Monday, 30 September 2013

Fanning Creative Sparks

I heard an extract from a piece of music a few weeks ago which stuck in my head and refused to go away.  It snuck up on me and replayed itself in my head at odd moments.  I found myself watching for the advert in which it was used.  I had to look it up, then buy the music, and since then I have been playing it over and over.  It's a bit obsessive, I know, but it's a long time since I found a piece that arouses such an intense desire to dance to it and makes me want to scream with excitement! Not that I feel able to dance and do it justice, yet, but it is providing a much-needed motivation and inspiration too!

Suddenly, several things are coming together; an idea I had for a choreography and for a workshop, and a costume which uses some ruined assuit belts (the coins corroded and rusted to the fabric - it remains to be seen whether I can save it), and a commission for a piece of jewellery from my lovely friend Katherine over at Crafty Miss Kitty/Miss Kitty's Monsters to match, and my need to get dancing again.  As usual, I also have several other projects on the go, so I'm nibbling away at them all, feeling stimulated and happy, but frustrated too. I want to dance and my body won't let me!

I was feeling so frustrated, I was in two minds about going to a show/hafla in Pontlliw, put on by my friend Aliah and her Zahwah Belly Dancers, featuring Ozgen as the headline act. Another friend was offering a car share, so I would have been being absolutely stupid not to go.  It was great being able to chat and catch up on the journeys. The show was great, there were so many friends and acquaintances to catch up with and another two of the Imago dancers decided to come at the last minute too. Ozgen was as marvellous as ever. As I said goodnight, he asked how come I wasn't dancing and I explained about my foot op and osteoarthritis.  I wasn't going to go to his workshops the following day, but he said no, come and watch me teach, take notes.  Bless him, he's so lovely! So I did, perched on an exercise ball, stretching my toe, periodically bouncing up and down to the drum solo work and copying arm flows in his flamenco fusion workshop.

At the end of the weekend, I had new fan veils, lots of notes and fresh ideas for the drum solo and zambra pieces I've had on the back burner for ages (but after a few more notes will probably stay there pro tem). It's like oxygen on burning embers, fanning the creative sparks.  All I need now is some space in which to dance and play. And knees and a foot which work. And a lot less pain, please.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

This is something quite close to my heart, as life is too short to be unhappy.  I have a few friends who are quite depressed at the moment, and some others who become sadder and feel the urge to hibernate as the season changes and the days grow shorter.
Depression is a deep and difficult subject. Whatever the cause, it doesn't respond to the advice to 'pull yourself together', often given by those who probably don't have a clue. I realised yesterday, with a little help from my friends, that there are some things I have been doing and which, over the years, have helped me mellow considerably, remain optimistic and become happier.  So, while I finish my breakfast and before I scrub my hands and start dealing with metres of fine silk, I thought I would share.

It was Friday 13th yesterday, and although I'm not superstitious, I should have known better than to think things would go to plan.  I dashed out in the afternoon to go to the bank, but the journey took longer than anticipated because of lots of traffic, all sensibly taking the rainy, greasy roads at a reasonably slow pace.  Having arrived in town, I found the bank's doors locked - they now close an hour earlier than they used to. Then I remembered I was going to do the recycling while I was out, but forgot to put the box in the car.  A 22 mile round trip for nothing, I whined later on Facebook. A friend responded 'But you're still smiling. I like that about you.' Actually, I was, because it seemed like I was the butt of some celestial joke, probably designed to teach me not to get distracted, thinking about the moth caterpillars which were stripping another friend's weeping cherry tree when I should have been getting my own butt in gear. Spooky how he knew I was smiling, but his simple statement made me all feel all warm inside. Actually, I still feel all warm inside from it.

So here's the first couple of things:
  • Smile.  Grit your teeth if you have to, but find something to smile about.  Smile at yourself in the mirror.  You smile at friends, don't you?  Surely you must be your own friend? And ...
  • Say something nice to someone (or yourself) to give them a reason to smile.
Another friend posted: If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in a closet, have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the world's population'. Whether this is true or not, it's about counting your blessings and feeling gratitude, which itself is about focusing on positives and not taking things for granted.  I used to find this difficult when I was feeling depressed, until I started to tell myself things could be worse, I could be living in a war zone (or substitute your worst nightmare). So:
  • Be grateful, for anything or anyone at all.
And lastly for today:
  • Be kind to yourself and give yourself something to look forward to and feel excited about.
This is particularly important if you feel stuck in a rut and/or swamped with things you have to do.  It could be anything, however small.  As an exercise, make a quick list of several things which you like, just the first things which come into your head. It doesn't need to be a long list. They could be the simplest things, and it may only be things which you feel like at the moment - next week's list could be different. (But if you are struggling to find more than one or two things, please, go to see your GP as soon as you can about your depression.  Seriously.)  Not things you would like in an ideal world (like winning several million on the lottery).  These need to be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.  What does that mean?  Well, take the first thing on my list below. Specific: not just toast, but hot, buttered, white toast. Measurable: how much toast?  Well, one or two rounds would do. Achievable: yes, I have the bread, butter and toaster. Realistic: I'm supposed to be watching my weight and I know wholemeal bread would be better for me, but a couple of rounds of white toast is not going to hurt much in the great scheme of things, so yes. Time-bound: in other words, when? Well, today, while the bread's still fresh, but not necessarily every day.

Here's my quick list:
  • Hot, buttered, white toast
  • A nice cup of tea
  • The smell of lavender
  • Fresh sheets
  • Cuddles with my cats
  • The warmth from a hot water bottle
  • Flowers
  • Butterflies and moths
The next thing is to do them.  In fact, not just do them, but really appreciate, enjoy and take pleasure in doing them, whether one at a time or several at the same time.  For example, I could snuggle with a hot water bottle into fresh sheets smelling of lavender with a nice cup of tea and some hot, buttered, white toast while cuddling my cats.  Or just have the toast, which in fact is what I did this morning for breakfast.  You could aim for one a day, or one a week. Let them inspire you to other things which you would enjoy. The bit about flowers and butterflies might seem non-specific, but I paused on my morning stagger around the barns to appreciate a few butterflies out on the buddleias in the morning sun. While I was thinking of my list, I had a flash of another friend's 'happy' list and I decided to use some ribbon (that I'd been wondering what best to do with) to make her favourite flower. I shall very much enjoy creating that and sending it to her as a surprise, which, I hope, will make her smile.

Friday, 13 September 2013


I was supposed to be getting on with some plain silk veils, but the silk hasn't arrived yet.  Order deliveries always take longer than I think they will, probably because I don't take into account the time needed to process the order, which is a bit daft. It's only common sense that the supplier will take a day or two to receive, check and put together the order, package it up and send it off.  Still, for the last two orders I sent out to other suppliers, they took more than a couple of days and it looks like this one will, too.

I have a tendency to drift and dither when I've planned what to do and then can't, but this time I seem to be making some progress on a number of jobs. I have a bit more energy at the moment, and wonder whether it might be partly due to gritting my teeth rather than take painkillers all the time.
Xena thinks it's her bed
The mountain of laundry which built up while I was off my feet is at last giving way to a mountain of clean, dry clothes and linens.
I've managed a little cleaning and tidying (okay in small doses), changed the bedding ...
Done some designs for mounting cards/labels ...
I've even made some headway with accounts (again, okay in small doses).
I've finished off some fabric flowers (more about those another time), including a knotted ribbon chrysanthemum with a faceted glass centre, as part of a present for a friend's birthday.
She came down with her family to Pembrokeshire on holiday last week, so I used a visit to deliver her present as an excuse to drive for the first time since my op.  Apart from the car needing a jump start because it had been standing unused for so long, it was fine, and very much more comfortable than walking!
She had picked an idyllic spot for the holiday and we had a lovely evening.  After a meal of smoked mackerel, potatoes and salad, we had a drink outside the pub by the beach as we watched the sky and sea change colour and the sun disappear on what was probably the last nice, summery day.

Having said in May that my stash of ties needed to earn its keep, I decided to process some, ready for use.

I got out my ties and started with some of the polyesters, unpicking them to separate the tie fabric from the interlining and tippings.  In the process, I started to notice stains on the fabric I hadn't seen before and decided it would be a good idea to hand wash the components before use. Although I had stored the ties in bags to keep them clean, I know how much dust clothing can pick up just in the manufacturing process, then there is display, not to mention wear.  (Chaps, there are ways not to get breakfast on your ties, such as putting your tie on after breakfast!)

I was quite fascinated that some of the polyester ties were 'dry clean only', while others were apparently machine washable! I wondered what the difference was. Possibly it depends on the interlining used.  Some looked a bit like felt or light quilt batting, others closer to open-weave embroidery fabric; some fat and soft, some thin and stiff. Even so, I would hesitate to put a tie in a washing machine, even on a delicates cycle. The fabric is cut on the bias, and even hand washing could make it twist and move out of shape against the interlining.

Having done a small mound of ties, I started to wash the linings and was astonished at the colour of the water. It's not like any of the linings changed colour, but the water was a murky greyish brown. Better out than in! I wonder what the fabrics and tippings will be like when I wash them?  I'm giving the linings a gentle spin in the washing machine to remove more of the water so that they don't drip all over the kitchen.

In the meantime, I have to get my act together and go to the bank.

And lo! The silk has arrived!  That'll keep me quiet this weekend, and I hope you have a good weekend too!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Foot Massage - Treat Yourself and Relax

Since my foot op, I find myself rubbing and fussing over my feet a lot more.  It occurred to me that I did rather take them for granted and not give them the attention and care they deserved, considering the work they do.
As I don't have anyone to give me a foot rub, I do it myself.  I admit, I don't manage a thorough massage every day, but I try to do this at least once a week, as part of a pedicure. There are advantages to doing it yourself too - you can do it as hard, soft or long as you like, and feel that you are caring for yourself, which seems to work subliminally to boost your self-esteem.
I find I need to work methodically, otherwise I end up gazing into space, rubbing my feet any old how:
  • Whole foot
  • Toe base joints
  • Toes
  • Between the toes
  • Sole
  • Whole foot (a few strokes to finish off)
This is best with warm feet and I like to soak my feet with a little lavender oil in the hot water first, gently lifting my heels to bend my toes.  I also have a towel and some socks wrapped around a hot water bottle, so that one foot can be snug while I massage the other.
Sit with your knee bent so that you can hold your foot.
Smooth on a little lotion or oil to give you a smooth surface, but not too much - you still need to be able to grip a little.

Whole foot: Use broad strokes and gently stretch the foot and circle the foot and ankle as your smooth in the oil or lotion.
Using one hand on the inside of the foot and one on the outside, squeeze the foot, working from the toes to the heel and ankle, then back again.
Still with the foot held with both hands, gently twist the foot, alternately lifting one side and pressing the other, working your way from toes to ankle and back down again.
If you can, turn your hands so that your fingers are on top of the foot. Place your fingertips in the spaces between the bones as you stroke firmly from toes to ankle.
Use your thumbs to press on the underneath arch of the foot to work back from ankle to toes.

Toe base joints: (metatarsalphalangeal joints - where the toe meets the main part of the foot, equivalent to the knuckles on your hands).
Starting at the big toe, make little circular movements in both directions on the joints at the base of each toe.

Toes: working back from the little toe, massage each toe from base to tip, working the toe up, down and around, then finally stroking firmly from base to tip and pulling a little.
Between the toes - gently work the fingers between the toes, either all four at once or one at a time, depending on how this feels for you. Then use thumb and index finger gently to squeeze and massage the spaces between the toe base joints.

Sole: I use a combination of my fingers and knuckles to make circular and stroking movements along the underside of my foot, from toes to heel and back again.

Whole foot finish: I finish off with more firm strokes from toes to heel, then light strokes from heel to toes as if I'm pulling cobwebs off my feet.

Pop your socks on to keep them warm, then relax with your feet up and a cup of tea! You deserve it!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Getting Back on My Feet

When I had the cheilectomy operation on my foot at the end of July, I was warned that the success of it would be largely down to me.  After the first two weeks, where I was advised to keep the weight off it but do plenty of point and flex exercises (as described in a previous blog post here), I was told I should get onto it, mobilise it, use it even though it hurts, and it should start to respond. I don't normally hold with the 'no pain, no gain' method of doing things, but accept that movement will hurt at the moment and it's okay.

It healed very well in the initial two weeks, and I had high hopes that I wouldn't need to go back. Since then, despite doing my daily physio exercises, it's not really making a difference except in terms of producing pain (lots, as well as throbbing, stabbing, stinging, prickling and other strange sensations which I dismiss as part of the healing), stiffness (quite a bit) and swelling (a little). I wonder if I'm being too aggressive, or not working it hard enough. Or perhaps I'm just being impatient; after all, the other tissues will be tight as well after years with a limited range of movement in the big toe.

I am hoping that I shall be able to start dancing and teaching again from the beginning of November, which means I have a lot of belly dance rehab to get on with now that I am back on my feet. It still depends partly on how well my knee supports my weight, but that's a different story.  So, as part of the occasional 'use it or lose it' series, here are my foot and ankle exercises.  I do each exercise at least once a day and I don't do all in one session as it takes too long and after a certain point, I can't cope with the pain.

I find as I get older, my feet need warm-up exercises before I go into any sort of pulse-raiser warm-up with involves stepping, otherwise my feet quickly start to hurt. A selection of these exercises work well as a warm-up and are also very useful if you suffer from plantar fasciitis, which used to be one of the banes of my life until I started dancing regularly again.

Some of these exercises are best sitting or standing, and some can be done any old how - I like to lie on my back with my feet in the air for the point and flex and foot circles. Do feel free to join me and comment on them. These may not be good for you if you have pinned, fused toe joints. Remember the rules (if in doubt, leave it out and ask a medical professional first, stop if it hurts, go for quality, not quantity - and so on).

This exercises the tissues of the arch.
Sit comfortably with the feet flat on the floor.
Tense the underside of the foot, as if you are trying to make the balls of your big and little toes meet your heel. You should see your arch lift a little.
Relax. Repeat, alternating feet to work both feet equally.

Pencil Pick-Up
This isn't the exercise for you if you have long or slender toes and find it easy to use them to pick up a pencil on the floor. (On the other hand, use it or lose it! Do it anyway, occasionally, just to prove you still can!)  I've got short, plump toes and have never been able to pick up a pencil, so it gives me a lot of exercise trying (and failing) to curve my toes around the pencil enough to lift it!
Pencil (or pen) on the floor. Use your foot to turn it and then try to curl your toes over it to pick it up.  Keep trying with both feet.
I have to say, I get bored after a few repetitions and find the next exercise rather more interesting ...

Scarf/Towel Drag
This is a great one for doing while you're sitting watching TV, because apart from using each foot alternately, it doesn't really need any thought.  Place a scarf or towel stretched out lengthwise on the floor in front of your feet.  The aim is to use your toes to grab a bit of the scarf or towel and drag it towards you, trying to keep your heels more or less in place, until the length has been scrunched towards you. For me at the moment, a tea towel is enough!

I have a smallish ball (about twice the size of a tennis ball) which I roll around under my feet, bending and stretching my toes as I work it around. Also a good one for sitting in front of the TV.

Point and Flex/Good Toes and Naughty Toes
Stretching the ankle to point the toes away from you, then bending it to bring the toes towards you, the full sequence explained here

Foot/Ankle Circles
I like this range of motion exercise very much and do it frequently. It was one of my standard exercises along with point and flex for the couple of weeks when I had my feet mostly up. Seated or standing, hold the foot off the floor, circle both clockwise and anticlockwise a number of times, drawing a circle with your big toe. Repeat for the other foot.

Alternate heel lifts
This can be done standing, with the full weight on the feet, or sitting to take some of the weight off. With the feet in parallel and flat on the floor, lift one heel and push the ankle forwards so that you are on the toes. Be careful not to sickle the foot (i.e. allowing the ankle to curve out sideways, putting more weight onto the little toe). Lower the heel and repeat with the other foot. Work alternately and speed up as the feet feel warmer, switching feet so that there is a moment of suspension when both feet are on the toes and only ever one heel on the floor.

Working through the Foot
Dancers in my classes will be familiar with this one. Again, it can be done sitting, but it is more effective standing up.
With feet parallel, lift one heel so that you are on the toes (as in the previous exercise) then push off with the toes to lift the foot slightly.  Note, it is not a kick, and be careful not to cheat by lifting the foot.  Place the toes back down, then the heel. Repeat on the other foot.
You are aiming to peel the foot off the floor from heel to toes, then smooth it back onto the floor from toes to heels.When it gets to peeling the toes off, imagine that you are going from a low heel to a very high heel, then onto ballet point (but without putting any weight on the toe, very important!), and reverse from high to low heels as you stick the foot back down.
You can repeat this in first turnout and second positions, and speed it up so that you are padding from foot to foot with the knees bent. One of my lovely contemporary dance teachers, Erica Stanton, taught me this as an effective warm-up for the legs and feet and it really is!

Bends and Rises
This is a standing exercise with two levels of difficulty.  In both, there is a balance challenge as well, so remember to check your posture!
In the simple version, you stand in parallel, bend both knees, straighten them, then rise onto your toes, and back down again. Bend and stretch. Simple.
The more challenging version has a circular feel to it:
Bend both knees, lift your heels, straighten knees, lower your heels.
Repeat a few times, then reverse:
Lift heels, bend knees, heels down, straighten legs.
Repeat a few times.

Well, I'd better go and do some instead of sitting here writing about them ....