Lynn and her Beloved
Tuesday January 15th 2013, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

Lynn, here, the post where I got to meet her in person in Texas the day after she got engaged, her happiness lighting up the whole church. I got to see her again last month when we came back to see my in-laws, and Lynn and I spent an evening at her old knitting group in the Madeline Tosh ship in Ft Worth where she’d been a regular before she’d married and moved a few towns away.

I twirl a small forkful of Lynn’s late mother-in-law’s orange honey that she gifted me with about every other day, savoring it, trying not to run out too fast, thinking of her and how grateful I am for her friendship every time I look at that jar. How glad I am that she and her Beloved found each other in their lives.

Yesterday was their first anniversary.

Today her beloved, one of the very best, slipped away before hospice could even finish setting up at their house.

I’ve wanted to grab the next flight. I can’t afford it. What I did do was go searching in my house, for–something, I didn’t know what, and found a shawl project that I’d long ago stalled out on: it had been put aside while I’d debated how to finish it and while I had had people needing the love from something hand knit Right Now, and so the shawl had become abandoned altogether and at last pretty much forgotten other than the occasional guilt twinge in its direction.

I didn’t even remember which pattern it was; I was surprised when I pulled it out to see it was Y not Z. Huh. I always did like that yarn.

I sat down with it. I decided, seventeen months after I’d started, at long last what to do: a few rows there, that’s all it had needed all this time, that and a decision, and I cast it off, blocked it, and with that I tied up one loose end in my own life. It is done. And after its submersion in the water, it feels like one of the most beautiful things I have ever knit.

And it’s not at all Lynn’s color, darnit.

Still cured
Monday January 14th 2013, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Life

See, that spot that was supposed to be healed at eighteen months, it’s been bugging me more rather than less as of late and there’s a new one over here.

The dermatologist noted the raised crusty area at the edge of the indentation (I’ve been trying not to touch it nor irritate it, I told her) and apologized that she was going to have to take some of it off so she could see below it.

Hey, you do what you have to do.

Nope–no sign of the skin cancer returning. She was pleased. (She knows my daughter had melanoma at 29.) Everything else checked out healthy as well. She noted that I had new hair growing in at the spot, and it wasn’t till I got home that I realized that oh wait–she was talking about the floofy little mohawk coming back in from when my hair got sucked into the back of the hairdryer while we were defrosting the freezer last summer.

There are way worse ways to lose your hair. And it’s nice to be able to laugh over it.

The thumbprint in my skull is kind of strange and I guess permanent, but after ignoring that lesion for months till Sam’s wake-up call, I got off way lucky and I know it.

Our Cooper’s hawk on camera
Sunday January 13th 2013, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Family,Wildlife

We all saw him this time. Richard grabbed the nearest camera and took the best picture and then handed the Nikon to me, my hand reaching blindly behind me for it–I know how fast Coopernicus can disappear and I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Someone had recently moved a ladder under the eaves near the small birdfeeder in the alcove part of the patio, making a ten-foot-wide space even narrower for a 31″ wingspan to be wheeling around in–I had been wondering if it had been interfering with his hunting and where to move it to. But it was his hunting that had driven a finch into the window and gotten me to look up to see him–and he twirled sideways into wings straight up and down as he whizzed around that tight area, fully aware of the space and of the presence of the glass. And later he did it again! Dazzling.

Barbecue grill to the lawnmower handle, repeating Friday’s pattern. (Note to my childhood friend Karen: that’s your birds suncatcher in the upper edge.) After awhile, Richard and Michelle went back to whatever they were doing wherever, but I was not about to miss out.

Again, the hawk and I spent a long time together watching each other. For about half an hour. Then he lifted off lightly to the neighbor’s post just over the fence, where, his dark gray back to me, he fluffed out his chest feathers against the cold, the late sun illuminating their edges into a brilliantly-lit white-ish halo poofing out at his sides. He watched a flock of finches start to play in the tree in front of him–then one suddenly went zing! in a straight shot to the right.  Hawk! Run! Then another, then the rest of them caught on to him as he watched the show in no particular hurry.

He was very much out in the open. No stealth. This was his home, the neighbor’s yard and mine, and he was proclaiming it to the world.

I checked outside briefly to see if a bird had indeed gone down at impact from that window strike, but no; he noted my doing so and so about two minutes later was when he came back and did that second fly-by that again missed the ladder, leaning into an up-and-down wingtip just so.

He went to the top of the table. He walked through the amaryllis pots. He bowed once, twice to the world beyond my window.

And then, wings wide, he bade me good day, forty-five minutes after I’d first seen him, and was gone.

(With thanks to Kelli, who gave me her old camera when mine died. My Iphone was in my purse somewhere, but Kelli’s Nikon was right in reach.)

Why knitters need yarn stashes
Sunday January 13th 2013, 12:29 am
Filed under: Knitting a Gift

I dove into the stash and then the knitting last night, not knowing that Betsy had sent one last message: of the group of colors we had talked about, could the hat start with the black?

Blue it was, but black it would be. I set the first aside and started over, but this time, simplify, simplify, simplify and I went for stripes rather than a pattern that would have had me picking up endless stitches. Weaving in two dozen sets of ends is easier, right?

All Betsy’s fault
Saturday January 12th 2013, 12:03 am
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift,Life

I got a note from an old friend from junior high, who knows I knit: might I be interested in a commission?

Not sure what she was asking and worrying it might be aran sweaters or who knows, I replied, I knit for love, not money; money just takes all the fun out of it. (Trying not to inwardly protest that I just got this perfect yarn from DebbieR that she instantly knew was for the pharmacy clerk I wrote about and sent it to me, and when I opened it I had the same reaction–this is it! So I have that hat to make. And I have someone else whose wife’s scarf is coming along, and the purple for Purlescence. The queue…!) But I said none of that.

Betsy thought on it awhile and got back to me today with: would you knit a hat for love, for me?

I laughed. Of course I would. Any allergies, what colors do you like.

It just so happens that Michelle had dumped a whole bunch of my yarn stash in the family room and I’d been sorting through projects and skeins all day, so it was easy to find what I was looking for. And: the missing size 5 that was driving me nuts and keeping me from getting that guy’s hat started? I’d been short circ-ited. Turned up two rows after I braved through the start of Betsy’s on ragged old bamboos, gold-plated Addis no less, boom, there you go. I’ll do hers and then his. I found them!

What she had no idea of, and neither did I… As I sat down and got started, her yarn next to me started plotting, rubbing its woolly little paws together in glee. I had had this half-baked idea for some time, and a hat is a great way to test a pattern on a small scale, and I’d needed a woman’s hat to do that with, and wouldn’t it be cool if Betsy’s request got me to finally work that idea out?

And I’m off. And if I push I can still finish all of those projects by the end of next week. Betsy, hon–I owe you, bigtime. Thank you!

Nature’s calls
Friday January 11th 2013, 12:05 am
Filed under: Life,Wildlife

Things started off way wrong, with the best of intentions. I had good reasons why I went over to someone’s place to drop something off around 1:30–and then her apartment complex turned out to be a maze, with 1, 2, downstairs, 3 upstairs, 20, 21, 22, down, up–wait, 7 here? Huh? And with wreaths covering the numbers on the doors, so that you had to brave a sense of trespassing to find out where you were. I wasn’t good at that.

I finally found 25, keenly aware of my outdoorsy California setting (even the stairs) and that sun. Got back to my car–and the fob wouldn’t work. Couldn’t get in. Finally fumbled the key out of the darn thing and got in the Prius.

My face felt sunburned. With the lupus, it doesn’t take long. If I can just get through the next three days without getting sick from this, let’s hope….

I was not a happy camper as I kicked myself repeatedly for not simply ditching the errand altogether.

Got home. Walked in the room to see an email from the person I’d run the errand to, how delighted she was. It helped, definitely. Walked out of the room. Walked back in the room.

And there, after not seeing it for so long, was the Cooper’s hawk on the fence. Big and bold and beautiful.

It saw me and fluttered a few feet away to a perch on the neighbor’s side, slightly uphill, where it kept facing me as it finished its meal.

But when he was done, he flew back to the fence.

Then the barbecue grill (nope, no scrub jays under the trowel.) He called out.

Then the handle on the lawnmower.

Then the nearer part of that handle, the closest perch he could find.

We were now six feet apart from each other, just the window breaking up the space between us. Again, he opened his beak and had something definite to say about this.

He fluffed out his feathers, relaxed. One side of his orange-and-white chest had a feather a bit short, growing in.  His wings and back were blue-gray, his feet yellow, his eyes red, his tail folded up like a fan highlighting the stripings at the edges, the tip highlighted in white.

We saw eye to eye, minute after minute. Every detail, every marking, all in close up. Someone told me once that female sharp-shinned hawks are nearly as big as male Cooper’s hawks and look very similar; I can tell you at last that there is no question mine is totally Cooper’s.

He bobbed his head now and looked around at the patio floor between us. At long last, he hopped down and walked around the wooden box, then spread those big wings and broad tail and flew to somewhere in the trees where the dense leaves are still green, always, here. Disappeared in a wingbeat.

It had been ten full minutes of one-on-one. The wild with the wide-eyed.

It took an hour for the finches to come back, and shortly after they did, there suddenly was a Cooper’s again on the very same spot on the fence, not on the hunt but surveying its territory as the birdfeeder flock flinched and fled.

Only, and I don’t think it was just the later light. This one seemed darker across the back and larger,  which would mean that we seem to have a female paired up with our male again. Perhaps she was responding to his calls and perches. I could be wrong, but it seems we will again have a fledgling hawk or two investigating the amaryllis pots this spring. I hope. I cannot wait.

Three trees in the breeze
Thursday January 10th 2013, 12:19 am
Filed under: My Garden,Wildlife

Previously, the trowel was for playing games with the scrub jays: try to find this stale almond. You watched me walk over to the tool on top of the barbecue grill, go see what I was up to. Kinda fun to play peekaboo with them and to watch those long crow-like bills poking around under there, their  heads bent down to their toes. They’re on to me.

Yesterday I put out suet for the little birds but not the jays’ expected nuts at first, trying to avoid those few steps into the sun because it was a little later in the morning than I liked and I knew there would be more sun time in the afternoon.

Big and blue and it flew in close, staring me down from the other side of the window and then swooping out in a slalom over the grill. Playtime is serious stuff. I got the hint. Next time I looked up, the trowel was moved halfway across the top, a first. Calvinball, bird style.

This afternoon, with the sky a late shade of gray, I picked up that trowel and walked halfway across the yard and put it in front of one of the holes I’d spaded out. August Pride: that went furthest to the left (I’m recording it here, I’ll never remember later) where it will eventually block out the view of the weather vane the neighbor put on top of the fence years ago, an aged Snoopy with his arms twirling stiffly in the wind. Just peachy–or it will be.  I scooped out the hole a little more thataway with the trowel, trying to use my arms but not my back.

Then the middle one, on the other side of the bay laurel tree: the Babcock. The variety my friend Constance grew up with and raved over and that I have childhood memories of my Dad saying was a great one among the white types. Again, in a great spot. I was very pleased.

Then going further down the raised bed and to the right of the lemon tree, the Tropic Snow.  The one that’s supposed to be so ornamental as well as (like the others) among the best in taste tests, but there was just no room to put it where it would be the first thing to see looking up from my window by the computer, at the other end of the bed. It had to go at this end. I’m not so pleased with the spot also because we have some major trimming of a weed tree to do to get optimal sun there, which hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t till spring at the earliest. Putting the peach there now might–might–even make it a little longer of a job for the trimmers to do.

Although. The worst thing that could happen is that they drop a limb and snap the whole sapling off, in which case I’d be back to square one and no time lost than if I hadn’t tried at all; so much better to have a head start and take my chances.

I think it’ll do.

It wasn’t quite five o’clock and, overcast or no, I should really have gone inside at that point. But I didn’t quite right away. I walked up and down, taking it in, admiring the growth and the health of these baby trees bursting with inner life, still green at their new-this-year shoots. They are going to thrive, they are going to bless my family, they are going to give us the best peaches ever, they are going to survive my grandchildren climbing them someday and waving at the neighbors with the you’re-so-vane Snoopy.

To life!

Tuesday January 08th 2013, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Lupus,My Garden

Did you see the multi-color igloo made from water-refilled milk bottles left out to freeze in the cold? Great fun. All that food coloring is going to make for some great Easter grass in the spring. Ironic that the guy’s name is Gray.

Meantime, a box arrived today with its label on upside down. The UPS guy carefully set it this end up, leaning against the window, up-rooted inside, rang the doorbell and was nearly to his truck when I got to the door and saw what it was. “THANK you!”

He turned, surprised, and waved. (New guy on the route.)

I waited and waited for the sun to get lower so I could go out there. I pushed it a little more than I should have, but I so wanted to go see if I could do this. By myself.

Three holes got dug in the good soil of the raised bed left behind by the long-ago previous owners, better gardeners than I. With apologies to the neighbors who were hoping to have branches on their sides of the fence–these were better spots. I didn’t put the peach trees in quite yet because I wanted to give Richard a chance to go over placement if he wanted.

It wasn’t till later that I moved just slightly so and my back suddenly gave me what-for for all that spading. Oh, now you’re complaining?

And I don’t care. I iced it. I get to grow my own peaches forever after, Tropic Snow for June, Babcock for July, August Pride to finish off the summer with. How cool is that?! What on, well, earth did I wait so many years for?

He tried
Tuesday January 08th 2013, 12:18 am
Filed under: Life

Meantime, on our side of the continent…

New year, new policy.

The young man at the counter at the pharmacy this afternoon was staggered. Spluttering. “Do you want to see if the doctor can prescribe something else?!”

No, this is what there is that works and I guess this is just what it costs.


Yeah, I sure didn’t like it either, but what can you do? “We’ll pay it off.” (As I wondered how fast.)  He repeated again the number of thousands and hundreds in disbelief, then laughed wryly/bitterly as he added, “And thirteen dollars. And seventy-two cents.”

He shook his head a moment. “But what about the next month?!” I could see the wheels spinning, the medical bankruptcy right before his inner eyes.

“Well, by then it should be okay,” I tried to reassure him. We went back and forth, with him trying to figure out some way not to have to charge us what he had to charge us.

And then I told him the retail price on my ileostomy supplies is well over $900 a month (for those bits of plastic and sterilized pectin for an utterly captive consumer group, I didn’t say) and we have absolutely no choice on that, either. Except that, having hit our large deductible for the year right there today, our insurance should help out at least some from here on out.

He was trying hard to champion my cause from a position of zero power.

I think someone deserves a handknit hat, don’t you? Let’s see, color, color, hmm, he likes things bright and cheerful. He’s a good one.

(p.s. And as I walked in the door at home, the phone rang. It was the pharmacist, apologizing. She’d forgotten to fill the other prescription.)

Read. The. (insert unprintable mother-bear growl) LABELS.
Sunday January 06th 2013, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

Sam’s roommate surprised her with the scarf she’d made while waiting with her at the hospital. She’s just the best.

Sam ended up in the ICU last night.

And Sam was at long last discharged from the hospital tonight after she was able to keep the beginnings of food down and her platelets had gone slightly up–with a long way to go, but it’s a start.

Y’know, it works a whole lot better when the hospital isn’t serving you broth with gluten in it and then wondering why the patient who can’t eat wheat is suddenly a lot worse.

A huge thank you to everybody for your much-needed prayers and good thoughts her way. (Long, long exhale.) Phew.

They saved the day
Saturday January 05th 2013, 11:43 pm
Filed under: Family,Friends,Life

Note DebbieR’s comment two days ago about the 80-mile drive to Purlescence.

She came with her mom, a kind and gentle soul, and now I know where Debbie gets it from: the kind of people where you walk into their presence and you know you’re among friends. The kind of person who knits fingerless gloves for someone else’s daughter they’ve never met just because they really, really came in handy for Sam, who loves them and all that they convey.

We swapped stories and laughed all afternoon. There was a middle-aged man I didn’t recognize who came in and was quietly knitting away behind their backs, not looking our way, not butting in, but breaking out into a big grin at all the punchlines.  (It’s a big room like that.) I loved it. I did apologize to Nathania at one point for monopolizing the soundwaves and she grinned and waved me away, You’re fine.

Pamela was there, and bless her, came over at one point and told me, You’re not drinking enough.  She grabbed the cute little 7 oz thermos that Michelle had given me as a souvenir from Japan and went and refilled it, taking good care of me when I wasn’t bothering to myself: without a colon I have to drink 8 oz every two hours. Debbie and her mom approved. Go Pamela.

Near the end, Debbie had a thought and asked, And by the way, how are you?

I hesitated but confessed: I had woken up this morning with BAM, instant Crohn’s flare, totally unexpected and out of the blue. It did get a little better as the day went on–and then all this laughing and loving and I’d completely forgotten about it. It’s not gone, I added, but it’s a whole lot better than it was.

Crossing my fingers.

To be more specific: this morning’s angry belly had had me thinking, if I barf I’m in the ER. Do. Not. Barf. I hesitated, but there was just no way I was going to miss out on this afternoon, and certainly not after they’d driven all this way for it.

And then afterwards I found myself feeling like, and look at me now! This works! (If only it were always so easy.)

I ran a quick grocery run, got home, hadn’t quite finished putting things away when the phone rang.

It was our daughter Sam. She *did* barf, and she *did* end up in the ER. Turns out someone had offered her a quinoa salad at a New Year’s Eve party, not realizing that couscous mixed in there means wheat–and Sam’s a celiac. Throw in a lupus flare and an ITP platelet crash and her roommate ended up picking her up and putting her in a wheelchair and getting her to the ER faster, she told us, than the paramedics could have done it.

The roommate brought her knitting and started and finished an entire scarf in the 24 hours it took the doctors to decide to admit my daughter.

Taking deep breaths and saying lots of prayers. And wishing I could send DebbieR and her mom to make Sam laugh like they did me, while grateful to Sam’s roommate who sounds like she’s pretty good at that herself.

Friday January 04th 2013, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Knit

Y’know, I mused to myself, if I hadn’t been stuck in an airport away from my other needles I most likely never would have started this with these–but I’m glad I did.

And then I made myself keep going, determined not to abandon the project again, even though I found the tightness with those smallish points a bit hard on my hands–it was a day when I just needed to finish something that would stay done. Even if I didn’t know what the next row was supposed to be as I went. Which is why it was just four more rows, four times now as I addlibbed.

I cast off at last, rinsed, and spread it out, amused: it is not the least bit what it was going to be when I started out, other than, well, red. And lace. But I really really like it. Can’t give it away till I make another one and write the process down this time–so that I can do it again and again after that, proofing and testing that writing. It’s a slow process. But it’s a good feeling to think, yes. This one will do.

Wall flower
Friday January 04th 2013, 12:16 am
Filed under: Food,Friends,LYS,Recipes

Milk Pail‘s fresh almond paste has a higher almond and lower sugar content than the stuff in tubes elsewhere; amount will be random, but aim for the .5 to .7 lb range slab. Cut it up a bit and Cuisinart it with 2/3, or, if you like it sweeter, 3/4 c sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp almond extract, long and hard, then add in 1/4 c flour (of the type of your choice, I imagine, though with Sam gone home I just used plain old plain old) mixed with a tsp of baking powder. 8″ springform pan 35 min at 350. A near-instant recipe.

Michelle wheedled and threw Bambi eyes at me when I got home from Purlescence tonight and then pounced the moment it was cool enough to unlock the pan. No added fats, unlike the original Fanny Farmer version. Eggs and almonds and no allergic reactions, hey, guys, save some for breakfast.

And while I was at knit night…

Nathania got everybody’s attention: Pamela had had an idea and they’d thought it was a great one. Since the shop had moved into its bigger space (in the same shopping center), they’d had this big white bare wall. Purlescence has always tried to offer a sense of community to all who love to work with yarn as they do; Pamela’s idea was that we could all pitch in and create a community wall of–knitting, weaving, crocheting, tatting, you name it. Square, round, funky, big, little, Nathania asked, whatever appealed to you: like some of the get-well afghans out there (boy did I feel proud and happy and blessed by so many friends and lucky all over again as she said that) and then they would move the furniture out of the way of our knitting-group area and sit and piece together whatever comes in the door with this idea. Put a piece of yourself up on display with everybody else’s. Let’s make ourselves a giant wallhanging, a permanent display of who we are in our community.

My one request, she continued, is that it be purple. Your purple, or your purple (gesturing to one person, then another) or yours, or mine, whatever appeals to you and whatever you define as purple.

And it needs to be done by Stitches.

There are several celiacs in that knitting group. Maybe I could make some almond cakes with Bob’s Red Mill safely non-wheat flour to help celebrate when this big project is done. Pass the purple blackberry/raspberry sauce and dig in!

Homemade sweet chestnut puree
Wednesday January 02nd 2013, 11:48 pm
Filed under: Food,Recipes

Michelle took John to the airport this morning, and with a touch of bittersweet we are three again.

But I’m still playing in the kitchen. I just finished this a few minutes ago.

I had a 20 oz bag of roasted, peeled chestnuts from Costco and a recipe (oh. wait. that’s not the link. here, try this) calling for 12 oz. So I upped the sugar by a third, figuring a bit less proportionately is good–and it certainly came out sweet enough.

So here’s what I did. I boiled three cups of water, a cup and a half of sugar, and all 20 oz of chestnuts for 35 minutes, figuring I might as well go for the longest time since I had more of the ingredients, turning the heat down a bit after the start but still boiling.  Cooled it some, added a tsp of vanilla, then dumped it all straight in the Cuisinart and whirled a long time. It was almost too thick for it, and I let the machine rest several times to keep it from overheating.

Somehow the taste was as if there were a bit of dates in there. Curious. It was pretty good, but then I spread some of it across some very thin, crisp ginger cookies Trader Joe’s sells, a combination that would have ended our supply of those pretty quickly–it was *very* good. Totally sells the chestnuts. Richard’s face lit up, too.

But what suddenly stopped me from eating a third was my tongue suddenly feeling like it was burning in spots. More so than that I-am-just-imagining-this of yesterday with the cream puffs. I Googled for nut allergy reactions. I so was not expecting this.

I’m still not sure, and if I am reacting then it’s certainly not on the level that that allergy site was talking about, but neither am I going to mess with this before calling my doctor. I had a reaction to dried rambutan (also from TJ’s) that had my mouth suddenly on fire and my throat closing nearly shut a few years ago while I gasped for breath–scary stuff.  A cousin of lychees, and I like lychees, but I’ll never touch them again.

I am quietly putting that spread away in the fridge as soon as I finish typing this. Hmm.

Maple creamed my dinner
Wednesday January 02nd 2013, 12:11 am
Filed under: Family,Food,Friends

Wholly (non-) cow was this good!

Michelle’s friend Jenny came over: they have an annual tradition of baking something scrumptious and unusual together in our kitchen over the holidays. Everybody looks forward to it.

Michelle loves making cream puffs but had had a hard time coming up with a dairy-free version that didn’t make us all wish she could eat cream and butter like the rest of us.

And so. I don’t know what they did differently re the puffs themselves, but they were crisp and perfect and what they had always aspired to be. But the filling! Chestnut puree made into a thick–they called it pudding, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It did not soggyify the puffs even after a few hours together in the fridge.

“Mom! I thought you didn’t like chestnuts!”

I didn’t even remember that nor know if it had been true– “It’s been so long since I’ve had any,” I answered. But THIS! Wow!

I’d had a little bottle of maple butter long hoarded away, ie, simply, maple syrup cooked further down, and they’d mixed that up to top the things off with. I’m not normally a big icing fan–who needs random straight sugar covering up good-tasting food?–but paired with that chestnut, this was a revelation. I’d never had anything like it.

“Did you use a–is there a written-down rendition of what you guys did?” I asked her. “I want those again!”

“Well, sort of,” she said; Jenny was going to get back to her with it.

I’m waiting….

Meantime, Costco had shelled, peeled, roasted, all-the-work-done chestnuts for $4-something a 20 oz bag and we have a bag. The next stage in the experimentation will be with making our own sweetened puree rather than the tube that Jenny had brought over, and I am running back to that store tomorrow before it’s all gone post-holidays.

And I’m clearly going to be ordering more of that maple butter. (Actually, after typing that, just did, a pound and a half, since the extra half pound wasn’t going to cost any extra shipping charges.)

Remember that weight that doctor wanted me to gain? Well now.