Joy to the world
Tuesday December 15th 2009, 12:11 am
Filed under: Family,Friends

I may not be getting to explore the cathedrals of Europe anytime soon.  But tonight, listening to Michelle singing with the choir in the glorious acoustics at Stanford Memorial Church, I felt, it doesn’t get better than this. It just doesn’t.

And when the flute played–a flute! (My family will understand that exclamation point.) From a seat halfway back, I heard every note as clearly as if I’d played it myself.


And Jim, who was my kids’ organ teacher, totally hot-dogged it on that massive, ornate old pipe organ way above our heads; he was having a great time. Remember the story about his son Nicholas?  Nicholas played a duet with him tonight.

Hark, the angels indeed sing, shining brilliantly in the cool night.

The numbers keep adding up
Sunday December 13th 2009, 9:12 am
Filed under: Family,Life

Grow older with me, the best is yet to be.

It’s true. We’re an April-December romance.

Last night, turning off the light and tucking in, our hands reached out to each other–and we totally snagged the velcro on our hand splints and I burst out laughing.

Fifty-one years, twenty-nine married. It’s a good start.

(Ed. to add: Michelle had cocoa in the fridge with Green and Black’s Maya Gold melted into it ready for me to warm up in the morning. That child knows how to celebrate a birthday!)

Saturday December 12th 2009, 10:59 pm
Filed under: Family,Non-Knitting

Going to Rachel‘s in San Jose: “Did you get the GPS?”

“Nah, I’ll just use my phone.”

Showoff. Oh, wait, mine does that too?!

We finally gave in to the inevitable on our dying Sidekicks and bought new phones.  When you’re buying five cells, it’s like buying a car–you can’t just walk in and be done with it.  Even though we mostly knew what we wanted, Wednesday evening it took us three hours. The saleswoman laughed a bit ruefully when I gave out, gave up, plunked down and pulled out my knitting.

Richard had great fun later swiping his new phone at the barcode on a Safeway receipt and having it tell him where all the most-local sources were for that pumpkin can and what their prices were, telling me that his friend had written that Droid app.  Cool!

I got an LG env Touch, plenty for me. And I can now plug my hearing aids into my phone! I have always had to turn on the speakerphone and hold it (and hold it and HOLD it) right up at my ear.  I will actually be able to have a private conversation now?  And have much better sound quality from the phone itself, apart from the hearing aids?  This is going to be quite nice.

I told Richard I really didn’t need him to buy me any more birthday presents, we’d shot our wad.  Dirt. I need dirt. Dad sent me more amaryllis bulbs, Richard bought me a few too  (yay! Thank you!) and I just need some potting soil and a few pots.  I’m simple to please. (Wait–don’t look at that Touch when I say that…)

I’ll see Sunday if he agreed with me.

Tuning in
Friday December 11th 2009, 11:17 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

You know why it’s so hard to keep those holiday pounds off?

It’s those see stars. One arm breaks off, they just grow another one, appearing time after time.  Whaddyagonnado.

(Michelle volunteers one-on-one as a tutor and the middle schooler brought her holiday cookies as a thank you.  Michelle wasn’t about to tell her she didn’t dare risk eating them; it was a sweet thing for her to have done.  I was glad to help out a little, and besides, I could use nudging the scale up a tad.)

Meantime, this morning, our piano doctor who makes house calls, an old friend after all these years, came by.  The house was, shall we say, unfinished–and I was discouraged at how fast my energy had given out on me.

He smiled a warm smile; “Doesn’t look messy to me.”

And at that suddenly everything was much better.

He glanced out at the birds on the feeder, taking them in for a moment; he has done recordings of the wildlife in his own area.  I’ve heard his frogs.  (If you ever need some theme music while ripping out your knitting…)  I wondered if he could hear my finches through the window.

I’ve heard them I think twice now. Yesterday the feeder swung around so one couldn’t see me coming as I opened the slider as quietly as I could and slipped outside.  The feeder swung back around, and I was close enough to stroke the little bird’s stripey-brown feathers had I moved.  I didn’t dare move.  Or breathe.  It chirped and dove into the seed, again and again, keeping an eye on me–and when I did finally breathe, it was a Mr. Tumnus moment: Oh my goodness! You’re a human, and I’m–I’m a bird!  Fright and flight!

I picked up my needles while Neil tuned my piano.

I don’t usually knit in the mornings; I’m not sure how to describe the weirdness that is the body responding in slow motion before about noon–you tell it to move and it dithers like a 13-year-old told to do the dishes and arguing about it. Knitting at that hour, and particularly on tiny needles?  Slow as doing taxes.

And yet. He played a few snatches of song here and there as he tuned, reminding me why my concert-pianist grandmother had chosen that Kimball in the first place ages ago.  Such a gorgeous depth of sound to it.   Some notes had slipped, but he was pulling them back into where they belonged.

The needles picked up a bit.

He got to the highest notes on the piano.  So many times in the last twenty years I’ve heard only the slight thud thud of the hammers hitting against the strings up there, but with my ears turned up now–thank you John Miles–I caught a few of those actual notes, thin and high and as unstable as a hummingbird’s flight, but briefly actually mystically somehow there.  So that’s what those sound like.  I had long forgotten.  Wow.

That stopped my hands altogether across the room as I felt, Do it again!  Make it play like that again! And he did. I didn’t hear each note every time, but just enough to feel like I was in the presence of a small, rare gift from Life itself.

Don’t forget to breathe! And don’t stop in the middle of a row of laceweight silk or you’ll drop a thousand stitches and he was almost done there. Hurry!

I didn’t finish the row. I didn’t drop the stitches. I did, however, find myself hugely cheered on a morning when I had been needing cheering.

So many grace notes appear when we are in the presence of good people who are our friends.

The kids are coming home soon.  Let the music begin.

Friday December 11th 2009, 12:32 am
Filed under: Family

Company’s coming.

I remember reading a funny essay once by Anna Quindlen on “putting up a good front” the way women do. My mom called it “a lick and a promise,” and as a kid I always wondered who was being promised what. Now, of course, I know full well that it’s promising oneself to do a better job later even when the pressure’s off.

My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to put on a good back: the laundry room, the bathroom, the back areas of the house.  So while I was at the doctor’s, she spread everything out of there into the living and family rooms and started sorting. Old towels and sheets vs newer, etc etc., what ought to be tossed, and do we need the XL twin sheets now that the XL twin bed is gone?

All that needed to happen, but, timing, child…

She was working where I had planned to be cleaning. Well, but that stuff did need to be done too, true.

Mom, what do you want to do with this?

Huh!  I thought I’d given all of that rambouillet fleece I’d had carded and combed to the local Boy Scouts for stuffing in their shoes during long hikes–the mill had totally botched it.  My fine wool had come back with neps and pills and spinning-wise, it was just a mess, but the Boy Scouts were ecstatic.

There were two bags of it?  I still have one?  I do?  Anyone planning a long hike? Looking at the amount left, we’re talking Grand Canyon here.

Although I knew better than to take a picture of the living room mid-day to prove it.

Home to roost
Wednesday December 09th 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift

I got an email from John.

I’m glad I FedExed that shawl.

That yarn that was so (for me, anyway) heavy and that made such a thick warm shawl? Especially with all that alpaca blended in with the soft wool and silk?

It was delivered to John, and then by him that day to the recipient, on a day in southern Mississippi where it was snowing.

Which happens, he told me, once or twice a decade there.


I’d only had 500 yards, so it had come out a bit short; I mentioned to John I’d been a little concerned about that.  I got told, she’s “little–I mean TINY!”


I’d been a little worried about the colorway–earthy tones, something that would look much better on someone with color to them rather than pale.

John laughed.  The woman was a very dark-complexioned African-American.


He said they didn’t stay to watch her reveling in it; she was ecstatic, she loved it, but could barely stand up long enough to tell him so, and they wished her a happy day and let her be.  But, as you can imagine, he and his missionary companion came away ecstatic themselves at seeing how very happy she was over being thought of (I did, and I prayed for her, even though I had no idea who she might be out there) and knit for and warmth to wrap around her on such a cold day and all these pretty colors and knitted leaves and autumn glory…

That yarn knew what it was doing when it leaped in my hands and demanded to be bought and knit, NOW.

And I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that I did.  Merry Christmas just cannot get merrier than that.

Don’t go to too much truffle over it
Tuesday December 08th 2009, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Got merry olde England and cheery New Mexico mailed today. Colorado, Qatar (how on earth long does it take a box to get to Qatar?), Utah, Maryland–nope.

Bought a thirty-six ounce can of truffle almonds at Costco the other day, and then realized, wait–that’s not…*chocolate*… truffles…

I’d tasted truffle oil once. It instantly brought me back to being ten years old at Moose Mountain Provincial Park, where we were camping for a lot longer than we had intended to; our pop-up trailer had a broken part that required delivery from the manufacturer.  And so we hiked, we had a volleyball land in the campfire and sizzzzzzzzle slowwwwly flat.  Oops.  Um, let’s go hiking some more!

Deep woods, musty (okay, rotting) leaves… It was all right there in that olive and truffle oil sample that the purveyor was standing there beaming at me over, waiting for my rapturous response.

Jumping in a pile of autumn leaves, okay, throwing them at my siblings when they’re not looking, just watch me, I might still.

But eating them?

So you know what we had to do.  Open that can and sample the things.

They have butter. That leaves Richard and me. We tried them.  Make that me. Rather garlic-ish, hold the essence of bark of maple or worse, it ain’t there.  Huh.

Richard thinks he’ll leaf it all to me.

Break out the Cuisinart.  Bring on the Yuletide guests.  Truffle pate’, anyone? C’mon, you know you want some!

(Don’t even SAY “nuts to the squirrels” yet, okay?)towhee, finch, squirrel, and junco

Make lists, check them twice
Monday December 07th 2009, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Life

Wait–do you mean to say Christmas is THIS month!?

May it rock where it roosts
Sunday December 06th 2009, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Knitting a Gift

The Rooster Rock (this one captures the color better) went out of here a few days ago.

I sent my son John an email earlier this week and mentioned about my going to Purlescence and having had that handdyed Blue Moon Peru skein leap into my hands and insist, as loudly as a bluejay defending its nest, that it had found its territory and I was not to argue.  Didn’t matter that it was a heavier weight than I wanted. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t what I was looking for. It had found my hands.  That’s all that mattered to it.

And so I had had to introduce myself to this stranger of an alpaca-blend yarn.  Not knowing why it was so sure of itself, I figured out a pattern that would match the autumn-leaves effect of the colorway and knitted the thing up quickly for–who?  There wasn’t enough yardage to get it as long as I wanted and there was just the one skein, so I kept the stitch count fairly short and left the neck long and wide and open to make sure it would work well for a larger person should it need to. Fling it over the shoulder, tie it in front, whatever, it would do.  It would go well over a winter coat, given its thickness, and then once inside, the wearer could fasten it over their blouse or sweater.

It was done.

John wrote back.  Given that he’d already asked for a shawl once during his two-year mission for the Mormon Church–that silk one (better picture here) I sent him awhile back–he’d felt very hesitant about imposing on me again. But just like the silk went to a woman with MS, he knew, in the city he was now serving in, another woman with severe health problems he was worried about.  He hadn’t been going to ask me again, but…

And it was sitting there in the corner going, Hah!  Toldja so. I answered John, You’re not asking, I’m offering.

That son of mine has a soft spot for people with health issues. I wonder how that happened?

It felt right.  I don’t even know the woman’s name this time, much less her coloring or favorites.  It still felt right.  It’s not bluejaying me anymore–now it’s time for it to bluejay him. He won’t be out there much longer, so I FedExed it to make sure it got there while he could still get it where it needs to go.  The time to do good in this life is short enough as it is.

He’ll do the right thing with it.

And now you know as much as I do.

Saturday December 05th 2009, 8:51 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,Life

And then there are the days that make up for the other ones.

When I was designing and knitting a shawl for my friend Lisa originally, I realized it wasn’t quite her color–and that became part of the story in my book. My friend Gigi loved that pattern best of all and, as a thank you to her for helping with the test knitting and simply for being a friend, I gave it to her and made Lisa something else. Besides, the original was a bit dark for the photography.

So I reknit that pattern in a slightly redder, lighter shade, still a bit dark but that still matched the story, and that was the shawl I sent off to my publisher.

I met Gigi and her daughter Jasmin when they took spinning lessons with my daughter Sam and me the summer our girls were 12.  Fast forward to… This past summer, Gigi and I were both facing surgery.  Hers wasn’t scheduled yet; mine had to be.

And so I was in the hospital during Sock Summit.

She just got out of the hospital last week after five weeks in: heart surgery with  complications that just seemed to drag on and on and had us all on the edge of our seats.  But she’s finally home now and recovering.

She called Thursday, to my surprise, to ask, was I going to Purlescence that night?

You’re coming?!  Oh honey you bet I am! Nothing on earth could keep me away now!

It was SO good to see her! She was exhausted but had needed to get out–boy, tell me about it, I so get that.

I sat down on the floor next to her so I could be close enough to hear over the room without her having to exert herself.  She took a deep breath and decided to tell me something she hadn’t been going to.  But she had settled it out rationally in her mind and was proud of herself, and rightly so, for her attitude over it.

She had taken that burgundy baby alpaca shawl to Sock Summit.

And someone, apparently on the housekeeping staff, had stolen it.

Many inquiries were made, a great deal was made over it, but it was not returned. And here her friend who had made it for her was in the hospital.

She was devastated, as you can imagine. She told me how her boss had liked to tease her when she flung the end over her shoulder; that one has a nice wide neckline to it and she liked to wear it as a long curving wrap. But it was gone.

She had had, I’m sure, much time to think it over during her own hospital stay.  It had helped solidify for her how she wanted to feel about it: that someone somewhere out there must have really needed that shawl. Someone out there must have needed that feeling of warmth and love, too.

I heard her, but it was still true, I told her, that nobody could have that good feeling for having taken it. But, we agreed together, maybe they could give good feelings with it to someone who didn’t know it was stolen. We can hope.

I was quietly dancing inside. I knew, I knew…

I got home. I checked. Of course it was in there. The one that had been at the publisher’s. In baby alpaca. In that pattern she’d liked so much.  And, just to remove any doubt in my mind, although she had had no idea that’s what she was doing, she had worn a pair of handknit fingerless gloves to the shop that night that were redder and pinker than her shawl had been. The shade change would work. Now I just had to get there.

Richard and I went on a date this evening, and the first thing we did was to drive down to San Jose.  Jasmin’s husband Andrew opened the door and smiled in recognition when he saw me standing there.  I immediately started caroling, to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” for his mother-in-law’s sake, “We wish you a happy Ramadan, we wish you a happy Ramadan, we wish you a happy Ramadan, when it comes ’round next year.”

He cracked up.

And I handed him the bag and asked him to give all of them my best and told him what it was. And I knew, seeing the warmth in his face, that he meant that thank you with all his heart.

And to all a good night, as I climbed back in our car and thanked my husband for driving me down there. He’s a good one too.

50 is the new 90
Friday December 04th 2009, 7:15 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

Greaaaat… Nope.  Can’t. At least not yet.  Broken? Let’s see, try again. Nope. “MICHELLE!” hoping she can hear from inside.  Waiting, all dignified-like, (splat, more like) dressed for the occasion in a (thankfully long) black skirt.  Car drives by–yo? No?  Well, this is embarrassing.


She’d been just on the other side of the wall in the living room and heard me. She came out and down the walk at about the same time the neighbor across the street came out and, seeing me being rescued, ducked gracefully away.

No, can’t get up that way, hon, that hip, that arm, nuh uh.  Let’s try that. Slowly.  Gently. Thanks.

“Mom, I know you don’t use the cane around the house, but maybe you should start now.”

I seem not to have broken anything after all. Maybe 50 is just the new 50.

Meantime, *brushing myself off, icepacks in place*, I do need to report on those squirrels. Those pistachios?  They were all gone the next morning.  Curious. So I put some more out to see; they’re a bit stale but not so much so as to feel guilty over feeding them to the wildlife.

It has been very entertaining and I’ll be sorry when they’re all gone.  A little black squirrel went YEEhaw! and came leaping the moment I pulled that sliding glass door shut behind me.  So much for the picky eating of the day before.  It was, though, watching it go at it, clearly a tough nut to crack; the little thing finally grabbed it in its teeth and ran for the grass and started digging furiously. Toasted Pistachio trees, here we come!  Grow your own!

Today they’d all gotten the hang of opening them and there were strewn shells for the first time.  What quite surprised me was the bluejay swooping down and grabbing one, its jaws pried wide open around that thing as it flew off. It hadn’t deigned to give those shells the slightest glance the first day but now it was all about the panache of the pistache.

It takes the squirrels awhile to get at their Crackerjack prize inside the box. Today, they mostly didn’t want to work at it out in the open on the porch. I wanted to watch them at it, and it became a game: I sat in front of the window reading, and they would wait till the moment I was engrossed in the page and then they would sneak up, grab one, and run for the trees.  I would look up and count one shell gone and even my peripheral vision had missed it, but they’d be up there, gnawing away.  I was only entirely sure that that was what was going on when I caught one at it.

Maybe I should only go out to get the mail or paper with a bag of pistachios in hand, so the bluejays can levitate me as they try to thieve the things out of here. UP!

Thursday December 03rd 2009, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Family

Having mortified one kid, now I get to do it to the rest of them.

Dinner conversation: we got to discussing bad pop songs.  Which morphed somehow into talking about some of the songs in the Shrek movies and a debate between husband and daughter as to whether a particular song was done as a parody of that song, or was it done in earnest?

At which I casually mentioned, “You know why I knit so much baby alpaca?”

No, they asked me, why?

“Because” (breaking into song) “I’m… too sexy for my sheep. Too sexy for my sheep!”

Keeping one’s compose-sure
Wednesday December 02nd 2009, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Wildlife

The squirrels weren’t diving into those pistachios (I’d been curious).  No, no, thanks, plain sunflowerburgers for me and my bro, hold the mayo. Eww, waitress, there’s a hair in my picture!

A quick note–I hope I didn’t offend anyone, including Ms. Reddy, with yesterday’s bit of snarkiness.  A Mississippi Delta blues song that, to me, totally puts women down, sung chirpy and perky and with an Australian accent–it just didn’t work out well for me.

Okay. Moving along!

I did, however, put my friend Neil’s music on last night before going to bed and I sat in front of the speakers, absorbing the notes in just a couple of favorite pieces before turning in, reveling in how good they sounded with my aids adjusted to the new situation.  Planting something positive in my brain for future five a.m. half-awake brainstorm sessions. It worked.

Today I got a little knitting done in a waiting room: I saw my rheumatologist for the first time in exactly a year.  His nurse got me into the exam room and shut the door behind her before she exclaimed, “You’ve lost weight, haven’t you…!?” having no idea and clearly a little afraid to ask.

I hate having to fill people in from scratch and watching them wince.  But at least then she filled the doctor in for me.

He came in and got the details.  He did a fair bit of wincing himself, while I wanted to tell him, it’s okay!  But then, none of it was new news to me, and I deeply appreciated that what I’d gone through meant something to him.  (And her.)  I mattered. It showed in his face.  Thank you, Dr. F. And Nurse M.

I handed him the UCSF results and watched his eyes as he looked it over.  I told him that Dr. R knew steroids didn’t work on me, but there was no convincing the young doctors from Dr. R’s department working my case in his absence, who were sure that if you just threw enough steroids at that Crohn’s, it would tamp it down at last.  200 mg a day. (That is a breathtakingly high dose.  Granted, they were trying to save my colon and my life. Details.)

His eyebrows raised. “Did it?”

“It did absolutely zero.”

He allowed as how being as laid up as I’d been had contributed, too, but he made the diagnosis definite. Osteoporosis.  At 50.  Walk, he said, good that you’ve started walking again, take lots of walks. Some of the loss is irreversible, but some you can do something about.  And build that strength back up.

Another consultation appointment next week before treatment can/might start, the two doctors want to handle it together.  (Hurry, before we lose our current insurance policy Jan 1…   Don’t get me started…)

I can hear you now
Tuesday December 01st 2009, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Crohn's flare

Remember when I came to out of surgery in August and the first thing I saw was a group of doctors surrounding the foot of my bed talking to me? Trying to get me to answer their questions?  Their mouths were moving but there was no sound.  Nada.  I groggily asked for my hearing aids, put them in, fumbled the battery cases closed and turned the things on…

And heard nearly nothing still.

Nobody had any idea why. This was not supposed to happen.

Things got somewhat better; then, on my last day in the hospital, I was given a dose of Dilaudid when taking my surgical tube out proved extremely painful–and as that dose went into my IV, it was like turning the volume down on the voices around me with an ever-so-slight time delay.  The Dilaudid. Busted.

I put off getting my hearing tested. I wanted to give my ears recovery time.  But mostly, I wanted not to believe I’d permanently lost more of my hearing, and if I waited, and it was so, then there could be no arguing with it.

There is now no more arguing with it: I finally got in to see John Miles today.   It’s a 5dB loss across the board, all frequencies, both ears, except for one holdout at 1KhZ in one ear that stayed the same.  Mind you, I had already become someone who didn’t hear train whistles or fire alarms most of the time without those aids in.

I handed them to him. He plugged them into his computer  and cranked up the volume.  It’s painful at times–but worth it.  I could tell the difference the instant I put them back on while John spoke. I could hear the words again! The consonants* were back!

I drove home exulting at being able to again hear music playing clearly, cranked up high to try to drive out of my brain the horribly kitschy Helen Reddy greatest hits album I had the great misfortune to listen to last week because a friend was throwing it away and I thought I’d give nostalgia a kick, deaf or no. (I know. I liked it when I was 12, too.  Some of the songs were okay, but some–I won’t even tell you the names of those earworms. I’m nicer than that.)

I have smart friends….  I woke up at 5 am with the worst of the earworms singing away gleefully at perfect pitch.  Nooooo…!  I listened to everything today from Camel to Christmas carols.  Cleanse, brain, cleanse!

I still say this hearing thing is worth it.


*Consonants, which are made with the tongue against the teeth, are higher-pitched than vowels, which are made reverberating in the throat, and so the consonants are the first to disappear in a high-frequency loss, which is what most older people have. This is why people sound to them like they’re mumbling.  They’re missing pieces of the words.  That previous sentence would then be “e i i e i o e o.”

Me, I’ve been older since my teens.