Good, and recently quiet.

I’m hoping your holidays were grand, and continue to be so this Friday. I’m popping in to wish you peace, health, warmth and above all, joy on into 2016.

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Joy for us at the moment often has to do with Vivi, of course. She’s still happily surprising us. She is a natural out on leash; I think it’s going to be easy to train her. On the 20th, we tried our first pack walk which went wonderfully well in and of itself. There was an exciting bonus for Vivi: she also (simultaneously) met two puppy-wise big dogs: a calm husky-collie-shepherd mix and a giant gentle Great Dane, plus their human, dog-loving owners and their two pre-teen daughters. She loved up all the humans, played with the dogs, ran with the kids, who took her leash and about 3,000 phone snaps in turn. (I forgot my camera and phone.)

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Growing, coat changing.

The next day, our family celebration took place in a suburb about 50 miles west of here. We were lucky in that everyone was able to fly, drive and converge on the same day; it’s the first time we’ve all been together in awhile, and it was very fine, warm and much fun. Lupe stayed home (her preference, as revealed by previous visits.) Vivi, however, was in heaven, literally bouncing off seven superbly dog-savvy humans and two large young adult lab mixes for the entire day, with only a very brief nap in her little portable pen while we humans ate. She was a total party girl, so wound up. She showed me how jazzed she was by tearing around me in wide, full-speed, deliriously happy circles each time I took her out into the big fenced backyard. That evening, before we were out of the driveway, she was just as wholeheartedly asleep in my lap, and stayed that way all the way home and the rest of the evening, only waking to perform her outdoor duties. She was even a bit subdued the next day, the solstice. (I did take my camera to the gathering, but was too busy to use it.)

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In the no-snow winter city, especially at night, she is camouflaged.

We had a quiet lovely solstice, Wednesday I did all the mad holiday dinner shopping, and then we settled into our quiet home pack celebration: pie (a galette) was made Thursday, a fine, easy-cooking delicious dinner happened on Christmas day, and we had some special dog treats, pack walks, pup play, and even bits of sun. Boxing day was dreary and rainy outdoors, but cozy and fun and relaxing inside, eating leftovers, watching Vivi hilariously attempt to herd multiple tennis balls. It’s her favorite indoor game. I hope your days were just as lovely.

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We are outside 8-10 times a day. She goes up nicely but cannot yet be coaxed to try to descend on her own, so she gets carried down. I’m so glad the steps are now sturdy ones, if ugly.

The minimal work we’ve done mostly involved keeping the kitchen running well, and I chose to almost finish the upstairs unpacking and studio rearranging, in short comfortable increments at my leisure. There are surfaces visible again, and soon some of the new artwork will be out to look at, think about and in some cases, tweak. I took one final holiday day today. Tomorrow, back to work for the short interregnum week, preparing for an interesting January, and the new ground of the year beyond.

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Someone in the neighborhood has a light-up holiday peacock. I like this.

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Little old Vivi

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(You knew it wouldn’t be long before the blahg turned to Puppy, right? I’ve been with her for six whole days now. We are in that nice peaceful pre-holiday lull, and I’ve been unpacking, cleaning, hanging lights, and making puppy-proof spaces in the house, beginning with my office.)

Little Miz Vivi is sweet and saucy and a plump, lighning-fast, tumbling tornado by (short-duration) turn. Her virtuoso skill at this stage of life is napping, which she does with total abandon, particularly in her preferred spot: a human lap. (This is very fine for the human, too.) She’s a good bit of work, like any baby of any species, but utterly delightful. During the decision-to-adopt process, I did stop (for a second) to wonder whether we were moving too fast, adopting so soon again, but I’m already very glad we did. This wee pup has moved us solidly back into the 32,000 year-old* human-canine communication continuum.

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I think I needed to dive back into that familiar and treasured stream quickly, perhaps simply to realize it was still there. Within a day or two of living with Vivi, Paul said, “She’s showing us just how truly broken Chance was.” I agree; in fact, I admit to shedding another few tears for him, for the terror that shaped so much of his life (and ours) that no amount of love nor effort could cure. Viv is completely innocent, free of that. Of course, part of Chance’s troubles came about simply because he didn’t have the kind of early puppyhood that Vivi is having now (and had since shortly after her birth, being raised with her litter in a home in foster care.) We’re making sure she continues to be socialized, gets out into different situations; she’s met all the neighbors, has been to the vet and the pet store, and people have come (and more are coming) to the house to meet her. She and Lupe will travel out to the family holiday celebration with us (4 dogs, 2 cats, at least 6 humans.) She’s at her most impressionable period for the next several weeks. Even so, it’s clear that her instincts are solidly tuned to the ancient language.

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For instance, when Vivi is afraid, like when Rocky (a huge young mastiff who lives two doors down) barks his deep bark, unseen behind the neighborhood trees, she runs straight to one of us and sits with her back to our legs. She is saying, precisely, “You have my back.” In Chance’s puppy class, we were encouraged to teach our pups to do that very thing, to come to know that place as their safe spot, especially when we introduced them to new things. Vivi goes there instinctively. Chance never, ever did, and he never really had a concept of safety. He only had slightly reassuring places, and he still had fear-frenzy times in each of them. There are many, many more examples we see daily.

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She tears around hilariously, but ‘checks in’ frequently.

I’ve begun clicking with Vivi, casually starting ‘school’ and she gets it, beautifully. But we are also – with house training and a few other things – simply using positive-reinforcement voice cues and she understands those too.

Though I’ve lived with a few decidedly strange dogs in the past, I had never consulted a trainer until Chance. Vivi will go to puppy school, and it’s nice to know that we have backup if some odd quirk surfaces, but I somehow don’t think we’re going to need it. Vivi has the ancient bond in her veins, and so do we. When she sees people, outdoors, in an office, or coming through our door, her tail wags instantly: “Hello! It’s me!”

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*”An analysis of the (genetic) samples indicated that the grey wolves split from…dogs approximately 32,000 years ago. But then the researchers went further—they also looked at the genes responsible for such things as digestion and metabolism and even neurological processes. They then compared the dog genes to the same types of genes in humans. In so doing, they found similarities that suggest humans and dogs have evolved some of the same traits over the same time period—hinting at a possible communal relationship. And that, the researchers say, suggests that dogs might have been domesticated as far back as 32,000 years ago.”

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-05-dogs-domesticated-earlier-thought.html#jCp

Afterglow and on

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A sneeze after the lovely holiday party.

I came home Thursday, a day early.

The second session at Ragdale passed in a good whirly concentration of work. Performance / dance artists Julia Antonick and Jonathan Meyer, with sound artist Joe St. Charles, form a group called Khecari. They held an open evening rehearsal of a durational work that moved between both Friends’ studios. We were free to walk in and out as we chose. I went in with an open mind and was surprised to see that over an hour had passed when I left. It was a wonderful, unusual, intimate experience. It was great to talk with them afterwards, too, trading the perceptions. The readings were conducted the way I like them best; two nights in the Ragdale House, with the readers’ chair, drinks, popcorn, a fire. There was much good work, and I had captioning for all, with two appreciated twists. Doro Boehme shared a laptop that was cued to this page, so not only did I have her words, but her collaborator’s images trickling down the page. Karen Villeda read a powerful piece in her native Spanish, the way she writes, while Eddie worked the projector to show an English translation. This worked for me exactly the way having the printed captions in English does; I can hear the rhythm of the reader’s voice, the projection of emotion and attitude and emphasis, while the text translates the word-sounds I cannot distinguish. I liked that everyone got to experience that, besides being transported by the piece itself.

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Wednesday afternoon, Ragdale’s great new resident liason Eddie Morfin brought some paintings and images relating to his graphic-novel-in-progress out to the Meadow and we had a steady stream of visitors, residents, staff, and a couple friends, for a couple of hours, and some good talk of our own afterward.

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After everyone had left and the daylight made its early winter close into night, I cleared the floor and made one last thing to work with at home. I mixed all the rest of the cleaned milkweed with a saved bucket of water from my last vat of pure milkweed sheets. The vat-water contained all the tiny fine leftover fibers and a still-useful dollop of my dwindling supply of pmp formation aid; I added more. Wet cleaned milkweed is virtually invisible on the black. I slowly poured it out on the privacy-screen-turned-support, trying to see the swirls of longer fibers, glimpse the texture of the finer pulp to make connected patterns. Next day, I just rolled it up still attached to the netting. When it’s removed, I’ll have a combination of banner-ish, wispy, hol-ey, long pieces and tufts of random fiber, both of which are fantastically strong. I really liked working with the poured pulp on this piece:

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The title is ‘Critical Distance.’ In this work, the poured sheets also got some minimal joomchi treatment; I loved what happened, how quickly the milkweed tightened and toughened further. The lovely Jane Fulton Alt kindly came out and shot it for me at a slightly earlier stage. I made some small additions, and it will get some further tweaking. So will this:

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Its title is The Trouble With That Theory, Volume II: Stinkhorn.

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This one needs only a little tiny bit of tweaking on the base. The working title is Fleuron (autumn). I am liking working this way also. It’s white mulberry from my yard.

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There are two more ears, made the same way as the new additions to the Ragdale installation.  It’s quite different than the last several constructions, though outwardly they remain the same. With these, I’ve attempted to build in a deterioration sequence. I’m thinking that the outer covering will eventually begin to peel and then fall away, revealing the strong but delicate-looking inner structure, similar to Fleuron’s but denser, tougher. At least one is headed for our scrubby, single backyard evergreen tree, so that I can observe its aging, take it further next time.

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There are other bits that came home as well, including a lovely pile of small white milkweed sheets. As always, the thinking that went on was just as or more important than the results, and the friends made and new work experienced in progress while yours is also percolating, and being cared for so warmly during the process. Ragdale is the touchstone place, where everything is easy, warm and familiar so that we can traverse vastly different spaces each time we are there. I’m honored to be a part of this short tribute to Alice’s enormous legacy.

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Now all the moving in of stuff has been done, though not the moving it back into place. I’ve had two days of Lupe walks, Paul talks, making food again, and a series of daily & nightly nap laps interspersed with a lot of trips outdoors, a whole lot of high-speed running around, and a great deal of fun playing with, “This toy! No that toy! Oh, this one!” as Vivi begins to find her fit into the pack.

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Small, growing sparks

Sorry for the radio silence here; it’s been an intense two weeks.

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I went home between sessions, but unexpectedly missed the ZIA Gallery opening. We had a record snowfall for a first snow, about a foot where we live, much more in the western suburbs, much less just a few neighborhoods to the east. But out running errands the afternoon of the opening, a van spun out in front of me and just missed hitting me; I said aloud, “OK, that’s enough.” and stayed home. I did get this little grouping, collectively titled ‘Liminal (Phase Two)’ to the gallery and got to see most of the show a few days before. These were all done at Ragdale while I still had to prop up my knee and limit movement.

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The return to Ragdale for the second session was beautiful with all the snow; it melted a couple of days later. I had completed a piece that I just didn’t like much before the final  days of the previous session. But, I  really liked parts of it; as a combined whole, they just weren’t speaking to me, not even in the way I had originally envisioned the piece doing. I gutted it the first week, struggling, trying different things. Then came all the shootings and all the vitriol on social media; I kept my exposure limited, but still tried to keep informed about what was actually happening, and to read any good suggestions for solutions, while keeping to the studio. The piece began to take on some of my angst and some of my emotion over the uselessness, and I let it; that was the spark the work needed, not to look away from those things, but to allow them to speak. It’s become a small installation. A couple more works are in various stages; my goal is to complete them all before I leave, to take home finished work. Somewhere in there it snowed again and melted again.

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I worked long, long hours, especially last weekend, because I knew I would miss a good bit or all of this one; I went home Friday and just arrived back here a few hours ago. Tomorrow is the big Ragdale holiday party, and afterwards, we grow from a small group of residents to a full house for the final week.

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This was my ‘torso’ for Printwors’ Return of the Exquisite corpse, done before I left for Peters valley last summer. Milkweed on the brain even then…

Friday was the opening of this show at Printworks, with its attendant sadness. I had planned (since last spring!) to go, but had an important appointment beforehand. The timing of that was pushed back, the process took quite awhile, so I also (sadly) missed that opening. But I will make a visit after the residency, and also attend the memorial. Sid was a very nice person.

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Just waking from a nap. She has a pale blue swirl in each eye…

But the reason I missed the reception was compelling: meet Miz Vivi! She is eight weeks old, an Aussie mix, adopted from the same shelter as Chance, but she’s only spent three days there; she was born and raised in foster care. We decided to adopt her while I was home between sessions; we fell for her, hard, even though the timing was not ideal. Paul volunteered to be a single-pup-caregiver during this week to make it happen.  No, she is not a ‘replacement for Chance.’ That is utterly impossible. But she is her own spark, and will grow to become the cure for the dog-shaped rent in the fabric of our lives. And she is so sweet! When the shelter aide brought her to me, sitting on the floor of an enclosure, she came into my lap with tail wagging madly, crawled up immediately to lick my face, and fell asleep in my lap on the drive home. I’ve just spent a delicious, joyful, and funny 24 hours with the whole new pack, and for once, it was a wee bit difficult to leave to come here.

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Extending

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Not much to say, except: things are moving along so beautifully out there in the beloved Meadow Studio, the knee still has its quirks but is better, and: I am staying at Ragdale for another three weeks, through December 11. Yes!

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That was written last Thursday; I meant to post it Friday evening. Then, at dinner: the news of Paris and then the disturbing realization of the lack of coverage on the similar killings in Beirut. And then of course, the ridiculous anti-immigrant, pro-gun backlash, some from people I expected it from, some from others who deeply disappointed me.

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I kept away from the social media screen as best I could, took refuge in the studio, worked well with swirling, streaming thoughts that offered no resolution coursing through my head. I thought of how I don’t really like us as a species. We are far, far from being the superior organisms on the planet that we believe ourselves to be. I thought about how many times I have been certain that we are on the brink of self-immolation in the 60+ years I have been alive. I thought about a great artists’ book I saw once, listing all the wars for each year in recorded in human history, and the terribly tiny amount of time when there weren’t any. I thought about how climate change, which contributed to the Syrian crisis, might actually, finally do it, allow us the annihilation we appear to crave. I thought about nature, going on about its business in spite of us, going through its cycles, its seasons of regeneration, fruition and decay that comprise its language. Plant researchers have revealed that not only do trees communicate with each other, they offer warnings freely to their species, regardless of type; a pine will help an oak. I thought about how I did my ‘duty’ to humans and allowed a young dog to be destroyed because he feared us, and in fearing us, was judged to be a threat. Was he not correct in his fear? I thought of so many things.

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I made and installed new ears, thinking about them listening for just the slightest bit of sense from our species, for the recognition that we are not apart from the planet nor each other. On most of the projects I have going, I’m working with both raw and refined fiber in renewed, beautifully crude ways, taking it down to its essence. A tangled, complicated web, appearing so fragile, so ephemeral, yet tough and resilient in nature, because of its interlocking, its involvement: each strand dependent on the others.

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That was written on Monday. And now, we’ve had the readings and the open studios and a “supper club” dinner with several interesting architects, and a fun group thrift store visit. People are beginning to trickle away as of tonight and early tomorrow. This was a lovely good solid group of women here. I’m looking forward to the next group too, even knowing that I’ll need to confront my deafness yet again as I (slowly) get to know them. I’ll go home this weekend, to exchange comfort with my small pack, to refresh.

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I’ll be out in the world Saturday, when ZIA Gallery’s annual group show opens. It’s supposed to snow. I’m spending Thanksgiving here. On December 4, The Return of the Exquisite Corpse – the last exhibition of the year and for awhile – opens at Printworks in Chicago; and on December 6, I will be in residence for Ragdale’s holiday party, when some of the world comes here.

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Shifting into Here and Now

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It’s a new year for me, and I am back on the prairie (and in the beloved Meadow Studio, though without a functional toilet. Not to worry. I have strategies for that.) I am also attempting to come fully back into the present and this realm.

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Thursday, I couldn’t stand it anymore; I’d done the 72 hours of rest, ice, and elevation and I had had it with sitting, and with getting little done. So I wrapped up the knee and set out to see how far towards the Meadow studio I could get. Though slow, I made it there and back with only a little difficulty. I was thrilled. Friday, Jack and David hauled all my stuff and me out there in a single trip on the trailer behind the tractor. Chef Linda had that day off, so I stayed out there till late evening. I got the studio set up (including building this year’s ‘refrigerator’) and set some fiber soaking. A very young, lone deer came by and peered in, as if to welcome me. And even before setting up, just sitting with my leg raised, I saw a new piece – really, a series – that wanted to be made.

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Saturday was Halloween / Samhain, so before I went to the studio, I went in to Lake Forest and got what I needed for my annual ritual. I stayed out in the studio, working long peaceful hours on fiber prep, stretching and resting periodically, till about 10:30, then hobbled back to the (thankfully) deserted Barnhouse; the hearing residents had gathered in the Ragdale House earlier for games.

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At midnight, I had an unexpectedly, overwhelmingly joyous celebration. The membrane between the worlds has never, ever seemed so porous as it was this year. Perhaps that was due to the very recent crossing of a young four-legged one. If any of the other residents had glanced in, they’d have seen a ridiculously smiling old-ish deaf woman sitting in front of three tiny place settings, gesturing and making toasts to no one visible.

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Earlier in the week, it had become apparent to me that though he was now happy and free of his fears, Chance could not or would not leave me, this innocent creature who was so utterly attached to me while he was in this life. Perhaps he simply did not know how to go on. I needed to show him a way.

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Sunday, the Day of the Dead, was gorgeous. I ventured out onto the prairie for the first time since arriving, and walked much further than I intended. I was in search of a certain stone, and, I swear it, I was accompanied by a pack of boisterous, frolicking non-corporeal dogs: Chance, Face, all my dogs going back into childhood. I didn’t question it, just absolutely loved it, and reveled in the sense of them with me. I found the stone, we made our way slowly back to the studio, and I transformed it into Chance’s stone. Then dear (live) friend Linda met me, bearing gifts, and together we gave him to Ragdale, and Ragdale and the prairie to him, and set him free.

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Monday, I drove back into the city, to take down my work from Words Matter. It was lovely to see Eileen, Audrey and Shawn, who all were there at the same time, and to easily slip back into a different world of old friends for a bit; both fun and reassuring after the all the otherworldliness. Then home to admire the very fast progress on the new back porch / deck that had begun with the demolition and hauling away of the old one early that morning. I took a long walk with Lupe who seemed impatient with my slow gait and my still-fresh memories of spirit dogs, when -hey!- here she was, The Real Beastie herself. I made much of her. Then a long, sweet whirlpool bath to soothe the day’s sore ladder-climbing knee, and a lovely evening with Paul and Lupe, who stayed by my side all night.

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On Tuesday morning I packed more fiber and a few other forgotten items and returned to Ragdale, feeling oddly subdued and unfocused. It was a beautiful day, 70 degrees, so I gave up on the studio and went for a long prairie walk. I was definitely alone, no dogs of any kind. It made me a bit wistful. I walked too far and the knee began to throb so I stayed in after dinner, tried to write, gave up and had a restless night, reading until 3am.

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This morning, I went ahead and had a second helpful massage, and then a good studio day, in spite of the still-painful knee. I refrained from a prairie walk because of it, went to two residents’ open studios, ate another delicious dinner with incomprehensible voices swirling all about me, and then came upstairs to write this. This afternoon, the same solitary young deer visited again, walking slowly past the studio, peering into the windows, unafraid, maybe welcoming me back again.

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Ragdale, bit by care-full bit

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I am very, very slowly settling in at Ragdale, in increments. I am not sure exactly what happened, but Sunday night, while coming downstairs after just finishing the packing, there was a sudden sharp stab of pain in my left knee, then another as I descended to the next step. So, I led with the right foot, brought the left foot down to the same stair, repeat, repeat. Monday morning, it was still that way, a nuisance but not a real problem. Paul kindly carried everything to the car while I loaded. Just as I was ready to leave, simply standing there, the knee completely gave out, felt like it wanted to bend the wrong way, swelled, and would not support my weight.

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After a little while and a little testing, I knew it was a sprain; I’ve had too many of them, and know what they feel like and what to do. So I contacted Ragdale to ask which room I was sleeping in; having had an ankle sprain here, I knew I didn’t want to spend the next couple of days stuck in bed in the tiny Sewing room. Yep. It was. So I stayed home Monday, leg elevated and iced and arnica-slathered, while e-mails flew back and forth, and the Ragdale folks (Amy and Jeff) came up with a lovely solution. The Beech room and the little Barnhouse studio (just a few steps away from the house itself) were open for the first week; I could have them, and then move to the Sewing room and out to my beloved Meadow when I am able.

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So I came up yesterday afternoon, hobbling and wearing two knee braces (one atop the other), and here I am. Since I have wireless and room to elevate the leg and (later) stretch in the Barnhouse studio, I moved into the Sewing room so as not to make extra work for housekeeper Martha, who I really like. Cheerful new resident liaison, Eddie, moved my stuff upstairs for me, and a single box of paper, small book-hulls and binding supplies into the studio; the rest is still in my car, waiting till I heal more. I brought hanji too; sitting and keeping the knee elevated seems like a good opportunity to do some joomchi. I had a great, sweet visit from my homie Chef Linda (who loves animals like I do, and loved Chance too.) So far I’ve done little but R.I.C.E., re-think, and today, I treated myself to an hour with Bonny, the excellent, strong-and-sensitive-handed massage therapist who visits when there are a group of residents who need her. It was wonderful, and she helped the knee and oh, all those other arthritic locations immensely. I’m very, very, very glad to be here and so grateful to Ragdale for always, always, always making it work, whatever happens…I’m sinking into its benevolence like you sink into a good pillow after a hard day, and I’ll truly be home when I’m out on the prairie. Soon!

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The HUGE ice pack that Linda found in the freezer. She tucked that pillow under my leg yesterday (and suggested renting a golf cart if it doesn’t heal quickly!)