On Beyond Zebra
Wednesday January 10th 2018, 11:56 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

Look what came in the mail today. Fifty wool hand knit finger puppets from Peru (each with a little Made in Peru sticker that is going to have to come off before toddlers get to them.) Five zebras, one alligator, two bearded, ruffly-footed iguanas, lions, monkeys, parrots, ladybugs, puppies…

The women can put food on the table there, I can make parents with fussy kids happy here, and everybody wins. How much did it cost? The answer to life, the universe, and everything (postage included).

After all the airport time we’ve done in the last two months my supply was getting a bit low. It was time to restock. 

Space X last month
Tuesday January 09th 2018, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Family,History,Life

I promised you guys and then forgot to post it after we got home–here’s Richard’s best picture of Elon Musk’s Space X. We were heading into a restaurant in La Jolla, 300 miles south of where this took off from, at the time we looked up to see why everybody else on the sidewalk was staring up into the sky. There was much speculation about what on earth that thing could be, till someone successfully Googled it.

Doesn’t it look like a fish that swallowed a fish?

Looks like you can embiggen the photo this time–scroll to the right. The bigger picture gives you a better sense of just how enormous this was in the sky to us.

For Rebecca
Monday January 08th 2018, 11:01 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

I really should make a beige one first anyway, because I remember beige was on her short list. But I don’t have a beige yarn on hand that I’m happy enough with (especially given what it has to compete with) and I think black was her first choice but I need to ask.

To back up a bit: Saturday I picked up the second vicuna/merino cowl (the one that had a mistake in that splitty black yarn that was so hard to see) that I’d started for her, finally got the mistake fixed (frogging back would have been disastrous) and finished it off. I’d started it flying home from San Diego in bad lighting–but enough of the stalling, it was time.

I went looking for her yesterday.

She and her family weren’t there.

Just as well–I should have had both colors done and in hand first. (Even if part of me thinks, hey, 7% vicuna/93% 14-micron merino, hand-plied from cobweb.) I owe Eli’s whole family for taking such good care of my mango tree.

But on my way out the door to church, on impulse I also grabbed a cowl in a deep rose that I’d made just because I really liked the color and the yarn. Merino. Hand-dyed. And it was Stitches yarn, which you know means it’s a favorite. I hadn’t worn it, I’d actually kind of argued with myself while I was knitting it because I had other things waiting in the queue, I hadn’t even thought about it once it was done, and now all the sudden it opened the door, turned on the light, unzipped its ziplock and leaped out at me all on its own. Cowabunga!

Alright, I grinned, I take it your day has come?

There’s been a young couple these last half dozen years or so who, she reminds me very much of someone I knew growing up. Not that I needed the excuse to particularly like them both. You want lime-green shoes at church or bright orange pants and a ready smile to match, he was your man and I thought it was great.

They soon had a baby girl, and blink, suddenly she was an absolutely adorable toddler with a little brother.

I didn’t consciously notice, but come to think of it I think his shoes were black yesterday. Whatever. The young dad announced, with tears, that they were moving. His wife was visiting the folks and showing off the grandkids so she wasn’t there to say goodbye, just him; he’d flown back early to finish up the packing. He thanked us all for looking out for them, and while looking forward to their next stage, grieved losing seeing us every week; “We started our family here!”

Hey, you can’t just leave like that.

I cornered him afterwards. Had I knitted one of these for his wife yet? flipping the edge of my own cowl. She was high on my list but I was quite sure she hadn’t been checked off quite yet.

He laughed. “I bet you’ve made one of those for everyone in the ward!”

“Working on it!” and I meant it. “Does your wife like this color?” reaching into my purse. (It only occurs to me just now that I never did take its picture.)

As far as he knew. “This is beautiful!” he exclaimed, his hands feeling that soft merino, taking it all in. I told him I thought it was machine washable but I didn’t have the ball band anymore so don’t hold me to it. He tried to say something about giving it back if she already had one and I said no way. This is hers.

He was so touched. He couldn’t wait to give it to her. And I think, I really think, that in that moment it helped him ease forward into the new. Taking a bit of the old with them. They wouldn’t be forgotten.

The new toy
Saturday January 06th 2018, 12:18 am
Filed under: Life

It’s my Dr. Who washing machine. It looks smaller from the doorway than my old one did, narrower, somehow. It’s actually the same width and I’m not sure why it does; the angles and height on the control panel are different, maybe that’s it.

Not that you’d notice, though, because I always leave the lid up when it’s empty, both to air it out and to remind me when it isn’t.

The lid doesn’t lean over backwards for you when you open it. It’s almost straight up. I’m still a little afraid of it falling on my head but it’s doing just fine and you know they wouldn’t engineer that liability into it anyway.

You look in and that interior is HUGE. No, I mean it, it’s really big, with the tub right to the outer walls, unlike my old one; there is no space for your socks to go over the edge into that space in between and out into (and sometimes clogging) the drain hose.

(Stepping back to the doorway to appraise it again.) Bigger on the inside than the outside.

One of the complaints about the manual Speed Queens was that they looked like they used more water than most. Note that I can do twice the load of my old machine with things still sloshing easily as they should. Granted, that Whirlpool was on its last legs and I was keeping the loads small so it wouldn’t stall out on me for good the next time, but still. It all goes in, no crowding. There have been far fewer loads and it feels like I’m doing much less laundry, even though what I wash hasn’t changed a bit. I’m like the hamster that has figured out how to jump off the wheel as it speeds around, jumping back in when I want to with the wheel no longer being the boss.

And even with the extra towels in there they still dry in a third less time.

If my dryer conks out because it’s old and I’m giving it heavier loads–except that I’m probably not because there’s a lot less water weight after that washer gets done spinning–well, at least I know what brand I’ll replace it with.

And who I’ll buy it from. Good people.

One half inch less of drought
Wednesday January 03rd 2018, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

I know the rest of the country is worrying about record cold and snow (stay safe, y’all!), but over here, our half inch of rain today and more in the forecast after an exceedingly and worryingly dry December is our big news.

I watched a young squirrel on the fence, head low, looking miserable: it stood there staring, as if trying to figure out how on earth it was getting soaked and what it should do about it. (Well, you know, you could climb the toyon and get some leaves between you and that water. It’s coming from above you. You did notice that didn’t you?) It finally leaped into the air with a slow-wiggle-twist nose-to-tail, and with all four feet airborne still going straight up, at the last did the sharp doggy shake. And stuck the landing.

And the Olympics judges go wild! 9.4!

Well, at least one of them did the right thing
Tuesday January 02nd 2018, 12:04 am
Filed under: Family,Life

I’m spoiled. I’m used to Southwest, which doesn’t charge change fees, doesn’t charge for two bags, and if you have to cancel a flight right up to the beginning of boarding time they’ll let you apply the funds to another flight within the year. (If you want full refundability, you have to pay top price upfront on the flight, but you can do that.) The people who work for them are better treated than some in the industry, and it shows.

Alaska Airlines is also a pretty happy group to fly with, and if you get their credit card they’ll waive the $25 fee on that first bag and at the moment offer you a BOGO on a flight. Cool.

But if you want to be able to avoid large change fees or cancel your flight with them and get a refund you need to pay an outside company that they contract with for flight insurance.

Maybe one answer to today’s experience is, don’t ask a question on a major holiday, but…

A month ago we asked my sister-in-law when she was going to need to be out of town so we could plan ahead to cover for her on taking care of DadH. March? Booked, done, thanks, we’re coming, enjoy your trip.

I contacted that secondary company and explained why we could no longer go to see my father-in-law.

They emailed back that we could only cancel and be reimbursed if there were an emergency from their restricted, specified list, which she did not give me, and she offered her condolences but implied we were not eligible.

My jaw hit the floor. Death?! Is not considered an emergency re the trip?! I could see my husband again, phone in hand, worried over what he’d just heard as his dad gave out on him, dialing his brother to find out what was going on and to make sure his brother knew something was wrong right now, wishing he were there himself so he could do something. Thanks, customer rep, it was emergency enough for us.

Their last paragraph, they told me to contact Alaska. Uh, yes. Most definitely.

The airline guy said okay: we need a form from the funeral home and then for you to call us back after you have it; I have a note on your file now, and they will let you reapply those funds to any travel within the year after you do so. I’m so sorry about your father-in-law.

(They were doing what they should do. Good.) I thanked him, relieved to be working with a decent human being who cared.

It sounded like he was required as part of his job to ask me this next, given the wince in his voice with: Was I sure I didn’t want to fly to Ft. Worth in March?

Sir, he’s gone…

I’m so sorry…

But that flight insurer. I’d always checked that expensive box on Alaska Airline’s website the three times I’ve flown with them, because autoimmune flares can squirrelize any plan. I think we’re done.

Continuing resolution
Sunday December 31st 2017, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Knitting a Gift,Life

Someone playing with his best friend…

And two hats that need to go in the mail in the morning, Malabrigo Mecha on the left and baby alpaca on the right, a little extended Christmas in a box (after I run those ends in).

Assuming I don’t come down with the flu like my sweetie did Friday morning (yes, that morning, after the travel and exposure and the stress and the worry and the late-night messages.)  And if I do, well, those hats will get out there in their own good time, then, but I think I simply need a good night’s sleep.

Meantime, a Happy New Year to all, and may 2018 brighten our hopes and strengthen our compassion.


We were not ready. But he was.
Saturday December 30th 2017, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Photo: my father-in-law at his granddaughter’s wedding last summer.

Now that the grandson in Chile has gotten the word I can share the story.

Christmas day, my husband called his father across the country to wish him a merry one. As one does. To his great surprise, his dad was only able to get out a few sentences and then gave out and ended the call.


Richard immediately called his brother, whom Dad was staying with for the holiday, and it turned out he’d been trying to talk Dad into going to the ER. But that was the last place Dad wanted to spend Christmas in.

The next day he simply took him in.

There was some hope of recovery that first day and maybe even the next, and Richard wanted his father to be allowed to make the decision whether he wanted him to fly in to see him in that condition: autonomy is a thing too easily taken away from the elderly. I wanted to book the ticket like right now and he wanted to honor his dad’s wishes whatever they might be and we both struggled over which was the most right way to look at the situation when, as the far-away kids, we knew the least.

You know when the phone rings at 2 a.m. your sister-in-law’s time it was not good news. But he was still with us.

Meantime, I confessed my dilemma to the good woman at University Electric that afternoon as she wrote up the sale and she moved us up in the queue and got that washing machine delivered the next day. (I went back today to buy an extended warranty and so I could tell her in person what a great job her installer had done. She was very happy and proud of him to hear that–but, she wanted to know, how was my father-in-law?)

Oh honey. Thank you. But…

Richard’s sister had called again in the dark hours our time yesterday morning: Dad had slipped away.

He had missed his wife. He had missed his daughter who died of cancer at 48. He was a good man and a funny man and I will forever remember as a kid asking my mom what that word meant when my father declared of his old friend, “He’s the most gregarious man I know!” (The most like Greg? Greg who?)

While Dad seemed past the point of being able to respond, his son-in-law at his bedside named each of Dad’s children and grandchildren by name and told him they loved him.

Spencer told us that when he said Mathias’s name, for the first time, Dad smiled. (Photo: Mathias’s first Christmas, playing with the box.)

That is a gift to my sweet grandson to carry forward for the rest of his life. I am so glad my daughter and her family made the trip from Alaska recently to let her Grampa meet her baby boy. While they still could. Because you never know.

Determined to do it right
Saturday December 30th 2017, 12:06 am
Filed under: Life

The University Electric people not only delivered my washing machine but rather than just dump it and run, one of them checked the room’s outtake, pronounced it smaller than normal (yeah, we had a contractor on the remodel who cut a lot of corners, I’ve heard that line before on other things–we had to replace all the gas and water lines the guy did. Major $) and he was concerned that the drain hose might lift out from the water pressure because of how fast that machine rotates.

He took the time to let the water fill up and then started it spinning.

See that? How it went up?

I did indeed. (I didn’t tell him I had memories of my mom’s machine, when I was a kid, sometimes working itself loose and spraying the room with soapy water. Let’s not.)

He took the black nozzle-ish piece off to make the end smaller and tested it again. No lift–that hose went much farther down in and it stayed down in. He was satisfied and assured me it was how it should be now and that I would have no problems with it.

I paid for delivery and got delivery and plumbing trouble-shooting and a correct installation. I have not only found my washer, I have found my dealer for all future major appliances. I like these guys. And I’ve waited a long time to be able to say that.

A few hours later, I was talking to friends at a wedding reception. And one of them said, So if I want this machine I have to go buy it–tomorrow, right?

Since we don’t shop on Sundays, my answer to him was, Yes.

He just might.

And so we wait
Thursday December 28th 2017, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

On the list of things that suddenly really don’t matter, but still need doing, and knowing I would regret it for twenty or thirty years if I didn’t get to it before the January 1st cut-off when they get taken off the market: I did, I found a local place that still stocked it. There was even a slight discount on the closeout. I bought my all-metal-parts, all-mechanical-controls, no-electronics Speed Queen washer this afternoon, this one. (Time.com’s a fan.)

Tomorrow the new one will be installed and the old one will go.

Our new Speed Queen washing machine will probably last us the rest of our lives.

Tuesday December 26th 2017, 11:51 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,History,Life

And we are home. So much to tell. This isn’t one of Richard’s shots of Elon Musk’s Space X launch, it’s the one I took several minutes later. We were 300 miles south of where it took off and it still took up a huge chunk of the sky (this was the small part).

We said goodbye to our son John at the airport as we went our separate ways tonight. Same airline, different gates, our baggage checked in by different agents.

Arriving home, my smaller bag (thankfully mostly empty) was AWOL. He called just a few minutes ago to say that while he was waiting and waiting and waiting for his big bag (just like we had just done), lo and behold, mine, with our tag and name and airport on it, had shown up instead and he’d recognized it. Had his shown up first of course he would have been long gone.

He needs his a lot more than I needed mine. We’re holding out hope–hey, it worked for the two of us; meantime, that’s one $50 Southwest voucher for us when we retrieve ours at the airport when it gets in instead of making them deliver it.

The most surprising moment of the trip happened at church: I saw an old friend who with his family (a few years younger than ours) had moved out of our ward probably twenty years ago.

I knew that his wife had been very ill of late. I knew she had been in a coma for some time with her survival by no means certain–but I had heard nothing since and I didn’t quite know how to ask.

I asked how she was–and he, beaming, motioned, She’s right here!

Oh. My. Goodness!!!

Hale and hearty and enjoying a family reunion, just like we were. I tell you. That was one great moment.

Of many.

Speed wreck
Thursday December 21st 2017, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life,Politics

Washing machines. So here’s what I’ve found so far.

There’s a reason the newer HE machines take an hour to clean your clothes: the enzymes in their detergents take up to an hour to clean away the soiled bits. If the machines work faster than that and your clothes come out still dirty, guess who gets the blame? Manufacturers don’t believe consumers pre-treat anything anymore and they build them on that assumption and if that means you get stuck waiting forever, oh well.

Speed Queen is the only brand still making machines with all-metal parts built to last decades; they wash the clothes, as the name implies, fairly quickly–and well–and with no electronics to go bad.

For about one more week. If you can find them. I found myself reading through pages and pages of discussion on the subject and stumbled across the statement by one reviewer that the government was requiring electronics by the end of the year.

Say what? How did that make sense?

So I called Speed Queen and got tossed to a technical-side guy there with a charming Midwestern accent who talked up the new model coming out and the electric parts behind the knobs now.

Electric? Are we meaning electronics here? I had to pin him down a bit: So are there going to be motherboards? (Having been quoted over $800 plus labor on a stove, on an oven, then on the other oven, all in upper-end major appliances under six years old. I am so done with that.)

He didn’t quite want to say yes, but, yes–and then he explained. You can set the machine to the size load you want, but the government doesn’t believe you won’t do anything but set it at extra large every time so they’re requiring sensors that automatically set the water level to match the level of the clothes. So, yes, he said, that reviewer was right: the old mechanical-only knob machines are only allowed to be sold through the end of this year.

If you can find one, he warned.

Suddenly my ability to face shelling out the kind of money those cost just shot way up. There’s a reason washing-machine sales are up so high and it ain’t quality in the other brands.

The rest of it is all still all-metal parts, he assured me.

I had one other question, the big sticking point for me: I needed a machine that could spin out hand washed woolens without spraying water on them; could theirs do that?

Only on one of the cycles, he said.

I only need one. Cool. Thank you so much.

Since I hung up the phone, I’ve had to wonder: Speed Queen had a twenty-year warranty on those all-mechanical machines a few years ago, while other manufacturers were cutting more and more corners and designing theirs to die at five or six years so you’d have to replace them. They were even discontinuing parts, said another person on that same thread, for not-much-older machines so you couldn’t keep fixing them.

I live in California. I know how to conserve water. Speed Queens were dunned for using too much, but someone in that thread actually measured the water going into the spray function of an HE machine and found it used about the same amount.

What I’m thinking is, someone doesn’t like the competition that comes when lots of people like me (and that’s probably most of us by now) want a machine without the stinking failing motherboards anymore. I wonder how much their CEOs donated to which members of Congress to shut down their competition?*

Because you know this Congress is absolutely capable of doing that.

Meantime, Speed Queen is putting their electronic ones through the ringer to try to make them as reliable as the old reliable. They have a reputation to maintain.

A klieg-light heads-up to the other major-appliance makers: you, too, could grab away a fanatically grateful share of the market if you made things that didn’t break down constantly. Like you used to.


*(Edited to add, turns out Rep. Upton of Michigan is an heir to the Whirlpool fortune. No surprise.)

Whirled pool
Sunday December 17th 2017, 12:16 am
Filed under: Life

I just spent some of my blog-writing time reading the owner’s manual of the Speed Queen washing machine which I do not yet own. I’m only interested in the mechanical-control models, despite the company’s heavy pushing of the electronic ones; one reviewer says rumors are that they want to discontinue the plain but enduring knob-only type. I’m thinking maybe I should simply go get mine while I can.

Washing machine sales are up 35% in five years and you know what? There’s a reason for that. Less competition, more corner-cutting, and a whole lot of unhappy customers, and the grandson of the Whirlpool founder in Congress (hello Rep. Upton in Michigan) is making himself richer with the push towards tariffs on other brands.

The American-made Speed Queens cost more up front but they cost a lot less over time. Plus our electricity bill would go down with the clothes needing a lot less time in the dryer, any dryer.

If our repairman doesn’t find a used motor soon to justify keeping our Whirlpool limping along, there’s no point in throwing more money at it, and maybe not even if he does if it means losing out on my chance to get something I know could last as long as either one of us.

For now, I can only do half loads spaced widely apart.

One big chunk of change and then done. It’ll probably have to happen soon.

When you hit a sewer spot
Friday December 15th 2017, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Life

(On the phone) Did I work for you before?

You fixed my hot water heater, yes.

Bernie came. Bernie worked hard. Bernie cut roots. Bernie opened up that sewer line and he had us flush the toilets a bunch of times, and then again, to prove things were as they should be now. But Bernie did not have time right now to look at that dripping tap because he had four solid days’ worth of customers waiting on him and some had Christmas guests coming–he needed to git.

He did not make a point of saying, but I squeezed you in because you couldn’t use any water and that stinks and the weekend is coming right at you. It was true, but he is not a man who needs to fish for compliments.

And in the time it took me to go across the house after he left, the laundry and the dishwasher were starting to catch up on their jobs.

I was never so happy to pay a plumber bill.

Old friends
Thursday December 14th 2017, 11:34 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends,Life

I baked Phyl and Lee a chocolate torte yesterday and didn’t manage to finish glazing it with the ganache until just after they’d shown up at our doorstep last night–with a surprise gift from Prolific Oven with “Happy Birthday Alison” on it. What comes around…

We stopped by and visited Betty today, and if she didn’t remember who I was this time she sure didn’t let on. Fifteen or twenty minutes was enough, she was starting to fade, but she wished me a happy birthday and I wished her one, too, a few days before her 93d. Richard asked her her favorite Christmas carol and then sang it, with me coming in and out (mostly out) depending on whether I could remember the next lines or not–it wasn’t one I knew well. His was a voice of angelic intention.

Came home, started a half-load of laundry, all we dare do till that machine is repaired or replaced–and there was a gurgle in the bathtub. Did you hear that? He knew. It took me a moment longer.

It wasn’t just one bathroom, either. Don’t turn on that dishwasher.

We have to decide which plumber to call in the morning, fully aware that we were once given a $7000 estimate on ripping up the front yard for the complete sewer line do-over that has been coming for some time.

Yeah… But our daughter sent us video of the baby’s first crawling, we got to FaceTime with him yesterday and this time he knew exactly who those people on the screen talking to him were, we got to likewise see the grandkids in San Diego across the electrons and Parker, who is somehow already turning seven next week, proudly played Hark How The Bells for us (with two hands!) on the piano.

And life is pretty darn sweet.