Posted by: christinelaennec | May 31, 2016

Crossing the finish line!

Hello again!  This is a lengthy post but with a happy ending.

For a lot of my life, I’ve felt I never was able to appreciate the month of May properly, because it was always a time of exams – taking them, marking them, helping students through them.  For four years the Dafter was too ill with ME/CFS to take exams, and needed to be looked after by me, so exams weren’t a feature of either of our lives.  But she was aware of them happening, and often said, “People complain about exams, but they are SO LUCKY to be able to go to school!”  So this year, we have been lucky to have exam stress.  It has been so intense that I redoubled my usual efforts to experience springtime.  And May this year in Glasgow has been really beautiful:

Beautiful cherry blossoms. Glasgow, mid-May 2016.

Beautiful cherry blossoms. Glasgow, mid-May 2016.

We’ve had weeks of sunny, warm weather – everyone asking “Is this going to be our summer?”

Clematis gracing a blue fence, Glasgow, May 2016.

Clematis gracing a blue fence, Glasgow, May 2016.

It’s been a time of intense struggle and work for the Dafter, and therefore for us.  She’s had a number of hurdles to cross in order to finish Higher Photography and Higher Art & Design.  She worked hard all through March, April and May, not even having an Easter holiday as she was going to Easter school.  Her health, not surprisingly, suffered from pushing herself so hard.  It has been a precarious month of battling through.  For example, one morning she woke up unable to see and in intense pain with a severe eye infection – two days before her final photo shoot.  I would say for most of May we have been taking things not one day at a time, but one hour at a time.

I’ve tried to rest as much as possible, and Tilly has helped:

Resting with Tilly, May 2016.

Resting with Tilly, May 2016.

I have also tried, but often failed, to go for a daily walk.  I was amused by these banners, and wanted to show you one after our conversation in January about the iconic traffic cone on the statue of the Duke of Wellington, and the affection Glaswegians have for the sight (see the comments on this post).

The Duke of Wellington statue used to advertise broadband. Glasgow, May 2016.

The Duke of Wellington statue used to advertise broadband. Glasgow, May 2016.

Tilly, in her second summer of being allowed into the garden, has begun to relax there:

Tilly in her preferred hiding place in the garden.

Tilly in her preferred place in the garden.

She prefers to hide and have a lookout but the other day she amazed us by settling down and closing her eyes in a very exposed expanse of stonework:

A first: Tilly relaxing out in plain sight in the garden.

A first: Tilly relaxing out in plain sight in the garden.

Staying calm has been a challenge this month.  Jigsaw puzzles have helped.  This one was particularly engaging:

Puzzling to stay calm: 'Jigraphy' map of Glasgow city centre.

Puzzling to stay calm: ‘Jigraphy’ map of Glasgow city centre.

By May 23rd, the Dafter had managed to complete all the work for her Photography course.  That was a big accomplishment, though she was overly exhausted.  She still needs to rest for hours a day, has only a couple of hours each day when she can work, and usually needs a day of total rest once a week or more often.  However, she had few rest days, and knowing there is so little room for maneuvre with deadlines looming doesn’t help the stress level. or make true rest easy.  For her final Photography task, a one-and-a-half hour evaluation done under exam conditions, she told me that by the end “each word I had written corresponded in my mind to a musical note.  When I get really exhausted, I get synesthesia.”

Only the two-hour Higher Art and Design exam remained.  As an educator, I have always felt that exams are a blunt pedagogical tool, and that they assess one’s ability to take exams more than one’s learning.  However, they are part of earning most qualifications. Regular readers may recall that the Dafter was too unwell last spring to finish Art, so has been completing the course over two years, this being the second.  The stakes were thus fairly high, as we all desperately wanted her to be able to complete it.

She had managed her Art prelim in January, the first exam she had ever sat, and did another one-hour practice exam in April.  These were very helpful in preparing her to take the May exam (they were the first exams she had ever been well enough to take).  Also the school was well aware that she might not manage the exam in May, so they were happy she had done well on both the prelim and practice exam, in readiness for appeal.  I cannot praise her school enough for the true support they have given her and us.

The garden during May was undergoing huge changes and was a great solace to me.

Dutch iris 'Symphony'. Glasgow, end of May, 2016.

Dutch iris ‘Symphony’. Glasgow, end of May, 2016.

My one gardening sadness is that slugs or snails (? I guess?) have eaten almost all my poppy seedlings.  This is the first time this has ever happened to me, in 22 years of gardening in Scotland.  I’m not sure what to do next year, as poppy seedlings generally resent being transplanted.  Any suggestions are welcome!

Rose 'Guinee' in bloom, Glasgow, end of May 2016.

Rose ‘Guinee’ in bloom, Glasgow, end of May 2016.

To continue with the Dafter’s journey, she was pretty flattened after finishing her work for Photography last week, but had five days to prepare for the Art exam.  Her ME was very bad, and then she came down with a stonking cold.  She spent the five days either in bed or, on two occasions, out in the wheelchair.  She was very unwell, and hardly able to revise.

This morning, exam day, dawned.  She was determined to take the exam, or at least attempt it.  She felt the chances of her managing a two-hour exam (with extra time granted, which is not always an advantage with ME/CFS) were fairly slim, given how words had become musical notes after an hour an a half, the week before.  She managed to get a bit of breakfast down, got into her school uniform for the last time, had a collapse on the floor, but revived with some foot massage and a pep talk from me.  I drove her to the school door, wished her blessings and luck, and drove home.  Michael and I sat at the table in silence, him unable to work and me knitting.  The time of the start of the exam came and went; half an hour passed and the lovely Depute Head emailed to say he had looked in and she was working away; another half-hour passed, and we were jubilant, expecting a text any minute.  Then two hours had crawled by, and the only texts were from friends hoping she had managed.

I was at the school by the time her extra time had elapsed, and she was just coming out the door, beaming.  She told me that she had been close to fainting at one point, but had been allowed to eat, which made a big difference.  She was able to answer all the questions, and told me about several of them, particularly the ones with unseen pieces to analyse, and talked me through her answers.  “I felt interested and engaged,” she said.  She must have delved deep within herself to find that stamina and focus, below her pain, fatigue and nasty cold.

Needless to say she is very tired, as am I.  But she has accomplished a great deal – her first high school qualifications, although we must wait until August to see what grades she will be awarded. She still has a ways to go before she finishes her secondary education, but I think this will have given her a great boost.

I mentioned knitting – as always, Thank Goodness for Knitting.  I finished the project that I was knitting at the Eagle Observatory in Harris:

'Orangery' shawl by Carol Feller.

My “Balance Shawl” – green being the colour of balance.  Knitting it has been a great help in keeping my balance the last while!

The pattern is called “Orangery Shawl” by Carol Feller and the yarn is Sweet Georgia sock yarn. You can find the details on my Ravelry page here.

My Oregon cardigan continues:

Oregon cardigan, with armhole steek on the left and centre steek on the right.

Oregon cardigan, with armhole steek on the left and centre steek on the right.

In fact, I finished knitting the body during the Dafter’s exam this afternoon.

Echoing the cherry blossoms this month, my easy knitting is now this lovely scarf:

Start of 'Firiel' shawl pattern by Lucy Hague.

Start of ‘Firiel’ shawl pattern by Lucy Hague.

So we made it!  Yesterday, a friend wrote, “It feels as if she’s climbed up a sheer cliff and now has to pull herself up over the top” – which is exactly how this month has felt.  But she did it!

Strangely, 20 years ago almost to the day, Our Son came to us, age nearly 4, and we began taking him to (nursery) school.  Now we are no longer parents of a school child.  But learning, healing and life carry on, even with these markers.  Thank you all so very much for your encouraging comments, messages and friendship.  Your good wishes and thoughtfulness have made a real difference to our whole family.

I wish you all a great start to June.  Let the summer begin!



  1. How wonderful that the Dafter has achieved this today! I am so happy for her and for you. No doubt she will be very tired for a while. But I hope she recovers enough to enjoy the long vac and prepare herself for the next stage. I feel really uplifted by your post!

  2. Ce sont d’excellentes nouvelles ! De chaleureuses félicitations pour The Dafter ! Je vous souhaite à tous de pouvoir relaxer et vous reposer après ce mois épuisant.
    votre jardin est vraiment beau.

  3. So pleased that The Dafter has done so well in completing her exam work. That’s a terrific achievement.
    And I ‘m glad to see Tilly enjoying being outside. Our cat Hamish is currently being kept indoors after having some surgery, and he is desperate to get out.
    I too have a snail problem: they have eaten most of my nicotiana and cosmos this year, so I had to go off and buy more.

  4. Dear Christine, I just have to say how thrilled I am for your girl and for you all. Reading this post left me with a tear in my eye. Your girl so deserves success and I am so very happy for her, and for you all. Beautiful May pictures from Glascow and sweet Tilly. I know what you mean about knitting being important to keep in balance. Your shawl and cardigan in the process are so very lovely. My daughter of 20 was rushed to hospital last weekend and diagnosed with a rare heart condition. During sleepless nights and hours of waiting knitting has been a wonderful comfort.Blessings to you all, from Pam in Norway

  5. Your day is just beginning and my day is ending but what joyous news to hear about the dear Dafter! I am so happy for her and you should be so proud of her accomplishments. I remembered her in my prayers this morning during my walk. I’m so thankful that is is over for you. Now, hopefully you all can take a little break and get some much needed rest. Hugs, Pat
    Ps..Tilly looks adorable in the garden!

  6. So excited for you all that everyone has made it to the other side of this and that such victory was had (despite what any grade may say!). This is such a huge accomplishment. Loved seeing all the garden pictures and Tilly looks so relaxed. 🙂 Also your shawl is beautiful! I may need to try that pattern sometime. I need to get back into the knitting. Have been allowing my wrists to heal and they are doing okay. Hope today includes a bit more rest!!!

  7. Dear Christine, my heart was in my mouth all the way through this post willing her through and praying that she would succeed. I am thrilled for you all, such a major achievement regardless of the grade. You all deserve a good rest. Take care.

  8. The Dafter ROCKS!!!! WELL DONE xxxxxxxxx

  9. Fantastic to hear the Dafter got through it all! What a hill to climb. But as you say, the way she delves deep within herself to find such stamina and focus really is an inspiration.
    Lovely to see your knitting projects at various stages too!

  10. Hooray, I felt a bit teary reading that! Well done all of you.

  11. Hearty congrats to the Dafter. A case of ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going!’!

  12. Christine, what a wonderful report! So great to hear how your dear daughter persevered and kept going … well done to her!!!! I hope you can all have some rest now and enjoy this fabulous achievement. Thank you for including us on your journey. ( I have never heard of a “stonking cold” but it sounds nasty although I quite like that word; I think I will file that one away).

  13. There has recently been a spectacular growth in the sales of intricate coloring books for adults because similarly to puzzles they are therapeutic, meditative and addictive without having to destroy what one has achieved when it is finished. It might make a great present to yourself! But be forewarned once you start it may result on no food on the table for the family. Best wishes!
    Swiss Frank

  14. The happiest of news! Testament to The Dafter’s inner strength, and the love and support of you and Michael. Hope you are all still basking in the achievement.
    Your garden paving is a thing of beauty. But the snails of southern Scotland! Don’t get me started. My father had no trouble with slugs or snails in Moray, and I think Aberdeen must have shared something of the same climate. But here in Edinburgh we are deeved by them – ‘stonking’ great snails, powering through most tender green shoots. I have had to give up on hostas, dahlias overwintered in borders, any sort of salad vegetable. The climate is a bit warmer here, and of course is Glasgow you have the dampness of the tropical west.
    And just to agree – exams are the pits. Anything less likely to judge breadth of ability is hard to imagine.

  15. I was relieved to see a post from you. A difficult month for all, but with encouragement at the end. Well done!

  16. Chère Christine,
    Un grand bravo à votre fille et à toute votre famille. J’espère qu’à présent elle va (et vous aussi !) pouvoir se reposer et profiter d’un bel été !
    J’ai été émue par votre dernière phrase. Nous aussi, il y a plus de vingt ans, nous avons accueilli notre fils qui avait 4 ans. Aujourd’hui et en cet instant j’attends que mon mari soit prêt pour monter en voiture, et découvrir ce soir notre premier petit enfant, qui est entrain de naître en ce moment ! La vie continue après pas mal de moments bousculés et c’est merveilleux. Je vous adresse toutes mes amitiés. Tricotez bien dans votre jardin !

  17. Dear all, I can hardly express my gratitude to you for sharing this little journey with us, and rejoicing with us. We are still adjusting to the lack of this enormous uncertainty and pressure, but it’s very nice! I had rather forgotten that I had put everything off until the summer, so I now have a long list of catch-up things to attend to (four appointments for the Dafter next week, one for me!). I haven’t had a chance to rejoin blogland, but I am really looking forwards to that.

    Pam, my heart goes out to you. I hope that you and your daughter will find a new balance with this diagnosis, and good support. For years now one of my regular prayers has been “God, please send us good helpers.” It’s not nice to have to rely on help, but I do believe we are here to help one another. Look after yourself, and I hope you can find inner peace, deep down.

    Annie, wow that is so exciting! Very interesting that you are also an adoptive mother. I hope all has gone well, and I wish you every happiness in your new role as a grandmother.

    The sun is still shining in Glasgow! We are enjoying this very rare occurrence of such prolonged warmth, while aware of the devastating floods in Europe. I hope you are all safe and dry.

  18. Congratulations to the Dafter! This is a tremendous accomplishment ~ very well done indeed and keep up the good work. 🙂
    The gardens look beautiful and I love the Balance Shawl. It looks very warm and comfortable. Pretty yarn you’re using for the Firiel.
    Tilly looks like she’s found a nice spot under the rose bush. My Frodo Baggins likes to rest under a bush too.
    Enjoy your weekend! ♥

  19. I’ve been wondering how you were all getting on, and it’s great to read such a positive post. Well done the Dafter, and you and Michael for helping her through it all. Hasn’t the weather been glorious? I told my mum earlier this year that this summer was going to be a scorcher (wishful thinking rather than any sort of meteorological insight) and so far we’ve had some wonderfully warm days. Long may they continue, bringing plenty of opportunities for rest and recuperation. That cherry blossom is magnificent.

  20. Such an upbeat and optimistic post, Christine, in spite of all that has been endured. The Dafter is an inspiration. Please pass on a big “well done!” from me.

  21. It is so good to hear from you, Christine, and especially to read of the progress that Dafter and you and Michael are making through this season of your lives. Our purple Clematis is just now blooming and was a treat to see yesterday afternoon when we drove in the driveway after camping for ten days on the east side of Mt. Hood in the forest between Wamic and Rock Creek Reservoir. We got to see an eagle swoop down over the reservoir and catch a fish! I thought a lot about Is. 40:31. Your finished shawl is lovely. I especially love the pink and green colors of your new scarf, and I admire your skill in knitting your beautiful Oregon cardigan. Please give Tilly some love pats from me. Love, Gracie xxxxx

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