Splintin’ images
Sunday June 30th 2013, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Lupus

Someone recently asked me about my hand splints. I’ve mentioned them a few times but realized I’d never actually shown what they look like.

When my lupus was diagnosed I had severe arthritis in my hands–inflammation severe enough to worry about permanent damage as the swelling pushed the ligaments apart. And I could not take NSAIDs. I got sent to a physical therapist who specialized in hands.

Okay, hold your hand out, thumb up, pinky down: she taught me, never hold things in a way that will push your fingers towards your pinky finger in that position–always hold things with the flat of your palm from underneath. Think shopping bags, a pot filling up with water at the tap.

And she custom-made me my first set of these splints to wear at night to keep my fingers from curling up in my sleep. Heated the plastic, wrapped a sheet around each arm one at a time, measured, penciled, cut, folded back the edges so nothing would be sharp when it cooled and went firm again, then added the padded velcro.

They don’t go to the tips of my fingers because you want to be able to pull the bedding on and off or up and down or whatever, but by going to the middle joints and bending the palm parts slightly backwards, it positions the hands just so. Take old loose cotton socks and cut out the heels and toes to wear as liners.

I was eating with plastic utensils because I couldn’t bear the weight of metal ones for the pain. How I managed a two-year-old in diapers I’ll never know, but you do what you have to do.

She knew her job well and she gave me back the use of my hands, so much so that she gave me back my knitting.

And then her son took a job as a cop and she became a 911 dispatcher so she could always know how he was and I had to find me a new PT to make these. I’ve wished her and him well all these years, wherever they are now; she was the first person to tell me about the therapy pool that was open to patients only. That helped too.

The plastic ages over time and 23 years later, I’m on maybe my fifth pair. This set’s on its last legs–the plastic is beginning to shrink up around my arms a little and it could start to crack soon, time to make an appointment.

Best anti-inflammatory ever and you can’t beat it re side effects. Sometimes simplest is best.

(Meantime, the latest of Eric’s peregrine falcon photos here.)

Going out on a limb
Saturday June 29th 2013, 10:29 pm
Filed under: My Garden,Wildlife

Skunks don’t climb, I’ve been told (true or not I don’t know). Raccoons certainly do and possums too, I’ve seen them.

If only I’d had a motion-activated camera. I would have loved to have seen the expression on the face of whatever it was as it joyrode the limb down to the ground with a snapping sound behind it.

And still it was thwarted: the clamshells stayed shut. I opened one of the little boxes, the ripe fruit having been knocked off its stem, and we had homegrown plum/Comice pear/peach crisp tonight, very pretty–and oh, after all these years of the critters claiming it all, the sweet taste of success.

One more tree to go, with months to ripeness. A Fuji clamshell got knocked to the ground last night–but it too refused to reward such behavior.

Maybe I should hide them under paper bags over the clamshells. How do you like them apples.



A blankie check
Friday June 28th 2013, 9:04 pm
Filed under: Family

Parker likes pulling and working gaps into the stitches on his favorite blanket and waving hi through them, but it got out of, well, hand shortly after we left them: his parents were afraid he was going to get his neck stuck in the thing and tried to figure out how to get it fixed.

I think he missed us.

They told him it had to go to the blankie hospital. And so the Malabrigo Dragonskins afghan came back yesterday. I had hoped to get it done and turned right around and back in the mail to him today–till I saw it. Torn, too. (It does kinda have a cute Monsters Inc look to it, don’t you think?)

I’m going to catch those open loops at the bottom with some spare yarn and…

Knitters: stockinette stitch it straight back up with the crochet hook? Right? Safe and sound and showing its history, seems to me after staring at the thing for long enough for reality to set in. After all, you go to the hospital to get your boo-boos fixed, and sometimes you get to show off your scars.

Meantime, my nephew and his wife, after trying for several years, have found they are expecting and that they are expecting twins. Yay! Today they livestreamed a party for which the local build-a-bear company knew, but they didn’t, what the results of the ultrasound showed.

His mom/my sister had had four boys and then still hoping for a girl, had had…identical twin boys. “Well, I know how to raise boys!” she told me. Garrett was old enough to really help without being a teenager yet, and now Garrett really wanted twins himself, and there you go.

They are thrilled. And I got to watch as Garrett opened the first beautiful box and pulled out: a teddy bear dressed in blue. A boy!

Then his wife Meaghan looked at him, looked back at her box, undid the bow and reached in, and–PINK! Anne finally gets her GIRL!!!

Pink and blue teddy bears, side by side, as the room exploded in joy for the babies. Who could be purple polka dotted for all anyone really cared, it just was a moment of coming together wanting to know a little better who these people are that they were going to get to gradually meet across their lifetimes to come. To celebrate. To life!

Baby hats. They’ll need nice soft baby hats.


Thursday June 27th 2013, 10:58 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

The Washington Post ran an obituary on my friend Steve.

I did not know that muscle spasms from his disease had kept him from mastering Braille. One more thing for him. But I love how his can-do personality comes out in their article.

Richard and I went out to dinner tonight at Flea Street Cafe, as we try to on this day every year, and at one point a little boy showed up at my elbow. He had carefully rehearsed (or been rehearsed with) his word-by-hesitant-word speech.

“Thank  you  ve ry  much  for  the  gift” (and he couldn’t resist adding) “mayIkeepit?”

“Sure,” I smiled, “happy birthday!” And to his little brother too.

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen small children at the very proper Flea Street before, and when the family had come in I’d glanced around to gauge the reactions and had seen fleeting glances of oh, this isn’t… But only briefly. So I imagine the other diners were parents too, knowing full well that children instantly know the emotional score in the room. Besides, they were adorable.

They were offered seats at the larger table right behind me. And all was well.

But at one point the–grandpa?–took the boys outside to run off a little steam while they were waiting for their order. Makes sense. I said quietly to Richard, who was facing them, If they need them, let me know. He knew exactly what I meant.

They were cheerful when they came back in, but at one point it seemed to me a good time to, so I turned and asked the mom if they might like a bit of distraction?

They were thrilled with the fingerpuppets. There was an exclamation of “OH!” from the mom as she looked a little more closely and I imagine saw that they were handknit. The little boys sounded so cute, and we went back to our fine celebration of the day.

We had had rather early reservations, and so we finished before they, and as we turned to go, the three adults at their table caught our eyes and thanked us, with feeling.

Hey, we remembered the days…

My one regret though is that I didn’t stop and make a point of thanking the little boys for being so delightful–I confess I was being a little too mindful of the adults waiting by the front door for our table and I missed the moment.

I like to picture two little fingerpuppeted hands waving hi over their dessert at whoever came next.

Happy Anniversary, Honey. Thank you!

Yellow Transparent
Wednesday June 26th 2013, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Family,My Garden

A few Parker pictures from our trip–he let go of the ground and took his daddy and Grampa by surprise and had fun with it, if only for a little while; they wanted to be careful with little boy shoulders. There is nothing like the exuberance of a happy two-year-old! (Don’t miss the captions.)

Meantime, Marian and Sherry were clearly right, with every picture and description I could find being dead-on, and so now I finally know the name of my tree. Yellow Transparent. Thank you!

Sherry told me go pick them, pick them all right now.  Turns out they’re supposed to be ripe the first of July and they store better if you pick in the middle of June. I had no idea. And so at dusk I went out there and opened those clamshells; the biggest apple came right off the tree at the slightest touch and the others came inside  as well, along with a bunch of plums.

So. I have two apple trees that bloom together but ripen far apart. That’s actually pretty useful. And I imagine if I want pectin in my plum jam I can just chop a Yellow Transparent into the batch, as natural and homegrown as you could ask for. Cool!


It struck a core
Tuesday June 25th 2013, 10:51 pm
Filed under: My Garden,Wildlife

Two clamshells on the ground, the one under the plum tree popped open probably at impact, empty, but the one under the mystery-variety apple tree intact.

But on opening the little box and looking a little closer, I saw the damage. Oh. And thought, it’s a toss-up whether that was the mockingbird that found one of the airholes in the plastic and went at it or a jay. The hole in the fruit isn’t too deep, but that beak had to get past the airspace between the tops of the apple and of the shell.

A crow couldn’t have fit in there. A mockingbird’s beak is too short. Scrub jay it is, then.  Busted.

I cut up an unpecked apple and tried it with a sense of reverence that at long last, our first apple. Twenty-six years in this house and we finally get to find out what the rootstock-gr0wn-back one was all about. Drum roll!

And the verdict was: yeah, yeah, I know it’s underripe but that’s a really mealy lousy apple for eating. Isn’t the mealyness supposed to happen when they’re overripe?

But I put it in the microwave with a bit of water, zapped it about 75 seconds (it wasn’t very big), scraped the flesh out of the peel–and had me some really fine applesauce. Seriously good applesauce, given the nothingness I was expecting. A bit of zing to it, good texture, just right.

The mystery tree stays.


Anew day
Monday June 24th 2013, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Life

It seemed a good day for putting things in order. Going through and setting aside with an eye towards unknown others stuff that was no longer needed, claiming anew that which made me smile to see it: hey, I could use this yarn to make…for….


Sunday June 23rd 2013, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

We were eighteen, serving on a Mormon youth conference steering committee, the advisor assigned to me the woman who would later be my mother-in-law.

The adults had asked that the program have a little more to say than just this this and this here here and there.

I was asked to read the proffered piece aloud.

“Who *wrote* that?” Steve, deeply moved, asked the group at the large table.

That moment was the highest compliment I could ever have asked for and the first moment where I knew I might actually have a chance at becoming a writer. If Steve thought it was that good…

There’s a small handful of us out there who grew up together, who knew each other from our babyhoods, always there in the background, with other good friends too moving in before we all moved on (or not) from our corner of the Maryland suburbs but just us few who knew each other that long. Being members of the same church brought our families together from whatever our circumstances and equalized any outside differences inside, in our case, Chevy Chase chapel.

I married one of them.

I signed into Facebook this afternoon and immediately felt the breath knocked out of me. It was the first post I saw and for quite awhile the only one I wanted to see and I signed right back out while I tried to take it in.

Steve was gone.

I would never get to see him again.

Richard would never get to see him again.

At some primal level I still cannot understand how that could be. Steve’s *dad* and Richard’s dad were babies together and they’re still here!

Steve made my later lupus and Crohn’s combo a walk in the park. He started having some trouble with his hearing in high school, and at one point back then I tried to talk to him about it; my hearing loss had been diagnosed a couple of years earlier, progressive at the time, and I knew what a blow it could be. Neither of us knew then why it was happening to us.

But he didn’t want to talk about it. Too soon.

Mine later was found to be an allergy to aspirin, plain old garden-variety aspirin, a reaction from having climbed into the medicine cabinet as a toddler and overdosing on the candy-tasting baby pills.

His, not so much, and his sight began to have problems too.

But he graduated from college and then from an MBA program, married one of the nicest people I have ever met, and carried on as his sight and hearing both continued to slowly, inexorably dim.

My family and I were back home maybe ten years ago. I knew he had only the slightest peripheral vision and hearing left. It was summertime, traveling time, but he didn’t know we were coming and had no reason to expect me to be there from the other side of the country–and yet, when we came into church and I said hello to him, his face turned to wonderment and then mine did too as he asked, almost afraid to for half-disbelief half-joy, “Alison?!”

How he knew I did not know. But I knew it had to have meant a great deal to him to have been able to figure out that I was there, I really was, and so that moment meant all the more to me too. I had been wondering how to let him know, but there you go. He knew.

And I have hoped for another such moment ever since. Steve would know me. There was the pure certainty of a child’s trust in the thought, he always does. Steve would know. And he would be glad.

My parents moved away, then Richard’s parents moved away, and I no longer had quite reason enough to fly home to visit that ward.  We did seriously consider staying through the weekend when we were in Baltimore a few weeks ago just so we could do exactly that, but logistically, given the time Richard was already taking off from work and the extra thousand on the plane tickets it would have taken, we just couldn’t make it happen.

I so wish.

I’ve wondered from time to time over the years how long Steve would have to live with so much taken away from him. At the same time, so much was given to him: a good wife, good children, and the family financial resources to deal with whatever help they might ever need, and, best of all, a strong faith and a cheerful disposition that saw him and her both through so much.

The disease that had taken so much of his body finally claimed the rest today. Fifty-four years. It was enough. Our friend Brad let us know he got to go home.

Rest in great peace, old friend. And thank you for teaching me a little of what you knew: that there is more joy to be found than can ever be taken away from a grateful heart.

The pastry connection
Saturday June 22nd 2013, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life,Lupus

Several years ago, I was at the Copenhagen Bakery and Cafe in Burlingame and in their display case was something that said, if I remember right, Baker’s Surprise. Or else Chef’s Surprise? They looked good, so, I bought some–and at first bite instantly wished I’d bought many, many more and that the place was much closer to where I live. Picture a crunchy amaretto cookie filled with sweet almond paste done just so, perfection in a confection.

Somehow the memory of them caught my attention the last couple of days: to the point of emailing the bakery, describing the things, and asking if they still made those? It would be worth the trip…

I haven’t heard back so far but I wasn’t really expecting to. Just encouraging them and hoping. If only. Maybe actually drive up there some day this coming week, if they answered? Somehow I just really wanted to go there.

Richard and I were out looking at flooring store after flooring store today, trying to decide this option vs that, and it was getting dinnertime-ish. We bought smoothies to tide us over and to get a chance to sit down a moment.

I mentioned that bakery and those cookies, and somehow on a whim he chimed in, Sure, let’s go!

It was about 35 minutes up the freeway.

The street it was on was closed and torn up. At least some walking in the late sun would be involved.  We shrugged our shoulders and carried on. The parking lot was full? Someone pulled out just at the right time, there you go.

Now for the backstory that we didn’t know was going to have anything to do with this: Katie, about our age, has been a teacher and mentor to some of the teenage girls at church for some time now, and one of them was being raised by her great-grandmother. Who recently had had to move to–where, I have no idea. But it’s hard to graduate from high school and have to have a new place to come home to, hard to have your mom figure aging and more than anyone else’s that you know, lots of changes flying at the kid all at once.

Katie had kept tabs on her, and it turns out she’d invited Helen to dinner tonight. She knew the best bakery in the Bay Area and it had a great cafe, too.

They were in disbelief at seeing us walk past the windows. Katie leaped up to say hi, and there we were coming into the bakery part at the next door down. There was this, What are YOU doing here! moment of surprised delight all around.

We bought our pastries–the guy grinned and proudly pointed out the amaretto/almond paste pastries when I asked, blueberries in them too now, and wow, they were good, he was right–and we went over to their table.

Helen! We were so glad to see her. Katie, too, but Helen was the biggest surprise. *So* very glad, how ARE you?!

And how often do teenagers get to see that the adults they know feel that strongly about them? That they are loved, that they matter, that it doesn’t matter that they’re not family. To see that age has  nothing to do with degree of friendship–that she was absolutely as important to us as Katie. Go Helen!

To Copenhagen: thank you beyond words, and please keep up the good work. We will be back.

Just like the cheerful chickadee
Friday June 21st 2013, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

Man, that was a first. And not one but two. Sir Charles’ last name-turned-verb as an award doesn’t quite capture it: the term should be Dar-lose.

Coopernicus flew in. Quite to my surprise, he landed on the wooden box on the other side of the sliding door, right there, and people-watched awhile. Cool!

(And I’m suddenly thinking, as I’m proofreading the draft of this post: oh of course. It’s solstice time. He always claims his territory loud and clear at solstice, that’s why he was chatting with me as he watched. Okay, then.)

The real surprise was what happened next, though: a chickadee flew in to the suet cake three feet straight above his head. He looked up then leaped up but the angle made it difficult to put speed into it and as the suet bounced off his chest, the chickadee was getting a clue, fast.

The hawk ambled to the near part of the fence. He has seemed slower to my eyes since his collision with the screen, but clearly he hasn’t gone too hungry. There seem to have been more attempts at driving his prey into the windows–a good adaptation to the circumstances, if there’s any lingering injury.

A titmouse came in from the side at the same time Coopernicus was reaching the fence and it landed on the box. Started to peck at the bits of suet fallen from above. Freaked! and dove for cover. Dar- for the -WIN. Close!

Finally taking flight
Thursday June 20th 2013, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Knitting a Gift,Wildlife

I had on a rust-colored blouse I don’t often wear–it’s a little old now–and a dark brown skirt, thinking I looked a bit autumny for the day of summer solstice, but hey.

No, really. June 21 is summer solstice mostly, but here on the western end of the western time zone I’m told it officially happened today. San Diego’s sun actually set 45 minutes earlier than ours did when we were there–it’s that much farther east. I’m not quite sure how all that means we get solstice a day early, but whatever.


I was finally knitting for the first time since Monday’s rough tumble, finding it comfortable to do now and a relief that it was, when I felt eyes upon me.

I looked up.

There was a little Oregon junco, a fledgling, just a baby, really, watching me as stitches grew from my hands: nesting season isn’t over for you?

It dawned on me that I was wearing much of the coloring of the little one’s parents. I was charmed. I blinked; it blinked back. I watched a little while and tried again. It turned its head slightly to get a better view, and again blinked back.

And so we enjoyed each other’s company eye to eye a minute or two. I have done this before with the bigger birds out there, but the flighty little ones? This was a new thing.

Then it roused itself, went back to eating, and flew, done. And I finally got past the very beginning of the shawl I had promised myself I would make my suddenly-widowed middle-aged friend.

It feels so good to get on with it.

Love your dear ones.

The sun dance kid
Wednesday June 19th 2013, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Food,Wildlife

I have a Bewick’s wren again, and guessing by its long gangly look and its uncertainty as to where the best hiding places are as it scouts out the patio, a fledgling.

My mated pair, nesting at ground level, disappeared around March. I’m been afraid they most likely were taken out by the neighbor’s cat. The species’ survival is on very shaky grounds and I’ve always felt protective of mine; the one that flew around my head singing for joy as I put out food once, loud enough for me to hear even with the old hearing aids, claimed my heart forever.

I keenly missed my Bewick’s.

I put a lot of chili-oil suet out at ground level a few days ago and the new little one showed up. Encouraged, I’ve been putting out more than the usual to try to entice it to claim the place. Encouraged back, s/he’s been coming back several times a day the last few days. If I hear it singing, it will mean it’s a male.

Suet do you think of that? Me, I think we’ve got us a territory.

Went out this evening to check on the plum tree at the side yard and the mockingbird flew immediately over and landed right overhead, quite close. This is the first time it had been willing to be seen. I looked up, it looked down, not a challenge but a pleased-to-meet-you and curiosity satisfied, then with a flick of the tail it danced upwards through the apple tree.

Juicy, ripe peach-and-raspberry crisp warm out of the oven. A few more years’ growth and I’ll be picking the peaches myself. And sharing some, no doubt, with the birds.


But the local yarn store is still there
Tuesday June 18th 2013, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life,LYS

Got my semi-annual Prolia shot, got the usual instructions to please wait 20 minutes to make sure there’s no reaction to the med. Did I want to wait here in the exam room or out there?

Oh hey, out there. And I have a whole lot of yarn: waiting, not a problem.

While I sat in the reception area, someone else pulled out her knitting, too, a soft, fuzzy and I’d guess handpainted yarn. Kid mohair most likely, quite pretty.  We talked shop a moment.

She asked about my project, and I described the top-down circular shawl it was going to be when it grew up, not a closed circle but (and I drew it in the air with my hands. A bagel with a slice taken out.)

She asked, very much wishing, “Oh. Where do you *find* patterns like that?”

(Bwahaahaa.) “My book,” I grinned, wishing I had a copy with me, but today just hadn’t been a day for carrying extra weight on that shoulder. (Oh look, Amazon’s not asking hundreds for a copy today. It bounces around now that it’s out of print.)

That led to, “Purlescence? Where’s that?”

“Well, across the street from where the Sunnyvale Trader Joe’s used to be, in the same strip mall as McWhorter’s used to be, and the Lace Museum used to be at the other end.”

She laughed.

She’ll find it.

(An aside: I’m healing far faster than I have any right to expect from yesterday’s backflip. Thank you for your kind words, everybody.)

Ba da bump
Monday June 17th 2013, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

You know how cats, caught up in something suddenly out of their control like skidding across a newly-waxed floor, will at the end feign perfect poise and studiously lick their front paw as if to claim they meant to do that?

There’s this one scruffy bit of tree-wannabe I’d wanted gone for a long time, we all had but nobody had ever quite gotten around to it. It split into two branches slightly overhanging the neighbor’s yard between their orange tree and their garden.

Never a good thing to shade away someone else’s fruit to any degree, even if there wasn’t much to the thing. I hadn’t talked another neighbor into taking down her battered kitschy Snoopy with the broken windmill arm that she’d put on the shared fence and was shading one of my peaches slightly, but it gave me incentive not to be that neighbor.

Pride goeth…

Those two branches were thick but I finally decided I could at least give it a try. I could have mentioned my resolve to my tall strong husband, but thought, nah, he’s busy with something. Got out there with my aging clippers held straight over my head, got a good grip on the smaller branch, looked like I might actually be able to cut through this thing after all, I was putting everything into it–

–when the trunk that I didn’t know was rotten suddenly gave way at the bottom. I was flipped over backwards, hard.

There were two thick tree roots running in tandem above the ground and my spine exactly lined up with them. Richard happened to look out in time to see the end of the fall and, he said, my head bouncing back up again.

Knocked the wind out of me.

And maybe the sense.  Ah my, the perfect poise moment. Part of me was able to think, I really shouldn’t be lying here with the sun on my face. The UV rating was 1 out of 16 before I headed outside but that’s still a 1 and I really ought to get up and inside now.

Willing myself to move just wasn’t getting it to happen.

It’s quite peaceful on this fine evening, looking up at that blue sky and all those green leaves.

Richard, rushing out the door, reached me by that point, wanting that not to have just happened, wanting to help, and the back-to-reality of having my sweet husband within view helped me focus.

There was the wry thought as he helped me carefully up, of, and *tomorrow* I’m supposed to have that injection for my med-induced osteoporosis.

He got me icepacks and I wondered what would complain the most later vs right then. The answer so far is the right shoulder, holding up the heavy clippers that had twisted downwards and then missed me (ohthankyouthankyou). At least we know we did what we could for it. So far I seem to have gotten off really easy, all things considering.

The squirrel escalator at the side of the fence got it way worse than I did.

So glad Richard was there.

Next time I might, y’know, tell him first what I was up to so he could volunteer to go do it himself. He certainly would have.


Hi, Mom
Sunday June 16th 2013, 9:08 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Skyped with the grandsons, talked with our kids, chatted with our dads, made angel food cake and mixed fresh berries and mango salad and all kinds of good things–

–and somehow, this evening, the account on Richard’s phone burped up old voicemail messages onto his suddenly-insistent cell. Years-old messages, very much to his surprise. How on earth did these show up?

I heard the raspy-to-me electronic voices and came in the room and asked who he was talking to, and he explained.

And among those very old messages were two from his mom.

Today was the first Father’s Day with her gone. He was sitting there listening to her voice.

Those two messages are staying.