The big picture
Sunday October 29th 2006, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I grew up in a house in the woods, right by a ten-mile-long regional park running along Cabin John Creek in Maryland, flowing out to the Potomac River. In a normal year, I make a trek back East for a short while, visiting friends and family, taking walks down the towpath of the C&O Canal, where my husband and I went on our first date; always dipping a toe in the Potomac, just because. One friend and I had a Great Blue heron take off into the air right in front of us on one of those outings. It lifted up in graceful slow motion, right there. Glorious.

But this has not been a normal year. My trip got cancelled by a Crohn’s flare (yeah, got that, too) and I didn’t get to go–and my parents suddenly decided to put their house on the market and move into a downtown condo two thousand miles away, to the city where my mother had grown up, where they could get by without driving anymore. Which makes sense at their stage; everything’s right there for them. I wanted to say goodbye to the house, where some of my earliest memories are of the day we’d moved in. It didn’t happen.

A few years ago, I was back there, and it was distressing to see that the English ivy the neighbors had planted to tamp down the erosion on the hill had grown like kudzu across the back yard, destroying everything in its path. Where were the jack-in-the-pulpits? Had the mayapples even made it through the ivy cover earlier that year? Where were the turtles? But the trees! There were several trees that had ivy running up them now, sinking roots into the trunks, threatening to kill them. Tall dead trees are wonderful for feeding pileated woodpeckers, but twice in years past, hit by lightning earlier, the folks have had one land on or go right through the house in a hurricane and a tornado. Not to mention, these new ones would be dead, and then the next ones would be, and the next. Ivy so much does not belong there.

No way was I not going to try. Short-breathed or no, dizzy or not, that ivy had to go. I spent I don’t know how long ripping it out, which was easy where it was young growth–and a lot of it was–and where it was not, well, I ached for days, but man, was it worth it. The next year, when I came back for the wedding of a friend’s daughter, I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to see the forest floor rebounding fast where the ivy had been cleared. And I’d cleared quite a lot.

My friend Robin of the comments lives in Bethesda, and drove over to the folks’ house on their moving day. Snapped pictures and sent me the link, including this picture of the back yard (thank you, Robin!) I had never in my life seen the front yard so sunny before; since my last trip, a storm had finished off what had once been a big, shady poplar in the center of the yard.

Today I was wishing I could see fall colors in all the glory to be had back there. Northern California claims fall colors, but it’s just not the same. The trees here change with the seasons the way a fifth grade band class follows the music teacher: every random which way when, notes often squeaky and never in concert together, with the class clowns in the back holding out till January.

I don’t know why I never thought of this before. I love this photo, showing the trees I pulled that ivy off of, scarred, but still growing tall and strong, holding the weight of the sky off the young saplings below. Light bursting through at the top. I was knitting this evening, and just needed–something. What? I glanced around, and suddenly found myself reaching for a copy of that shot and putting it in my lap, so that when I glanced down at the knitting in my hands, I would have those woods as the backdrop. It completely changed how I felt about that particular project, which had lagged earlier, but now was just sailing off my needles.

I took a break to come write this.

I wonder who will pull the ivy off in the years to come. I hope that, rather than looking at that large lot with the For Sale sign only as a place for their Washington McMansion, the buyers love those woods the way we kids did. The mayapples have such a short season. Don’t forget to look for the turtles. 

Ice-skating buffalo
Friday October 27th 2006, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

I’m not trying to spoil the book for anyone, but I do figure that not a lot of people are running out to buy it because of my having mentioned it. So I wanted to share my favorite part of “Winterdance”: at one point, Paulsen saw another Iditarod musher sitting, his dogs parked, looking down at the scene below the rise at a point where Paulsen couldn’t see. The other guy motioned him over, saying, You’ve got to see this!

Down below them was a frozen lake and four buffalo. Two were out on the ice, trying to rise awkwardly to their feet. The other two were on the side. One backed up the embankment, carefully, and then with tail held high, went running forward and hit the ice with its front legs apart just so, so that it went twirling around and around on the ice. It got up, legs slipping out from under it, shakily and with the obvious buffalo equivalent of a grin, while the next one backed up the embankment to come do the same thing. Run, hit the ice, spin like a top–next!

Worth the price of the book just to read that part. Go buffalo. And cheers to the men who took the time away from the race to stop and see it.

Talking about snow…
Thursday October 26th 2006, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Knit

So our kids pretty much grew up in northern California, with only the oldest remembering snow at our old house; she’d been not quite five when we left New Hampshire. Then she was off to college, to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, up at a goodly elevation and right by the side of a mountain. Her first semester, we got this phone call. Cue the Calvin and Hobbes: “It’s snowing. I’ve got my electric blanket set on Deep Fat Fry, and I am *not* coming out!”

Now the middle two kids are at BYU, and I didn’t want my younger daughter to shiver. Scarves and more scarves, till finally, she said, um, Mom, I really appreciate it, but I really don’t need more scarves.

When our kids are young, they take all our time. Now, it’s like I can take all that love gained over all the years, and radiate it further out. Everybody’s baby is my baby to admire, I’m not distracted with my own. Everybody’s joy is my joy.

And everybody’s a potential recipient for a good, soft, handknit scarf.

Where’s a musk ox when you need it
Tuesday October 24th 2006, 6:37 pm
Filed under: Knit

If you’ve read the story of my Strawberry Pie shawl on my website, you remember that I tried to doorbell-ditch a completely homemade strawberry pie on a friend’s doorstep when I was 18. So. Last week, while I was in the hospital, the doorbell at home rang, and my 18-year-old son opened up to find that FedEx had just doorbell-ditched a surprise package. From Scott. It was a copy of a favorite book of his to help make the time pass faster for me (many blessings on you, Scott, thank you.)

When someone goes to that much effort to get a book to you, you read it. Not that anyone had to twist my arm; I love a good autobiography. I love to knit, too, but knitting without music playing just isn’t quite the same… Note to my doctors, if any of them happens to read this–yes, I’m deaf as a post. I also have perfect pitch and was trained as a musician once upon a time before my ears got to this point, and when I’m home, all that background hospital noise doesn’t exist. It’s just me, my needles, and the stereo, and let’s crank it up, folks. (How many households are there where the kids get to come home and groan, “Mom, your music’s too loud, turn it *down*.” Lol!) So. After I got the book, I put down the knitting and lost myself for a day in “Winterdance,” a memoir by Gary Paulsen about his running in the Iditarod sled-dog race in Alaska.

We used to live in New Hampshire. I used to race walk every morning, four or five miles’ worth, before our small children woke up for the day. Let the hubby deal with them waking up. Time to exercise, time to myself to get out and enjoy the outdoors, time to not have anyone to have to keep an eye on but me. Yeah, and a few cars, especially when the road was only partly cleared of snow and nothing else was. Over our last 17 days there before we moved to northern California, we had 70″ of snow. (My brain’s going off on a tangent about the moving van driver who arrived in our five-degree March weather in a yellow short-sleeve t-shirt, came inside long enough to call the company and tell them he wasn’t doing anything but sitting in his nice warm truck with the motor running for however long it took, thank you very much, you guys go hire someone else to load the *&# thing: it’s COLD! …Yeah, dude. Ya think?)

I remember one particular morning when I bundled up in my 6’8″ husband’s down jacket as well as my own (I’m 5’5″) and braved a particularly bad cold front. Cota Road in Merrimack curved into basically a long circle, but halfway around I realized how nuts this all was. I went home, turned on the radio, and found out that the wind chill was running at minus 40. Yowsers.

So here is this Iditarod guy talking about how -20F is the perfect, nice warm temperature for the dogs going full bore. Minus 20 may be a whole lot of things, but I gotta tell you, cozy warm it ain’t, not in my book. I definitely needed a mug of hot cocoa while I was reading–but you just can’t get, say, Scharffenberger cocoa at Stanford Hospital. Although, someone mentioned there was a Starbucks in the cafeteria. A little hard to get there when you’re wired to the wall for a four-day EEG.

As those dogs slogged on across Alaska, I kept thinking, this guy needs two things: a GPS unit in case something goes really wrong, and qiviut everything: socks, sweaters, gloves, hat, you name it. Nothing warmer. Or softer, for that matter. At sixty bucks an ounce, I wondered how much the yarn for that getup would have set him back–and whether the dogs would have gone nuts at the smell of it on him.

Which got me thinking about the densely-shaggy musk oxen it comes from. They are survivors. Even with icicles hanging from their eyebrows, their fur can handle any wind chill factor. When danger threatens any of them, they gather the herd in a tight circle, wagon-train style, their little ones on the inside and the adults’ backs to each other, with faces looking any wolf right in the eye. Staring it down. You just try. Git!

I have lupus. Which is the Latin word for wolf.

And with my knitting, I am keeping thoughts of my friends in a tight circle around me, and with their own kindnesses large and small, they keep me centered.

The medicine blanket
Monday October 23rd 2006, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Knit

First, the boring (to my non-knitting friends; you guys just go skip to after the gap) technical stuff: someone posted on KnitTalk today with the question of, how could she use the 200 yards of cashmere she’d just splurged on to get a scarf out of it?

One of the good things about lace is that a goodly part of what you’re creating is air spaces, so that a little yarn can be stretched a long way. Obviously, that’s more true with some patterns than others. This one is simply knitted with right side rows alternating between k2tog, yo, across, and the next one, ssk, yo across. I cast on an odd number of stitches, and one of the right side rows started with a knit one stitch, the other one ended with a knit one stitch. For specifics, go check out Donna Druchunas’s blog when she posts this picture of one of my scarves. For beginners: k2tog is, of course, knit two stitches together; ssk means slip the next stitch as if to knit, repeat with the next one, then put the left side needle into the fronts of those two stitches and knit them that way.
These two different ways to decrease slant in opposite directions and create a balanced effect. If you just do one of them throughout the scarf, you create a biased fabric that won’t hang straight.

Now for the story part: the backdrop is a handwoven placemat in wool created by my friend Robert, a handweaver who lives near Santa Cruz. Robert later wove me a six-foot-long navy wool blanket in the tradition of the Native American medicine blanket: with each passing of the shuttle, he was wishing me good health and well-being, at a time my lupus and dysautonomia were flaring badly last spring. When he finished, we met halfway between our homes at Karen Brayton-McFall’s shop, The Rug and Yarn Hut in Campbell, which I believe is where he’d bought the yarn for it. All those hours and hours of work! It was a tremendously humbling experience for me, and I was absolutely thrilled. It was a beautiful piece of work. Such a generous offer of caring for a fellow being. Mindboggling. I found myself running my fingers over the bumps in the fabric where the weft yarn ran over and under the warp, again and again, so different from the way yarn feels as it comes off my needles. Sturdy. Solid. Strong. It was the perfect representation of the man who’d made it.

That night, I had a blood-pressure crash that woke me up and I couldn’t move or breathe. I had had experiences like this before, but this was one of the very worst ever, and I wasn’t sure I could live much longer if it didn’t let up. Very soon.

And I was immediately angry (if you think I’m a nice person, just don’t wake me up at 3 am, it’ll totally blow my cover): You stupid body! After all his hard work! How dare you give out on me now! How could you make it so he’ll feel like a failure, that the medicine of his caring wasn’t enough, after he put heart and soul and time into wishing me well, someone he didn’t even know well!

As if anybody who ever died passed because the people who desperately wanted them to live somehow had failed them? Yeah right. Gimme a great big break.

But that shot of adrenalin from that anger kicked my lungs back alive, and I suddenly devoured air. I could breathe again!

I didn’t immediately realize it. But when I did, it was so obvious: I went back to Robert and told him that his gift had been powerful medicine indeed. The timing! If he hadn’t given it to me that day… I don’t know…

And ever since, it has been my knitting companion. Even when we had a massive heat wave this past July, I kept it under my toes on the footrest as I knitted away and then, when the evening San Francisco fogbank rolled in, I would move it up and pull it over me. Still do. Always will. My medicine blanket; how could I not thrive, with all that it means to me?

Weaving, knitting, cooking, walking through a park together, being a doctor, being a nurse’s assistant: it doesn’t matter how we give of our time and our hearts. What matters is that we do.

Saturday October 21st 2006, 2:47 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

My hospitalization and testing were actually going to be last week, but my doctor and the hospital couldn’t get it together on the timing, and it got put off till this week. Which left me thinking, okay, I know from experience that timing is everything: I wonder. Who does that mean I will see that I wouldn’t have seen if it had been earlier? I put a white baby alpaca/silk lace scarf in my knitting bag to take with me so I would be prepared for whoever whenever.

Three years ago I was admitted to Stanford in such a state that my husband wasn’t the least bit sure I would still be there the next day. Noel, the nursing assistant assigned to my bed, took one look at us and knew we needed him. He spent as much time as he reasonably could in my room with us, being himself, being warm and kind, being very funny, making my Richard laugh at a time he felt laughing had become extinct. Even I cracked a smile over and over, at a time when it took all I had just to breathe.

When I asked him at one point a few days later if the picture of the adorable little girl he had hanging from his neck was his daughter, he said softly, looking me in the eyes, that, no. That was his niece. She had not made it. And now he works here, taking care of other patients.

I pulled through that setback, and later went back to Stanford with a wool hat I’d knitted for him as a way of telling him how much what he had done and how he had given of himself had meant to us. He loved it. He told me I had caught him just before he left; he was moving home to Hawaii and going back to school to become a full-fledged nurse. (And I thought, goodness, what would you ever do with a wool hat in Hawaii?)

I have often wished him well, wherever life might have taken him since then. He was such a good one.

So. My second day at Stanford this week, someone just happened to walk past my room, and I found myself exclaiming in thrilled disbelief, “Noel?!!” He stopped. Looked just a moment–and hey, we’re talking me with, in effect, a bald head, and three years since we’d laid eyes on each other–and he exclaimed back, “It’s YOU!!” He came bounding in and we threw our arms around each other. I reminded him how he’d made Richard laugh, and thanked him once again. And asked him, “But I thought you moved to Hawaii!”

He’d had the plane ticket for three months. Two weeks before he’d been supposed to leave, his brother, who lives in this area, was diagnosed with cancer. Noel had stayed by his side the whole time. Of course he couldn’t leave. He was very happy to add that his brother had been in remission two years now.

So he had stayed here. I gave him that scarf, for his mom, or whomever he chose. And I just happened to be in the right room at the right time with the door open at the moment he just happened to walk past it in my department. And somehow he recognized me.

But then, he was always someone who could truly see.

Ruby slippers time
Friday October 20th 2006, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Tap your heels twice, “There’s no place like home.”

So far I’ve gone through half a bottle of baby oil and nearly that of cheap coconut-scented hair conditioner picked up on our way home, trying to de-superglue my hair as per instructions. I smell like a Mounds bar. And then I think of all the cancer patients who would love to have glue in their hair to complain about, and, well, hey.

Last time I was at Stanford, they had me tethered to the wall for a long infusion, and set up a bedside commode as they pumped three bags of fluids into me. Which means, it having been night and the blinds opened, that I mooned the incoming Lifeflight chopper.

This time I was again straight across from the helipad on the roof, but I was on the top rather than the ground floor–close enough to wave at the pilot and think she might well have waved back. I said a small prayer for whoever was laid out in the back of that chopper. Thank goodness they were able to get to Stanford so fast.

And the next one. And the next one.

It’s wonderful to return to normal life here.

Attention Shoppers
Thursday October 19th 2006, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Knit

{The nurse didn’t get the cultural reference.} Attention K Mart shoppers! We have a blue head special on aisle f. Aisle f.

I exchanged a few pleasantries with a staff member yesterday, who then wished me “have a good day, sir.”
So today I teased a few long curls out of my dressing. Promptly a nurse showed up to rewrap my head in a new color and tucked the hair out of sight again. Thus the K Mart bluehead special. Blue headed Alison I took my cell phone {do you see the level of self defense rising} and went to my blog. Which, by the way, I can post to from here but I can’t sign in and I can’t enter any comments to. Anyway. I went to the photo at the top of the page and held it out to the next nurse that came in. She stopped herself in mid exclamation of “Oh, she’s pretty!” Realising that I was all but bursting out laughing that yeah, um, that would be me, thanks. She was wonderful the last two days, and she really admired the blue alpaca silk I was knitting up. So tonight as she was signing out from work she found herself, to her surprise, learning about rinsing lace and laying it out flat for the night for the diamond pattern to emerge. Oh, and scissors to snip the yarn ends. I know from three years ago that if I ask to borrow a pair of scissors in a hospital there will be a $90 charge for surgical scissors on my bill…and I just don’t quite love her that much. Syoy: snip your own yarn.
Man, it felt good to watch her dancing away happy. (Hubby updated to undo awful mobile formating and add phone photo as requested.)

Hey, y’all. Thank you.
Wednesday October 18th 2006, 6:08 pm
Filed under: Knit

So, I’m typing on my phone to my blog like yesterday, and he’s pointing my camera. I just got flashed and now I’m blinking trying to see the keypad.

A knitting friend dropped by and we knitted and chatted awhile. Nancy is the person who strong-armed me into spinning and dyeing lessons 12 years ago. It’s all her fault! She brought her latest acquisitions of roving to show off and a book on silk. The nurse came in to check vitals, and Nancy had her all but talked into spinning lessons by the time that nurse escaped. That’s my Nancy! We had a grand time laughing. All hospital stays should be so much fun {all the time}. Oh, and: I have one of those Halloween bowls with a hand that drops down on yours when you reach for candy. My eye and tactile candy is my friend Karin’s Lamoromere yarn knitted with Misti baby alpaca laceweight. I dyed them periwinkle in anticipation of needing a major project while here, and when I turn the bowl on, every time I yank a lenth of yarn the green hand grabs for it and cackles in this Addams Family voice, Happy Halloween!
(I added the photo when I got home as instructed, the hubby)

Carpet diem! Seizure day!
Monday October 16th 2006, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Watch out, these guys at Stanford’ll just floor you. And see what
happens when you hand my hubby a camera phone? Dangerous, I tell you.
Alison with head wired

(Editoral note from the Hubby who is posting this for her: Alison is unfortunately in Stanford Hospital for observation for possibly several days. Those who know her well know she does not complain, but she has not been doing her best. This time they are just observing her. I will try to maintains some updates for her while she is in the body shop for diagnostics. Here are a few pictures I took as they hooked her up for monitoring. She selected these from a set of pictures I took. She ended up looking a bit like a pre-halloween mummy look if you ask me.

Alison with head wired

Maybe her brain just got jealous of all the time I put into bring the server back to life and it wanted more attention of its own? Maybe It wants an CPU upgrade? Our youngest thinks she looks like she had a brain transplant in a bad science fiction movie. Maybe it is one to many pattern in the brain? It’s been 28 years and I still don’t have a clue. But I will probably get spoken to about my comments)

Bonnie’s socks
Monday October 16th 2006, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Knit

Bonnie didn’t want me to make a fuss, and I’m trying to honor that. But my feet have been very, very happy (and boy was I surprised when they showed up) for several months now.

Everybody should be so lucky. 

Kristine’s “Socks that Rock”
Saturday October 14th 2006, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Knit

(This post is a few days late due to a crashed server, but thanks to the resident magician we are up and running again. The system, however, isn’t letting me put up more than one picture at the moment, so the other things I was going to post about will each have to wait their turn.)

Beaded socks.

If you’ve ever put a pair of handknit socks on your feet, you know you never want to go back to anything less. There is nothing in the world… Which makes me wish that I loved to knit socks, but if you hand me a lovely merino sock yarn like this, rather than knit socks on 1.5 mm needles, I’ll make you a lace shawl out of it on 5.5s. The last pair of socks I knit went to Brian, one of my nurses at Stanford Hospital three years ago, as a thank you for his being willing to walk in his patients’ shoes. Clearly, then, some situations will get even me to knit socks, but going through and coming out of critical condition is a bit drastic of a method.

So. Earlier this week, I was having one of Those Days, when everything expensive broke, and and and. And the mail came. With a package from Vermont, a beautiful card inside wishing me the very best of days. My first skeins ever of Socks That Rock, already knitted up, and beaded, no less.

I have never attempted beaded knitting in my life. As a knitter, I am totally outclassed, and, slipping these over my toes, I could not possibly be happier. I am wearing them to my appointed tests at Stanford next week, as a way to say to the staff when I check in, Take good care of me: for I am well loved.

Thank you, Kristine.

He did it!!
Saturday October 14th 2006, 11:45 am
Filed under: Non-Knitting

After four days AWOL, the server is finally back in commission and the blog and site back up. Many thanks to my Richard, who spent a huge amount of time bringing it back to life.

Do you no the way to (San) Jose
Monday October 09th 2006, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

My youngest, as a baby, hated being in the car. Hated it. Screamed from the moment you put him in there in the backseat till the moment you picked him back up again, completely different from his siblings, who would watch calmly out the windows and often fall asleep after awhile. He was the world’s most placid baby–except on wheels.

But still, that didn’t prepare me for his first words. You know, there’s the usual Ma Ma Ba Ba babbling, but the very first real words out of that little boy’s mouth made it very clear he had older siblings to copy. It wasn’t even the standard two-word tiny toddler talk. I was buckling him into his carseat, and this little-boy voice pronounced in protest up at me, “No way Jose.”

Say WHAT? You can’t say that yet! But he could. And he did.

So, now he’s a college freshman, the one kid to choose to be living at home while going to school, at least for this year. (And I’m the one trying not to freak out when he’s driving. One horrendous moment being twice-crashed because of one distracted speeder behind me six years ago, and my balance was shot for life.) He’s in the college choir, and he proudly volunteered his mother’s superb chocolate decadence torte as treats he was going to bring in to share with the other singers.

And then he came home and told me. Oh really? No way Jose, hon. You’re perfectly capable. Dowicherself. (He’d thought, on reflection, that that reaction might be forthcoming.)

So. I walked into the kitchen a little while ago to sneak a peek at the proceedings.

It took me a moment. What on earth? Oh. Um. Did you… Are those egg whites being beaten with the butter, with the egg yolks waiting to be beaten separately? Rather than the other way around?

Oh oops. He had to start over. No biggy, and his tortes (my recipe makes two) came out beautifully.

I, meantime, threw some milk and flour and those egg yolks into that first bowl, baking like I knit: ad libbing as I go. I’m waiting to see how it comes out. But his tortes will definitely find their way to the college near San Jose; the kid did a good job. As I knew he would, and now he knows he can.

And, though it really shouldn’t bother me, I will, as I often do, say a small prayer as he gets in my car and heads down the crazy California freeways, offering a quiet thanks later when he arrives safely home.

For Lene
Friday October 06th 2006, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Friends,Non-Knitting

Some days just need a tiger hug, and this one’s for Lene, my friend over at Not as cool as the real four-month-old tiger cub she once got to hold, but it’s what I’ve got.

One of my earliest memories is of watching in huge excitement as my dad opened up his suitcase in the middle of the living room rug. He’d just gotten home from a trip to Europe; I’d missed him fiercely, and he told me he had something in there for me and something for my little sister. He’d toured a stuffed animal factory in Germany. First, he pulled out my tiger. (There is no Steiff ear tag; at some point in my childhood it must have mortally offended me, so out it went.) Then a koala for my little sister.

There were many stuffed animals along the way over the years growing up, but none with the power to comfort like my tiger. Mom used to hold him up to the light at bedtime so there would be glowing cat eyes in the dark, always watching over me and keeping me safe. Now, as in any parent/child relationship, he’s in his old age and I’m the one keeping him in good care.

As I do my friends, to the best I can. Hey Lene. Consider yourself tiger hugged.