Country mouse city mouse
Tuesday December 14th 2010, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I mentioned earlier the passing of Smokey, and after quoting his love Jan’s words, this happened the next day. Cool.

What I didn’t mention on the blog, I did yesterday to Jan and to Smokey’s oldest daughter.

The 13th would have been his birthday as well as mine, and thus was the day of his memorial service. We got to see old friends from back in the day, it had been way too long… PAM!!! Pam, who had had no children yet when we moved here, who had latched onto my babies and adored them as we adored her. SO good to see you! And you, and you, and…

But what I said to those two members of Smokey’s family, with more detail here, was this:

My husband’s first job out of grad school was in a town near New Hampshire’s southern border where a couple of high-tech companies had started expanding into to escape Massachusetts’ taxes in the Route 128 corridor.  The town was growing fast and was a mixture of old small-town New England and young professionals from all over.

The old folks voted down things they didn’t want to pay for: kindergarten being one of them. Instead, the schools there tested a small child coming in for the first time to see if he could do the things you’re supposed to learn in kindergarten–and if not, or if he froze up in front of the stranger doing the testing, he got put in Readiness, which was kindergarten by another name. There were eight-year-olds in first grade there!  How does a child recover from that?  They don’t.  And that was a third of the children. Shyness could tank your path forever.

There was a memorable School Board meeting where some guy proclaimed all public schooling as being (slamming his fist on the table and shouting) COMMUNISM!

We invited the folks next door over once for an evening of Scrabble, and were stunned at being turned down with, “We don’t play that kind of game like you educated folks.” The woman went on to tell me that they were discouraging their kids from going to college.

And this was where my children were going to grow up? Nice people around us, make no mistake, it’s just, we grew up in the part of the country with the highest number of PhD’s per capita and high expectations on the children. Lifelong pursuit of learning is just something you do.

We moved here near Stanford University just before our oldest turned five.  I told the two women yesterday that now, she’s finishing her PhD, a researcher with a dream to cure malaria. The others are  in their own graduate paths, the last in his undergrad, inspired to pursue his own area of science by a gifted middle school teacher.

Smokey had not only offered my husband a job in Silicon Valley; he had changed… everything. (They were nodding; they knew what the schools here are like: the pressure, for good and bad, for everybody to be the next brilliant scientist or engineer to change the world. The co-author of the high school biology textbook was my oldest’s actual teacher, passing on her love of the subject and inspiring her to follow her footsteps. )


Jan was thrilled.  His daughter was nodding, going, “All these stories I’m hearing! All these people he influenced! I never knew…!”

Monday December 13th 2010, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Family

And thank you Mom for all the hard work! 52: Life, the Universe, and Everything, and a perfect 10 on top. This is going to be a great year!

Life, the Universe, and everything
Monday December 13th 2010, 12:01 am
Filed under: Crohn's flare,Life

The question asked today at church was, and the teacher was asking for our personal stories here, “What gift are you most grateful for? Not necessarily some material one.” (Making it clear that a material one would not necessarily be excluded, either; it’s the meaning of it that matters.)

What do I have to say for myself, I thought.  Well now.  Starting at faith and family and friends, there are so many more moments than one could ever begin to say.

I offered the story about the great surprise of my first amaryllis bulb, sent to me at my freshman college dorm just before the start of my first-ever set of finals. It was a birthday present from my dad.  He had always given my mother an amaryllis for her birthday; mine is a week before hers.  With that package, he was declaring me an adult now and his full faith in me and I totally bawled when I opened it.

But what I didn’t say to that teacher was, the intimacy of her question reminded me all over again of how infinitely grateful I am for the skills of the surgeons and everybody else last year.

And for the doctor who walked in my hospital room seven years ago needing terribly for me to live. And so I had to.  Everything else after that only came and only will come because he cared so deeply in that moment about someone he barely knew, rather than trying to shield himself from pain when all seemed lost.

I cannot WAIT to hold my first grandson next month!

The sound of music
Sunday December 12th 2010, 12:57 am
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

The cheerful, tiny Bewick’s wrens are some of my favorites of the bird world.  One of the things I’ve been doing lately is keeping a small suet cake inside and breaking a little off with the edge of a spoon, taking it outside, and smushing it into crumbs on a wooden box out there where they like to go check out whether the woodpecker working away above on another cake in a holder left any gleanings yet; it’s just a step or two outside the glass door.  I often make two little taps with the spoon as if to call them to dinner, hoping for a little Pavlovian effect. I can play woodpecker too.

Today I was still at the smushing stage when, to my surprise, one of the Bewick’s swooped by in an arc right past where I was bending over, then quickly away to the edge of the patio, waiting expectantly.  Then swooping in to eat as soon as I stepped back inside the door.

And here’s the thing, the most mindboggling thing to me: as it zipped by, I HEARD IT SINGING.

Not the whole song, just a flash of cheerful loud–loud!–notes that disappeared fast between its motions and mine and the near-instant distance away. They’re not only cute–but wow, what a voice!

To the engineers at Sonic Innovations hearing aid company, if you ever see this, thank you for giving me a memory I never expected, with a now-110 dB hearing loss at 8Khz, could be possible again. Wow!

Paging Kevin Bacon
Friday December 10th 2010, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Knit,LYS

First: there’s a local couple, Tuck and Patti–our family sat under the trees listening to them giving a free concert in front of City Hall once back when our kids were younger, their way, they said, of giving thanks to the community that had believed in them before they were successful.

There is nobody who plays guitar like Tuck. And Patti’s voice!

Being a dedicated Birkenstock wearer, I always got a kick out of her High Heeled Shoes blues song. And this, courtesy of my husband, is what made me think of it. Comfy looking, huh? Something to heel all that ails a body.

The other thing today:

I went to Purlescence to knit among friends, having missed them last night and being in terrible withdrawal. Not to mention, I couldn’t wait to make a delivery. Richard had helped put me up to it. (“I think they’re down that aisle, dear.” –Thanks!)

I walked in the door and handed a certain someone a wrapped present (oh good, she IS here).

She did this furtive quick glance to the sides, because clearly I was just handing one present only and only to her. She whispered, “Should I open it?”

“Yes, sure, go ahead.” (Thinking, don’t you dare not, I’ve been in too giddy an anticipation for you not to.)

The tag read: Because sometimes, that’s just the way the cooking crumbles.

Huh?  She held it down out of sight of the others, carefully working at the paper,  trying to peer through the growing crack at the seam as she gently tugged, the wrapping finally coming off for her to see–and she screamed! Threw her chair back, leaping up, just screaming with laughter, holding it up and showing it to the others and exclaiming, “This is the. BEST. EVER!!!”

Last week, she’d told us all of going out to dinner with her husband and being given a dish with so much more food than she could eat and that was just totally inundated with bacon. Ooh, bacon! And there was so much!  She took the leftovers home.

She woke up in the morning looking forward to that bacon (you know? I never did hear what the rest of the dish was. I don’t think it mattered.) She got up in just so much anticipation of walking into that kitchen downstairs for the rest of it, but her husband, who had had to leave for work earlier than her, had eaten it.

All of it.  Gone.

She told us this last week with an I-know-this-is-silly look and tone of, this was almost grounds… (for pouting, yeah, that’s it. Pouting!)

The wrapping paper fell away.  And she saw: a giant Costco package of cooked crumbled bacon.

I told her as I was walking out the shop door later and she reached to give me another hug before I left, “Best. Response. EVER!!”

Here a little and there a little
Friday December 10th 2010, 12:16 am
Filed under: Knit,LYS

Nina and I braved the southbound traffic tonight and went to Green Planet in Campbell.

Going around the circle at their Knit Night, when it was my turn to show off my knitting, I had nothing except the project in my hands. The post office had beaten them all to it.

But boy, have I got a long way to go yet!

Noodle needles
Wednesday December 08th 2010, 10:26 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Not a teenager to be found anywhere in the house these days. Who am I supposed to embarrass now? I’ve been aged out of the job.

I was thinking that tonight at Costco as I found myself turning down an aisle full of pasta of all kinds. I wanted to break out into song and dance, maybe holding my cane up by either end, waving my arms in time to the music: “Udon oh! what it’s like…”

Cheerful embarrassings create the memories the kids tell to tease their parents with in their old ages.

I think my kids have a good stash socked away by now, ready for needling.

Snail, mail at the DMV
Tuesday December 07th 2010, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

The postal service here has major problems, has for years.

And so it happened that I noticed that hey, it’s time to renew on my car but why didn’t the bill come? I called my mechanic, got the car smog-inspected today, then drove up to the DMV to walk it through in person, glad I’d remembered it was that time of year.

Where I got told the post office had returned my registration as undeliverable.

Like when they told my credit card company that I was addressee unknown despite our having lived in the same house over 20 years. (Yeah, that got me online fast.)

Or the times… Never mind. Pride and suppressed outrage are not a pretty combination.  Here we go again.

So I went looking for ways out of those emotions.  First, though, go do what needs to be done.

I pulled out my ball of yarn and empty needles to get started. I’d been expecting to plunk down on the floor, because I can’t do standing for long, but it turns out the DMV provides chairs now and gives you a number as you walk in the door; so much better now.  I caught the occasional eye looking at my growing stitches and smiled back across the rows of seats.

There was a young father with a small child and a one-year-old in his arms who was delightful, then tired, and then, finally, had just plain had enough of holding still in a strange place full of strange people.

A smiling snail to go over his finger would make a cute mascot for the place; there you go.

People behind them whom they didn’t even see lit up just like they did, glad for a dad and his boys: unexpected gifts of noticing are magical all around and their kindness made my day.

My turn at last.  The clerk, who had had to put up with endless fidgety people who wanted to be anywhere else and the endless mechanical voice summoning “J zero one nine, please come to window 8. J zero one nine” many times an hour eight hours a day day in day out, drowning out conversation, gave me a tired smile in the late afternoon and asked me briefly what I was knitting.  She was patient with my struggling hearing. I thanked her and for her help getting everything fixed.

Got my sticker. What a relief.  Coming home down the freeway, I wished the smog check had gotten finished earlier in the day and that the wait had been shorter in that line; I hit major rush hour, Christmas lights all lighting up red ahead in unison.

Forget it. I exited quite early, even though it meant doing 25 mph roads all the way across town. At least I’d be moving instead of just sitting there–I had done enough of that.

And so I found myself behind a car that had CAUTION CAUTION plastered across the back, a driving school sign on top. I was behind it for quite awhile. It must take nerves of steel to get in a car with an utter novice; at least, when I was teaching my kids to drive, they had already had two sessions with an instructor first.

I watched the driver overcorrect a bit trying to get safely past cars parked along the well-traveled road.

Finally, it widened to two lanes each way and I pulled up alongside at the long light. I thought about it. I waited for the green. I finally thought, oh, why not? Down went my window, and at the sound both the driver and her instructor turned. (His was open.)

I smiled and called over to her, “You’re doing great!”

She blushed and laughed, delighted and totally embarrassed, just as I knew she would be–I’ve been a teen and I’ve raised four of them–and the gruff-looking instructor actually smiled too. Well cool.

The light turned. She gave it a slow, cautious go.  On our way. And now that she wasn’t in front of me, I worked hard to stay at 25 and be a good example, because I knew she was watching me and I had darn well better! I was suddenly as self-conscious as a teenager with a strange adult in the car about trying to drive just right.

If only she knew so she could laugh at that too.

You…light up my liiiiiiife….
Monday December 06th 2010, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Gauge Swatches

Just in case you need a little inspiration on the last minute Christmas knitting. Why not jazz up that boring Norwegian sweater with a bit of fun fur to light up the evening and sing karaoke for you? You, too, with Scooby Doo, can dance with the stars.

Okay, searching Ebay for Christmas sweaters was a joke. Little did I know that there was a competition for who could type UGLY in their header the biggest and loudest. This one begs the question: is it pre-Cindy Lou Who?

I am totally bowed over by this one. (So *that’s* what you do with the string of lights you could never get untangled!) But whoever designed this one was definitely having a ball.

Lost in the redwoods
Sunday December 05th 2010, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Life

There are already people wondering out loud why she didn’t have a cell phone with her. But she was going to an area she hiked and biked daily and knew well, and sometimes you just need some good outdoors time to reconnect with nature, not to feel tethered to the endless intrusions of a ringtone. Besides, if a mountain lion is going to get you, then they’ll know which cat it was when they call your phone inside it, right? Or not.

Whatever. Her home is surrounded by parkland. She went out on a walk.

She did not show up for work. Her boss and dear friend Tom called the sheriff.

Now, in the print story that went out earlier today, the sheriff refused to search for her. In the online version many hours later, there’s currently an update on her health status and a long explanation from his office about why they made the call they did.

It is curious to me the details that got removed from the story, though, with the shift in focus. Word got out that she was missing, and immediately her neighbors wanted to go look in the morning light to see if they could find her. A young dad took his seven-year-old son and they hiked two miles up the trail.

Now, two miles means four when you know you’ve got to get back again. They hadn’t found her, but it seemed as far out there as they were going to be able to make it, and you know how much they must have wanted to keep on going.

“Not a minute later” they happened to notice an unmarked trail they’d missed on the way up and with the sting of having accepted defeat a moment earlier, knowing what was at stake, they felt compelled to go down it.  Just five or ten minutes’ worth; couldn’t hurt.  We could do that. Giving up on their neighbor was just too hard to accept.

And there she was. She’d been there for six nights during a freezing snap, no food, a little water, by the creek, her ankle  in bad shape and trapped under the tree where she’d sought some shelter that first night.

Imagine that seven-year-old boy growing up knowing that together he and his father had pushed to the edge of what they thought he could physically do–and the fact that his father trusted him with sharing the burden of the task–and their having saved their neighbor’s life for it.  Imagine that father’s gratitude that he had decided to bring his son along with him, rather than dismissing it as too hard and too far for him to come too.

It takes a village to raise a child. And sometimes, the children help raise us back up on our feet and show us the way.

p.s. I love that the woman’s one request when the rescue crew arrived after the dad called them was for a glass of, but of course, lemonade.

He had a big piece and asked for seconds
Saturday December 04th 2010, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

Let’s see, can’t find ground pecans, we’ll try this almond meal at Trader Joe’s; long as we’re here, let’s use their vanilla butter wafers to pulverize with it, a little fresh almond paste from Milk Pail, got the grade B maple syrup, and what? No organic oranges? Skip that then.

(I did a mashup between the kringle and the strudel.)

Okay, no way am I going to roll out the butter/flour layers a bajillion times. Just make a sweet roll recipe, that’ll do.

So I did that and rolled it pie-crust thin on parchment paper twice, put the filling on one layer, topped it with the second layer, pinched the edges tight, and got–

–dang. Much glorified, but.  A giant Poptart!

I think it’s time to go knit.

Better watch that stuff
Friday December 03rd 2010, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Family,Spinning

When you live in Silicon Valley and Christmas is coming and you’re surrounded by geeks, even I the shawl-knitting house elf think this is just really really cool.  I mentioned it to my husband and he said that in Europe they sell Android watches already that link to your phone so you can read your incoming text messages, etc etc, on your wrist. Like this will do for Apple’s product that I always thought was too hopelessly small not to lose. Well then.

Dick Tracy, your future called and left you a text saying it has arrived at the station. Where it’s okay to let some little old lady take your seat on the subway while you stand and hold onto the overhead strap–so you can secretly listen to your music and messages with your arm up near your ears.

(I don’t even own a Nano and neither does the husband, but if they ever start making one that you can link to a knitting needle to create a gorgeous high-whorl spindle on demand with a holding case for the fiber to be compressed into the watch, then I want the first one.)

Among friends
Thursday December 02nd 2010, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Lupus,LYS

Thank you, everybody. I was doing better today but was afraid to push it, so I waited: I had Knit Night coming up and I really wanted to be able to knit there but I also knew there would be a lot of knit/stop/laugh/knit/stop/swap stories going on at Purlescence to keep me from overdoing it–and it was so. It was the best way to ease into it. (Pass the icepacks.)

It was so good to be among knitters. Including one I haven’t seen in far too long–I didn’t even recognize Ava at first, visiting from out of state.  She, bless her, recognized me.

I am so glad I didn’t let a little lupus get in the way of my going!

Strawberries for dessert
Wednesday December 01st 2010, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Lupus

I’m not knitting.

I have a rheumatologist who, the last time my lupus attacked my fingers, exclaimed, “But you NEED your knitting! We have to *do* something!”

And with that, he finally got me to try plaquenil, an antimalarial drug that, like aspirin, nobody reacts to, and as long as you get your eyes checked regularly for retina damage, everybody can take it.

And you know how well aspirin and I get along. (A thank you forever to my ENT and to heaven above for the rare chance to thank Rachel Remen in person as well; story in that first link.)

I got the most massive case of upper-body hives and we crossed another med category off my list.

I knitted yesterday anyway when I had a half hour wait at the pharmacy and then just couldn’t do it again. Hopefully this will all be a very brief interruption, but I’m afraid to push it for now.  I’m realizing I was getting casual about sun exposure: add it all up and I might have spent ten minutes outside in the sunlight yesterday, way beyond my safe point, rationalizing about the low UV levels this time of year. The cage does get old. And there’s so much that’s so pretty outside in a California winter.

Well, hey, there are other ways to be creative, and desserts have been calling me. Here’s one:

First, turn off your hearing aids, this is going to be loud. Ready?  Okay.  Frozen strawberries, a little sugar to taste, add some cream in the food processor.  Whirr for about a century, stopping every now and then to break up the strawberries that are absorbing just a bit of heat from the friction of the blade, (or maybe I just have to do that because my Cuisinart is very old), whirr some more till it’s smooth, serve immediately and there you go.

I used to use egg whites to make it a non-fat strawberry mousse, but after my daughter drove her friend Natalie to the hospital for salmonella poisoning during the egg scare last summer (no no she didn’t eat here), I’ve stopped doing that.

I handed my sweetie his.

“This is better than usual!”

Yes, well. Cream does that for it. It’s the side effects you have to be careful of.

Here’s hoping a good night’s sleep will leave me embarrassed for saying anything too soon and that my hands will be fine in the morning. I’m hoping.