No chattering teeth here
Thursday August 16th 2012, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Life

I was at the dentist’s. Having been there before, I took a bit of Jasmin with me, the ones on the left in that picture, just in case.

The air conditioning was going as if the day were hot when, actually, it was mid-70’s outside.  The hygienist asked the dentist and he admitted too and it seems they were both just shy of shivering.

And then he turned to me for verification or perhaps to take good care of his patient. “Are you cold too?”

I shrugged a no with, “I’ve got on wool socks! Handknit by my friend!”

They laughed and wished they had friends and socks like that. Go Jasmin!

And perhaps in part because one of my sisters lives there now, I liked this story: a knitter on the New York subway.

Scrubbed jay
Wednesday August 15th 2012, 10:48 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

I decided yesterday, as I watched a steady stream of three dozen crows flying over the houses down the block but well away from mine, that maybe I should appreciate my scrub jays better. Maybe they keep their cousins away?

But the moment gave me an instant flashback to my childhood in a different place and climate, when you could look to the skies and see thousands of birds of a size together, spring or fall, coming or going going going for days and days till they were gone.

One of our resident pair of the beautiful bossy stabby-beaked blue birds showed up Sunday with the entire tip of its tail somehow bent 90 degrees down. That means broken feather shafts straight across and I wondered how on earth it had done it. Its flight and landing seemed ever so slightly less certain to my human eye, but I wondered if I’d imagined it.

Apparently something else would say no, it noticed it, too.

We had had just the one pair since late spring; they have dominated my yard and brooked no intrusions, and I actually got to see the female begging its mate for food in a territorial display on the fencetop.  They were clearly different from any we’ve had before: they didn’t know they could land on the birdfeeder. I’d never seen ones before that wouldn’t. I’d been waiting for one of them to try it out.

After just that one day I never saw the broken tail again. The next day, there were at least three healthy jays fighting around my yard, swooping back and forth, terrorizing the finches, and one of them ever so briefly landed on that feeder after all, hopping immediately away as it swung wildly–whoa, that didn’t work! It swooped off to chase another jay as if it were its fault, they argued, and at last by today we seemed to be back to two jays again. Whoever they were.

Nature seems to settle its fights fast.

And then.

I saw one swoop into the tree this afternoon with such speed that it made me look up and then he tumbled down in a fake and beat it out of there with all that he had. Right behind him was–the Cooper’s hawk! I haven’t seen him for months! There, upper left in the photo, there he is. It felt so good to have him back. He gave up the chase and settled where the other had been.

I definitely think he’d gotten a taste of jay and wanted more.

They only came back  a long time after that to grab food on the run, hightailing it immediately across the yard the opposite direction and out of here.

The sheriff’s back in town.

Welcome to the world, little one!
Tuesday August 14th 2012, 11:02 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

Sunday was the hat. “Now we can have the baby!”

And Monday, but only just barely, right on cue, Andrew came at last.  He’ll be in the hospital on antibiotics till Friday but things are looking good.

Monday August 13th 2012, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

You would think I was the one having the baby: nesting instinct kicked in bigtime, thanks to Carolyn’s son (still not here) and the particular joy of little Eden Alison. I got things rearranged and cleaned and swept inside and, when the sun was low, out on the patio, too. Bricks and stones despite my bones got moved to new places. It felt great.

I played in the kitchen, a pistachio chocolate torte recipe, trying to branch out a little from the hazelnut type; it’s cooling. Michelle’s working on a strawberry pie.

And though I thought I’d used it all up already, I found out I do still have some baby pink sheared-mink yarn in my stash. Alright!

At last!
Sunday August 12th 2012, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Knitting a Gift,Life

Carolyn is expecting.

Carolyn was due.

Carolyn is overdue, and any woman who’s ever been there is probably putting a hand on her own back in sympathy about now.

I have been trying to get myself to sit down and knit a hat for her son for about a month now. There was that wedding in the way, but after that I had no excuses. I saw her at church last week and thought, well, blew that chance of getting it to her before the delivery.

But I knew that there would be a happy announcement made–and there had been none yet.

I got a note from her: her mother was in town to help and she was a knitter and wanted to know where the best yarn shops around might be?

Deadlines cure procrastinations. This morning I pulled another Malabrigo Rios out of my stash: superwash merino for a tired mom about to have a toddler and a newborn. Forty stitches, a few rows, a checking of size on the Bev’s Country Cottage site, a total rip, a start over, 50 stitches, size US 5 needles of 1×1 ribbing, and looking at how long that was taking me, I ditched the idea of ribbing all the way up. I switched to US 8s because rib stitches come out bigger than stockinette ones (and stockinette knits up at twice the speed) and zoomed through a plain swath that showed off the colorway. Five spirals of decreases and a little pigtail of crocheted chain stitch at the end.

Got it done in time. Just barely. And it was so cute–what had taken me so long to discover what that yarn could be?

Went off to church, where I connected with Carolyn, met her sister and her mom, and apologized: This was all my fault. The baby had been waiting for me to finish his hat. Now at last he can come.

They cracked up. They loved it. Her mom exclaimed over the knitting and tweaked the little pigtail–bouncy bounce! Carolyn waved it at her husband, going, Now we can finally have the baby!

Her mom mentioned in an aside to me that she wasn’t going any distances right now, yarnstorewise. I told her I had stash I’d be happy to share. There’s no way a new grandma who knits is going without yarn to shower the little ones with, not around me she’s not.

(Edited later to add) because how could I not: my niece Emily just had her baby. And this is what she just told me on FB:

So, aunt Alison, I don’t know if Eric posted this or not, but we named our baby Eden Alison, the Alison after you. I have always admired the positive outlook you have on life, and hope to emulate that.

Gobsmacked does not begin to tell it. I read that and exclaimed Oh WOW!!! so out loud that I had to immediately explain to Richard, sitting next to me, why. Wow. Hope y’all don’t mind my bragging here. Welcome to the world, Eden Alison!

I’ve got me more knitting to catch up on!

Red polka dot cake
Saturday August 11th 2012, 10:31 pm
Filed under: Family,Food

What to make, what to make…

And then the inspiration: I asked Michelle, What do you want me to bake?

Her face lit up. Cranberry cake! (With me wracking my brain, had I ever made such a thing, is she remembering and I’m not, help me out here, hon.)

Cranberry cake?

Yeah, cranberry cake, with molasses and. wait. but. not like the one I made it was too soggy.

I caught on fast that whatever she was referring to had to have been experimented with while she’d been away at school, because I was still at wai- what- ? I asked her where the recipe was?

Oh I found it on the Internet, but I need to modify it next time.

I walked out of the kitchen trying not to laugh too hard. Randomness. Ah my. All those cookbooks, and all we do is sit down at the computer and type into Google. And then when you find a really good recipe, you have to blog it so you can follow your own link to ever find the thing again. Cranberry cake? I’ve had a cranberry bar recipe for twenty-odd years and it’s one of her very favorites, but no, she wanted cake.

And so I found this one. (We skipped the kirsch.) No molasses in sight, but it promised it would be in the oven in ten minutes, with more cranberries than sugar. Sold!

It’s very good. Michelle and I might actually put a bit less sugar in next time (and we skipped the whipped cream and substituted Earth Balance for the butter so she could eat it, and we sprinkled two tbl brown sugar alone across the top for a crunchy topping) but hey. Good stuff. Red polka dot cake for my little girl.

Friday August 10th 2012, 10:23 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life,Music

One of the Stanford satellite clinics has a grand piano in the lobby–actually, two clinics do that I know of, but anyway, most of the times I’ve been to the one, there’s been someone playing.

And the guy’s good. Really good. No sheet music, any style you want, any age any tune, he’s got it. I have no idea if he’s a young doctor on break (dresses in a suit, no white coat) or how he came to be there, but he’s a master musician.

And here’s the thing: it’s like Joshua Bell in the subway station.

Okay, wait–I just went looking for the video of that to give you the link, and on impulse decided to click on the snopes article verifying it. Not only did it happen, but it tells that the same experiment had been tried 77 years earlier–by a man playing the exact same Stradivarius. Who played two of the exact same pieces during the same amount of time. While also having been put up to it as a social experiment by a metro newspaper, in a subway station, at rush hour.

Who knew.  Bell didn’t. Wow.

The Stanford pianist chatted a bit with me between songs once about music, but other than that I haven’t interrupted him. He always has a smile, always nods in acknowledgement of those going by whether they notice it or not, always lights up when someone stops a moment rather than just passing through to one of the hallways spoking off.

And yet. I’ve seen people sitting on the couches curving in the inner and outer sides of a circle there, some clearly listening to him but almost as if they were hiding it, some reading, all but one that I’ve ever seen turned away so as not to be facing him. Trying not to invade his space, perhaps.

And nobody. Not one. Ever clapped.

Until I did.

The guy looked surprised, abashed, and very very gratified. And then another patient joined in.

I have no idea if I’ll ever see him again. I do know I’ve seen him playing there three times now: clearly he enjoys being able to give of himself like that, always choosing music that lifts the heart, music to do good by every person coming in in need of healing–including, each in their own way, the medical staff.

I went stash diving today. Part of me is second-guessing myself, wondering if the Zarzamora colorway in Malabrigo Rios really is just the one, but it’s very soft and it’s the one I’ve got out of all the stash I looked at that seemed the most right. I will finish this hat, then, and if it doesn’t feel perfect, I’ll make another.

But I just didn’t want to wait. Some projects need to be pounced on the moment they come up; I really like how this is coming out and I really like the thought of being able to give a little art back.

Hoping he’s there next time… I have an errand to run past there before then. I can pop in and try.

Thursday August 09th 2012, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Life

White lines running down blue background. Richard said to just let it keep running through the files, that’s what it was doing, trying to mend itself.

Okay, well, we can hope.

Woke up this morning to find my PC sitting primly waiting for me to sign in. Who knew. (He did. Go Richard.) Yay!


I had one last thing to do last night on that project I’d just finished: block it. Wouldn’t take long.

I was sitting on the floor with it on top of an old quilt back, moving the damp stitches just so here and a little more there, leaning over it as I worked. It was about bedtime and I was tired. Moved a bit–and I heard it before I felt it. There was no mistaking and no pleading and no no please no. My hand I’d been leaning on had been on my hair (it was?) and I’d ripped it right out of the side of my head.

The skin cancer, the back of the hairdryer that sucked it in while I worked on the freezer, this–maybe this just isn’t the year to keep the hair long.

Not PC
Wednesday August 08th 2012, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

My sweetie says it had no virus, and yet–well, it’s six, maybe seven years old–my PC crashed today. The kind of crash you wish you had everything backed up on the cloud.

Oh wait. I mostly do. I think. Um.

And then… He thought it a good day to update my very out of date laptop, just to make sure at least that stayed in good shape.

Not done.

Is it ready yet?

Oh, right, sorry, I’ll check it.

Is it ready yet?

Huh. No, it isn’t, should be. (He was working from home.)

Ten programs, it said it was plowing through. Which is why I didn’t have the laptop, either.

And so an amazing amount of knitting got done, and it felt wonderful. I had a project I’d started on on old bamboos that felt like fingernails and–wait, how are our kids going to know about chalkboards?–and I’d been avoiding it.

It is done. I sent a small thank you Up There: the computer made me do it. It’s beautiful. And now I don’t ever have to use those needles again.

I’m still holding out faint hope that the same won’t be true of the PC.

And I finally got my laptop back and it warned me I needed to update some things. I decided it could wait.

Time was when
Tuesday August 07th 2012, 11:05 pm
Filed under: Family,History

My brother sent me a link to a video wherein our uncle’s name was mentioned, their story told with the pictures and reels of the day. Wow.

My parents will be celebrating their 60th anniversary this fall and it occurs to me after watching that that we their children need to do what was done back when Mom’s dad turned 90: come armed with cameras and recorders and a list of questions and get them reminiscing for us. I know that Dad’s mom headed her county’s Red Cross knitting for the troops–how did she knit ten hours a day, as her letter said she did, with rheumatoid arthritis? Did it come later?

A nephew once had a school assignment to ask family members to write in his booklet about some memory of some day in history and then mail it to the next person and the next and finally back to him by the end of the school year. Dad wrote that he had been a teenager cutting Christmas trees with the Boy Scouts as a fundraiser and was in the back of a pickup with 49 trees piled high around him when his dad came up the road to their surprise and stopped them: Pearl Harbor had just been bombed!

I remember watching Neil Armstrong on TV walking on the moon in grainy black and white. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. Later, my dad, my little sister and I got to watch the last of the Apollo flights take off in person, sitting on bleachers in the Florida heat at Cape Kennedy and wondering afterwards how much of the sunburn on our faces might be from the rocket boosters.

What day in history do you remember?

The woman in the mirror
Monday August 06th 2012, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

Three people, two cars, multiple errands that had no room for delay, and Michelle’s first day of work.

I dropped Richard off at his office. An accident, the freeway a parking lot, later a guy in a hot red sportscar trying to defy physics as he impulsively zoomed a left in front of me, the car in my other lane having turned out of the way exactly in time to save us all as I braked and veered. So close.

Remember that car alarm that is designed so my mechanic cannot disable it permanently that randomly goes off every now and then? The one that nearly got a man killed? I learned long ago from the manual that you have to put the key in the driver’s side and turn it quickly three times to the left to get it to stop. HONKHONKHONKHONKHONK

I was in downtown and next to an apartment complex, rush hour starting up, lots of people to bother, and this time it really meant it. Nothing stopped it, not the key, not the fob, not this, not that, nothing. I went through the manual again, noting wryly that I had written loudly on it where to find the page quickly. HONKHONKHONKHONKHONKHONK

Finally a mailman pulled onto the crowded street, found (an illegal) parking space a way down, hiked back to me and asked, Did you try this? (Which was not in the manual.)

Silence never sounded so good.

I went home absolutely beat.

And got a note from Suzanne: wasn’t it nice that I had the good health to be able to go do all that today?

She was right. I’d so needed that. Her gratitude changed everything.

And Michelle came home radiant. It was a little scary, the things they expected her to come up to snuff on so fast, but they were putting great faith in her and oh by the way you’re doing the big presentation in two weeks on…

A boss who believes in her already. She’s determined to live up to that. Perfect.

Years ago, a new Stanford grad asked Richard how on earth to decide between two job offers. One was more prestigious and paid more; the other, though, really spoke to him.

Richard told him: Imagine you’re driving home from work. Now, look in the rearview mirror: is the man looking back at you smiling?

The guy thanked him, took the lower-paying job, and years later he sent us a note letting us know where all that had come to–it had been the right road, most definitely. We will never forget that he took the time to let us know.

Michelle had thought she’d wanted a different job more, and when it didn’t happen, I told her she was going to be glad later that she hadn’t taken the wrong one.

She came home with the whole world her mirror. She’s smiling too.

Wouldn’t have missed that for anything
Sunday August 05th 2012, 10:29 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Lupus,Wildlife

Michelle thought of it first.

Me: When was the last time you saw your cousin Jonathan?

Ryan: I don’t think ever!

And so a trek was made over the reservoir and through the redwoods and we spent the evening at Richard’s aunt’s and uncle’s up in the mountains. Jonathan and his wife and young sons came north to his folks’ to meet us in the middle. Potluck salmon and salads, chicken on the barbecue, fruit and homemade bread on the beautiful deck overlooking the woods that Jonathan had built for his folks for his sister’s wedding (she has two kids now too). Ice cream, blackberry pie, dairy-free homemade cookies. Good people, good food.

And it was late enough and non-reflective enough and shaded enough by those towering trees standing sentinel that I was actually able to be out there. I cannot begin to describe how liberating that felt.

On our way home in the deepening dusk, a large hawk swooped near the road as we passed. Just to to add that perfect extra touch.

(p.s. at midnight: Go Curiosity Rover! Go NASA! Well done!)

Snoozed with the fishies
Saturday August 04th 2012, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Food,Friends,History

Note: my email program updated Friday night and crashed. Seems to be working now; my apologies to all who didn’t hear back from me. And thank you to all who are supporting Sam’s walk.

Tonight, our friend Phyllis had us celebrating her birthday at an Indonesian restaurant.  She and her husband like to go scuba diving in Bali, this place was new, and they had great hopes for it. They wanted to share a little more of a country they love.

The food was quite good–I could definitely do salmon in a banana leaf again.

After one of their trips about four years ago, they came over to our place and Lee showed us the absolutely fabulous underwater photography he’d just done there. I had a particular interest, not just for the fish (though there was definitely that) but also for the fact that when I was growing up in DC, our next-door neighbors had just been in Indonesia with the State Department and the dad was later made ambassador there. I was told stories by the kid my age about what it was like to live there then.

So. Go fish. When I ended up in the hospital a few months after that photo show, between the meds the doctors had me on and the condition I was in I was hallucinating Lee’s fish varieties in vivid color. It kept me much amused, reminded that there was life out there at a time I needed the diversion. No Indo-amnesia there. I loved it.

Meantime. Thomas Edison did a silent movie of Mark Twain. Hey, Lee? Obvious statement number one: photography has come a long way.

And yet–sometime you just can’t beat the old stuff. If you scroll down the videos you get the best thing since sliced bread. Have fun.

Go team go!
Friday August 03rd 2012, 9:38 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Lupus,Wildlife

Wow you guys. From zero last night to $730 as I type for Sam’s walk for lupus research. I woke up this morning, clicked on the link, and nearly burst into tears. Thank you cannot begin to describe it. Wow. Such a rush of emotions. This is our last month having to pay Michelle’s big COBRA health insurance bill, I feel terrible that I cannot quite yet make the effort I want towards Sam’s walk, and yet you all… Wow. Thank you.

On a side note for all the gardeners out there, I learned something today: the San Jose Mercury News is running classic Gary Bogue columns online, unwilling to let their wildlife specialist go in his as-of-last-week retirement. A woman had written in once to say that she had finally cured her squirrels of attacking her tomatoes.

By hanging red glass Christmas ornaments on them. Ooh, shiny! And the darkest reds are the sweetest, right?

One bite and they never touched them again.

Walking for life
Thursday August 02nd 2012, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Family,Lupus

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and her fellow knitters hit the $50,000 mark and then blew right past it this afternoon in her multi-day bikeathon for AIDS patients. I can’t tell you how good that feels.

I can only wish. Today we found out that our daughter Sam is participating in a lupus walkathon fundraiser, with all funds raised going directly to research in the disease she and I have and with no administrative cut-outs.

There has been so little achieved for so long, in part because the FDA’s guidelines pretty much ruled out okaying a drug for a condition where a remission could occur of its own–so nobody tried. Some frustrated researchers with an interest in making a difference finally asked, If we can knock out one marker at a time, would that pass?

And so Benlysta got approved last year, the first new drug for us since corticosteroids (which don’t work for either of us) and Plaquenil (gives me massive hives) in 1955. Benlysta helps one out of eleven patients–a lot, so far, when it does. Sam, having run through everything else out there, is one of those lucky ones.

My daughter was very ill this past year till they gave it a chance. It may well be that she’s alive because of it.

Patients and their loved ones are the ones who have funded the research. Congress, not so much. There are more drugs in the pipeline working their way towards approval, patients helping patients find hope and researchers a cause to dedicate themselves to.

I know I just paid for plane tickets to last week’s wedding. But some things are just so good and so right, somehow we will do this.