day.

busy-ness

It has been an up-and-down sort of couple of weeks here. On the down side, I have not been feeling my best; there have been many more bad days than usual, and, most frustratingly, I’ve had to cancel several occasions to which I was really looking forward. I suppose some sort of energy-fallout was inevitable after the eventful and fun-packed few days of Shetland Wool Week, but still, there is nothing that dampens ones spirits more than weighing up activities in terms of their toll on ones reserves. On the up side — and it is a massive up — I appear to have almost made a book. Entering ‘Kate Davies Designs’ in the empty box that asked for ‘Publisher Name’ on several forms has made me foolishly excited, and I am really enjoying this stage of the process, which is involving some contextual writing, and the singular pleasure of seeing my patterns, photographs, and essays all laid out on the page. Some great people have been integral to this project, and every day I find myself more happy to have the opportunity to work with them, more and more amazed that this is what I actually DO. So, despite the fact that I have found myself cursing the stroke more than usual of late, really, its all good.

I’ve not been talking here much about what’s been involved in designing this new collection or in developing the book (I suppose part of me has been concerned – not unreasonably – that something was going to occur to scupper the process) but I think you’ll all soon find that I won’t be able to shut up about it. In the meantime, here are five images which give you a wee taster of each of the books five sections, each of which contains an exploratory essay, photographic lookbook, and a pair of Shetland-inspired designs.

MORE SOON!

In other news, having found myself in the singularly odd position of not currently working on one of my own patterns, I have signed up for Woolly Wormhead’s Mystery Hat Knitalong. Woolly’s designs are so innovative and stylish, and her patterns so well written that I know I will enjoy the process, and end up with something amazing to stick on my heid! The only issue is that, having successfully applied a rigorous ‘work-only’ policy to my stash for the past couple of years, I find myself without any suitable yarn. It might be time to treat myself to a tasty new skein . . .

well-being

A post for my own benefit, and for those of you who are interested in how I’m managing, health-wise.

On a routine visit to my GP yesterday, she pointed out that it was the first time I’d been to see her since May. Given the regularity of my visits to her surgery over the past two and a half years, this is an unusual but entirely happy state of affairs. So, it occurred to me yesterday that I am, in general, doing much better of late. This does not mean that I am recovered or anything: I still get hit with the occasional horrible, crushing bout of post-stroke fatigue; I still find ‘noisy’ public situations difficult and tiring; I still suffer from sharp, intrusive headaches and have weird moments of vertigo; I still limp about with a tiresomely unreliable left leg and have to sleep ten hours a night to have any hope of managing the next day — but I am certainly managing. Tom puts it this way: the bad days are still as bad, but there seem to be less of them. Reflecting on how I’ve handled the past (extremely busy) few months, I genuinely feel that I have turned some sort of a corner. The key difference, or perhaps shift, is this: I don’t have to always think about how I am feeling. Because my energy levels were so low, I was constantly having to weigh up each day’s activities in terms of their inevitable toll. An afternoon would often turn on an impossible equation (you can cook a meal or take Bruce for a walk, but not both ) and there was no space around these (incredibly basic) getting-by activities for anything that would, in my new world, count as work (reading, designing, thinking, writing, responding to email, a trip to the post office). As well as being physically debilitating, suffering from any sort of chronic health condition takes up an awful lot of mind space. If you are thinking about how much energy you have left, or how much pain you are in, you really don’t have the resources to think about much else. I suppose all that I am saying is that I feel that I have more of those resources.

On reflection, I think this recent feeling – of being a bit more capable – probably combines two factors: first, the actual incremental improvements in my condition that I continue to observe, and second, my adjustment to the realities of my post-stroke ‘normal’ — by which I mean that I am much better, and much more rigorous, at making sure I have the right amount of sleep (this really is the key for me), at eating regularly to maintain my energy, at limiting the number of things that I say ‘yes’ to, and at just fitting the right amount of stuff into each day. Put simply, I take care of myself so that I can manage to do the things that are important to me. I suppose, really, this is a basic rule of well-being, that anyone, not just someone who has had a stroke, might adhere to.

catching up

I have had a “bad” few days full of headaches and fatigue. Looking at it, I suppose it is inevitable after a weekend full of (for me) strenuous physical activity, followed by a rather grueling set of medical procedures on my return home (all is well, so no worries there). In a way, the more generally well I get, the worse I become at dealing with these awful, crashing lows in which my brain and body just decide to stop working. I just want to get on with things! It made it all the harder that, on Friday, I was supposed to be attending an event in which I was really interested. . . it is so bloody frustrating! Still, even if I should perhaps, as the physios and OTs say, have “paced myself” better while we were away, I would not have missed my Hebridean swimming and cycling for the world. Personally, I would rather push myself to do the exhilarating things I really enjoy – the annoyance of a subsequently ‘lost’ five days is probably better than regret about a lost opportunity. It is important to say this here, 28 months into my recovery, so I can come back and remind myself of it later.

In the meantime, we have not, like much of the rest of the country, been celebrating our constitutional serfdom, but Tom did take part in the Perth kilt run – coming in at an impressive 12th place! If you’d like to see him, he zips by looking very serious at 1 minute 50 seconds into this video of the event.

Also, yesterday, my knitting comrades helped me to begin to put my kits together for Woolfest.

This is very exciting. I’ll be launching two new designs at Woolfest and will be able to tell you more about them very soon.

And the fabulous image at the top of this post is a silk scarf depicting an A to Z of rare sheep breeds. It was designed by US illustrator Caleb Luke Lin – I love his work!

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