Anchorage earthquake
Friday November 30th 2018, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Thank you all for the many notes checking up on our family; that meant a great deal to me, all day long, as all those messages of love came in over and over. The first one in my inbox this morning was actually my heads-up that the quake had happened, and I ran across the house for my phone to go see.

Her first text had come in. Sam was able to get a single phone call out to us shortly thereafter and we did the designated-contact-in-an-emergency thing and passed the word to her siblings: she and her family were safe.

She had been on the seventh floor of her downtown building. She made it out okay to go get the baby from daycare. That red SUV in all the news pictures with the road collapsed all around it except for its one tiny island of safety? That’s about a mile from where she had to go to to get him.

Her husband made it home first, finding the damage minimal and cleaning up the broken glass and dishes so they wouldn’t have to come home to that. They, meantime, were in a designated shelter, and after hours, finally they were able to make it home, too.

They are closer to the epicenter than downtown was.

Sam posted pictures of Mathias on FB holding a broom and dustpan, “helping” with the cleanup (now that there was no broken glass for him to get hurt on.)

We were on some of those very roads last weekend, and of course they live there, and for the moment they’re hunkering down and staying put and out of the way of those officially trying to do all that needs to be done in the aftermath of such a big quake.

There was some talk of maybe upgrading it later to a 7.2, but a 7 is plenty.

I remember trying to sleep on what felt like a waterbed with the endless aftershocks when we had our Loma Prieta. Theirs are stronger.

Our loved ones are well. Our terrified grandcat that wedged herself under the couch in her panic has been rescued. She later decided underneath Mathias’s crib was the safe place to be; normally she considers him the little tail-grabber who must be avoided, but she was staying close.

Others’ families are well, too, and we are grateful beyond words.

And thank you, again, to all of you who were reaching out to ask. In the intensity of the day those kindnesses were a great comfort.

Creaming it
Wednesday November 28th 2018, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Family

Another of my favorite pictures from the trip: my son-in-law treating his wife to a break and their son to some ice cream at Coldstone.

This is just before the table got exuberantly enhanced.

It looks like deep snow out the window, which one might expect because hey, Alaska, but that is where the parking-lot snow got pushed to. While we were there there was only an ice-coated inch or so, with a threat of rain; it’s been unseasonably warm.

So we got our own frozen stuff. And brought some home to Mommy.


Celebrate everything!
Tuesday November 27th 2018, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

The people on the bus go up and down… Up! (Bongo drum bongo drum and then play at taking the plastic lid on and off the heavy melamine bowl. “Off!”)

The first time we visited Alaska we toured a farm with reindeer that happily ate out of our hands and with Santa’s sleigh off to the side–it was surprising how small and low down it was, but then reindeer aren’t very big, either. That’s where we learned the difference between reindeer and caribou: reindeer have been specifically bred for the last hundred fifty years or so towards domestication, whereas caribou are wild.

At the musk ox farm in Palmer, they pointed to the reindeer to say they’ve been working on domesticating their own animals for fifty years now and figure they have a hundred to go.

After we got home from that trip I was delighted to discover one last little piece of reindeer crunchies (it looked like hamster food) in my sweater pocket.

So. At the gas station with the perfect name on Saturday there was this moment of hey, I know where that’s from…! We could just make out the tops of quite a few animal heads moving around in that trailer.

Who knew Santa’s sleigh travels by flatbed before the big day?



Nineteen months
Monday November 26th 2018, 9:02 am
Filed under: Family,Life

At the kids’ house in Anchorage, if you look up at the wall near the ceiling in the living room (where it’s way out of dog or baby reach) you say “Alexa” with a command and music starts playing. The wheels on the bus go round, and round, and round, after round… I had a verse he didn’t know, though: the wipers on the bus go swish swish swish, complete with big arm motions, not little ones. This was totally Mathias’s kind of thing, and when Alexa finished he would look at me expectantly, waiting for it with a big grin.

If only he could command that thing, too. “Lessa? Lessa?” doesn’t quite pull it off.

Turns out that standing in his bedroom looking up at the light switch and commanding “OFF!” loudly does not make the light go on or off, either. Not for lack of trying on his part. Somehow that wall just wasn’t compliant.

“Off” to him meant change which way it is, so I practiced saying and demonstrating “on” and “off” with him. A new word to apply to it! He liked that, but persisted for now with his version. But hey, what baby doesn’t love playing with light switches, and here was Grammy aiding and abetting. Good times.

He’s at the two-syllable-sentence stage that I so love.

Except for in his mommy’s reading of one Sandra Boynton book. I was not expecting “armadillo” out of him. I guess it counted as two two-syllables?

We had such a good time!

Thursday November 22nd 2018, 12:19 am
Filed under: Knit

The housesitter saw us off.

Alaskan air, after these past two weeks of fire skies at home, is cold and crisp and oh so blessedly clear.

Well lived
Monday November 19th 2018, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

LeeAnne Dalton linked to this poem and called it a favorite, and now it’s one of mine, too. Especially right now.

My Uncle Wally, twice widowed himself, fell hard for a widow who, when the family met Marie, thoroughly understood why and welcomed her as their own.

There was her house, there was his house, and they decided to sell them both, marry, and buy a new one together where all the memories would be the ones they made, just theirs.

Hers found a buyer.

His sat on the market. And sat.

His baby brother, whose start-up company had done very well, finally told them, Listen, *I’ll* buy your house–enough of this, go get married, you crazy kids! (The oldest brother being 80 at the time.)

This wasn’t my idea, it was hers but it’s a great one that I want to pass on: I recently texted my cousin a short note that I was about to call for her dad, and then rang her phone. Alerted by that text, she let it go to voicemail so that she could then play the recording for him when she visited and let Wally know that he is thought of, remembered in our day-to-day lives wherever we are, and loved.

Now he really needs that. Marie, artist, composer, and the love of his old age these sixteen or seventeen years or so, quietly slipped away yesterday. She came to “the gate opening like a secret” and I wonder how long now till his hand reaches out towards hers.

Cat calling
Sunday November 18th 2018, 11:26 pm
Filed under: Family

I do love FaceTime.

Mathias went toddling after the cat, who to be on the safe side escaped down the hall towards the bedrooms. Next thing you know, the parental iPad had caught up with him and there he was with his face up against the one with the cat door at the bottom.

He could see through it so why couldn’t he fit through it? Was this another one of those square/circle puzzles? It just wasn’t working for him.

He was offered the feathered cat toy and he got the concept, only, he wanted to play with the feather himself and kept pushing the string part through to entice the cat. His daddy sat down on the floor, put him in his lap, and reversed things: here, you push the feather through the square hole and hold onto the string like this.

Mathias cheerfully went along with this new method.

Me: Looks like you’re fishing for cats.

Her, holding the iPad: Pretty much!

Cat: white paw darts in and out of view at the feather and finally it sticks its head in its doorway to see where it had gone. Oh. It’s you. Never mind, and disappears again.

Love your dear ones
Sunday November 18th 2018, 12:00 am
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

My friend Lisa Souza of ditched dinner tonight after she looked out the window: instead, she and her husband were grabbing important papers and pets and throwing everything in the car at the speed of life.

She lives in a town some of the Camp Fire people had evacuated to.

A car on the road beyond had hit a power pole and gone down the embankment as the sky lit up in fire. Hours later she posted a picture she’d stopped a moment to snap that also showed headlights well below, pointed upwards, like, what just happened??

She reported that somehow the guy inside was okay and that the firefighters had tamped down the ferocious brilliance and were only checking for hotspots now. Those guys are good at what they do and I for one could never ever imagine doing it. Wow.

Our AQI is down to 144, rain is forecast for Wednesday and it looks like everybody will finally get a break.

What I really wanted to write about was all the cool stuff I knitted today, but I just didn’t. As the lungs slowly find clarity I intend to have more oomph. Tomorrow would be good.

Being particlecular
Friday November 16th 2018, 11:31 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

We hit AQI 202, officially Very Unhealthy and purple on the map tonight.

It was about the time of that last big fire down south that he ordered it on a whim: he’s an engineer, he likes to measure things, to quantify. Turn the unknown into a known.

With the Camp Fire burning away, yesterday he remembered he had this thing. He almost apologized to me as he said it had cost about $45; it was a bit more than his usual little toy.

Hey. I’m a yarn enthusiast. Enjoy!

And so he took it to work today.

The construction people working on the building had been leaving the doors propped open: he showed the effects. This AQI reading here, this one here, this one here.


Word got around, and people were asking him to read the particulate levels in their offices, too.

One colleague’s office was well above 100 and his boss was not happy.

The HVAC guy said yeah the filters are loading up and we’re having to order new ones.

The cafeteria! The official AQI scale is 0-500 and the machine stops at 500. 500. Could be anything above that. Now they know.

Yonder guy with the meter happened to be emailing the specifics as he went.

I’m wondering what percentage of those co-workers ordered their own meters on the spot.

The AQI is supposed to be worse tomorrow
Thursday November 15th 2018, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Knitting a Gift,Life,LYS

Malabrigo Mecha is my favorite for making a quick, warm, densely knit, beautiful hat out of, and my two brothers and the two local daughters of one of those brothers each ended up with one last weekend.

Which (thinking of the relatives we got to see while we were at the reunion) was just the start. But I was out of that yarn again other than a bag of ten dedicated to becoming an afghan.

There is only one local store that sells it and hey, twist my arm, so I headed out today towards Cottage Yarns.

North or south, whichever way you looked getting onto the freeway the instinct for self-preservation did not want to go there: if there’s that much smoke there could be a fire just beyond, and since the wind can pick up embers and toss them twenty miles down the road (but we’re two hundred from Paradise) maybe I should have checked the latest report first?

Stop it, I told the stupid little fear. Just go. You know it’s okay.

All the cars looked like a variant of spring fever: coated in fire pollen.

The air quality index in South San Francisco was even worse than ours at 211; we were at 179. I was told later that San Jose was nine times worse than Beijing today.

The door to the shop was open only just enough to let people know they could come in.

I talked to Kathryn a moment, being in no hurry to go back out into that, and she told me they’d had a sale last weekend and she’d figured it would be a bust because who would want to come out into the smoke.

What had happened instead is that people had shown up, lots of people: since officially nobody’s supposed to be outside they were buying yarn to have something new and happy to do inside and to create something good in the face of the firestorm, so much so that it turned out to be her best sale event ever. People came together before spending their time separated, and it was clear it meant a lot to her.

I headed home the longer way, through the hills rather than the heavier traffic of the valley floor.

There’s that stretched-out bridge with the reservoir below and the Flintstone House off to the left. The vivid orange beamed like a lighthouse against the smokey storm but to the right, you could not tell that there was water below. At 1:45 pm. It was that bad.

One of my nieces had requested an undyed white hat. If I get it done fast enough it’ll still be that color when she gets it. I think I’ll stay home tomorrow and knit.

Going out on a limb
Wednesday November 14th 2018, 10:47 pm
Filed under: Life

Why I found myself outside breathing the fire air.

I called the city’s utilities department and left a voicemail that the lineworkers who had recently cleared limbs away from the power line had left a dead limb hanging on it on my neighbor’s side of the fence–but that they could reach it from my side and they were welcome to come onto my property to do so; given the current conditions, I thought they’d want to know. (Like, definitely.)

No return phone call, but I had a knock on my door within 45 minutes. That was fast. The guy and I looked it over together.

Those weren’t our guys, he told me, looking up at that limb and how the neighbor’s tree had been whacked back; that’s the cable TV guys. We tell them all the time not to do it like that. (He shrugged a whaddayagonnado.)

Everything was fine (clearly that was not actually the power line) and not to worry.

But turns out that meantime, he was a fellow fruit tree enthusiast. The Sunbubble intrigued him: What’s in that? as he stepped tentatively in the direction of its open door, hoping for permission. I motioned him over with a grin.

A delighted, A MANGO?! I showed him the actual fruit, too, and he couldn’t get over it. He wanted to know how I’d pulled it off in this climate and I was happy to tell him.

He told me his figs were decimated by raccoons. Mine weren’t, but then I not only had multiple layers of bird netting and barriers at the base of the trunk but my critters apparently lost out this year to a mountain lion. I told him I’d recently stumbled across advice to keep a rag soaked in ammonia in a little plastic tub next to what you want to keep the critters away from.


I couldn’t vouch for it yet, sorry.

Didn’t matter. He was definitely going to try that in his garden! He left looking forward to getting to eat his figs next year and glad that he’d come.

So that was good.

Sawdust to sawdust
Tuesday November 13th 2018, 10:12 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Family,Life

With all six kids gathered round (thank you Frontier for selling $87 Atlanta-Salt Lake no-luggage round trips) Dad offered a Christmas present dear to his heart: four amaryllis bulbs each, and not just any amaryllises but ultra-large mother bulbs. For us two coming-birthday girls it was six.

Good thing my luggage on the way there had included a giant tub of extra-ripe dried apricots from Andy’s Orchard for the folks so I didn’t take an underseat suitcase and I had some space freed up for the way home.

(Hey, Andy, if you see this? My brother echoed my dad’s reaction: “Those are *gooooood*!” He definitely wanted to know where to find more and I was happy to pass your website on to him.)

But the bag. It was still just a carry-on and I was sure the TSA would want to look at those. They definitely did. I seemed harmless, but that way-overstuffed suitcase had to come open even as I was telling the guy what he’d seen on the screen were.

“Those ARE big amaryllis bulbs!” he said in wonder, holding one high for the other agents to see. Clearly he was familiar with such. He dug through and pulled out each of the others in turn just to be sure, though–his peers were present–which is how I found out that the sawdust the bulbs were bagged with could pepper-shake out all over everything. That makes sense: bulbs are living things and need to breathe.

I may have bought them second-hand on and the like for $5-$10 each, but still: those were my cashmere sweaters he was freely coating with that stuff, and my favorites to boot. Y’know, what you wear to look good around your siblings and their kids.

I’d previously put them through the hand wash cycle on my Speed Queen, which didn’t shrink them any, but the higher-than-average speed of its spin meant the ends of the hairs had worked their way free and gained an angora bunny look and now those wisps of goat fur were grabbing hard onto that sawdust. Later, I could not shake it all out.

Fortunately, it turns out that washer could. Speed Queens are magical.

Just in case you ever, say, visit a lumber mill in a cashmere sweater.

Nowhere to go but up
Monday November 12th 2018, 11:20 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Note: there are mouseovers on the photos.

There were three of us that were going to be coming from California, and we booked an AirBnB together for our stay in Salt Lake.

The photos looked good. I’d always wanted to see the inside of some of the quaint old Victorians there and we were actually going to get to stay in one (or was it a Sears catalog house)–circa 1905. And the price was exceedingly reasonable.

As advertised, the two bedrooms were beautifully done.

That’s the good part.

Michelle’s flight landed a few hours before ours and she got there first.

She walked up the uncertain planks that gave a bit under your feet–not quite steps (think gym bleachers) since your shoes could slip between them at any point, but at least they held–and knocked on the door.

The hostess warmly welcomed her in, showed her what she needed to know, and as they stepped forward to the living room apologized over the painting they’d recently hung that had just fallen: the command strips hadn’t been strong enough to hold it. She was so sorry. She urged that we *not* sit on the couch for fear the other would come down too.

(That’s a vaulted ceiling with a whole lot of empty white space so they’d bought huge pictures to try to fill it up some. The walls dwarfed them.)

Oh. Kay.

The attic-type steps to her room were narrow and steep but coming back down, the overhang near the bottom was so low that even knowing it was there, she had a hard time ducking enough and bumped her head. It’s tough being tall.

At some point in the house’s history, air conditioning got invented. Wonderful! Someone smashed out the lower part of the dining area window to put one in. They filled the space around it with what came to hand. The brick broke? Nobody’ll notice, use it.

We tried to puzzle out whether that was a towel or a blanket stuffed up below that obvious one-time leak up there at the ceiling. We weren’t about to touch it to find out (not that I for one could have reached.)

Those kitchen shelves that went way, way up–how on earth did they get stuff up there? How on earth would you get it down? Doesn’t it make you want to scream and run that there are no doors to hold it all in when the earth starts to shake? There was a little folded step stool tucked away that you could use to climb up onto the narrow countertop and reach way up, which even standing on the counter would probably not be enough for me, still, but–just don’t. Even if you don’t have my fear of heights. I looked at the beautiful brown pottery and again felt very Californian: gravity doesn’t always work in the right direction, you just don’t put the heavy stuff so far over your head.

The bathroom tiles were a gorgeous deep green.

The shower was not much more than one hard zap of a stream, and trying to adjust that got a surprisingly heavy head throwing itself down at mine. I ducked and lucked out.

You want an outlet to plug in that CPAP? Then you can only open the bathroom door halfway, and to get in there with the cord going across you’re going to bash your head on the big towel rack hung over the other side of that tall door. Ouch. Everything in there is tall but me. Watch out, that Home Despot sink might fall right over or the flimsy plug-in lamp (the only light source) could land in it.

But this. This is not what we mean when we urge people to go green. That’s the door between the master bathroom and the kitchen. I could just imagine, No no that is not the pantry! (The hostess had already told Michelle about it, no worries there. It was locked.) Four panes of glass with a coat of paint slathered over sideways and a top pane boarded over and painted, too. Please tell me that particular door wasn’t originally in that spot, naked as a jaybird? We tried to figure out where it might have been repurposed from.

The hostess’s room was upstairs too, but for while we were there she turned the house over to us and let us have it to ourselves.

We figured a family must recently have inherited a home that had been lived in for decades by someone who could not manage upkeep and fixed it up enough so that they could get some income off it to help while they rehab it. Those two rental bedrooms are really quite nice. Just ignore the lack of a doorframe so far on the master. Wavy wallboard edges only. But the heating system worked really well and the bed and pillows were quite comfortable, the towels plentiful and thick, the shower curtain one I wanted to copy. They provided every bathroom thing you could think of and I was relieved at the sight of the hairdryer.

You know how they say cool old houses have good bones? I would say this one has started treatment for osteoporosis.

Michelle wondered how to describe the place in any review if she should even write a review, since she’s the one that booked it.

Up and coming? Lots of up. Definitely.

It will be a fond funny memory for a long time to come. That door!

Which time zone is this?
Sunday November 11th 2018, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

We flew off Friday to celebrate my parents’ 66th anniversary and just got home. Tomorrow I find out what happened in the world over the weekend, but what happened in my world was definitely wonderful. All my siblings came and a fair number of their kids and even a few of their grandkids.

Pictures are limited because I left my silly phone back in the AirBnB yesterday for the day, but thanks to my nephew Joel I did get this one taken.

Oh wait. I need to shrink that. Tomorrow. Right now I’m going to go crash in my own bed in my own house. ‘Night, all.

Saturday November 10th 2018, 1:25 pm
Filed under: Life

Up, north, and eastward… You know how the horizon forms a pink line across the top when you’re in the air at sunset?

Except it wasn’t sunset. And it wasn’t on the horizon: it was redder, and in the center of the smokey air that looked like clouds smudged with dirt. It took me a little while studying it to be sure: I was seeing the Camp fire from about 27,000 feet up. It was an eerie feeling to know what was going on below as I said a prayer for those in its path.

An hour or so later the view below was clearer and there was a normal skyscape sunset.