May her wisdom live on through us all
Friday February 09th 2024, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

People who grew up here. People whom I hadn’t seen in twenty, even thirty years and probably won’t ever again. A guy I dated briefly in college. (“Wally.” He looked behind him and didn’t see anyone he recognized. I pulled my face mask down, said his full name this time, and he exclaimed, Alison!”) My kids’ old middle school art teacher, long retired. My daughter-in-law’s dad and uncle, who grew up here, and her brother–we surprised each other.

Jim flew in, too, and played the organ. Ruth Ann flew in and played her violin: friends of Jean in her later decades. The chapel’s folding doors at the back were opened to make room for the overflow of people celebrating 98 years so lovingly spent.

The friend doing chemo for Stage 4 whom I thought didn’t come out in public anymore sat a few seats down from me: this, she had to be there for. She had grown up here and never left and people she knew came and what a reunion it was.

I mentioned to Wally that her brother had married someone I grew up with in Maryland. He liked that.

And of course, wait for it, there it was: the toddler great-grandchild who started to pitch a fit at the front and his mom reluctantly started hauling him out of there. A vivid orange octopus with eight i-cord-knitted tentacles and suddenly they were seated next to me near the back and happy and the mom got to hear the rest after all.

The final speaker was one of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as he told us more about his beloved mother.

The room was full of people who’d known him as a boy and who get how he’d become someone asked to share the love from Christ with the whole world: it was his mom. Pearl Harbor survivor, third grade teacher, surrogate loving mother-figure to all.

And his dad, too, gone these many years now. Much was felt and said of his being able to embrace his sweet Jean again at long last.

Super blooms
Thursday February 08th 2024, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Garden,Life

I bought these bulbs in early Fall of 2000. I will always know when. The bag was a mixture of types and I should have realized they wouldn’t all bloom at the same time for the look I was hoping for, but over time I’ve been just as glad. All these years of mostly drought and a few of heavy winter rains later, they just keep coming up, staggered by both time and its inadvertent spacing rather than a tidy row all at once.

And every year they remind me.

I had so been looking forward to having them blooming along the walkway.

Then my car got rear-ended and slammed into a third car and the world spun around and it wouldn’t stop. Bright and shiny things were RIGHTTHERE at my nose and dull things were far away and my eyes tried to argue but my brain would collapse my left side.

That speeder had taken a lot away from me but he was not going to take away my daffodils. I got down on my knees and with my left hand held onto the ground (held it up, it felt like) that wanted to smack me in the face and with the right hand I dug down and planted. It was frustrating, it was hard, it took a long time, and my brain didn’t know whether to throw up or just cry.

But then there was the satisfaction that I had done it. I had planned it, I had made it happen, I had done the work no matter how hard it was to do and I was going to get to see flowers every spring. Tulip bulbs, I had learned, were total squirrel catnip but daffodils they won’t go near.

My eyes gradually learned how to overrule my brain. Balance is still tactile and visual and a cane is my extra sensory perception mode, my left side still sometimes goes wonky–bump me from behind where I can’t see you coming and we’ll have our own sudden game of Calvinball.

There was the extreme drought year where I got leaves but only a single blossom at the end of the walkway–and it disappeared while we were at church. The then-toddler’s mom laughed with me years later when I told her where he’d absconded with it from.

These were knocked down by Sunday’s huge storm. They picked themselves right back up–not bolt upright but neither are the flowers smacked face down in the mud any more, either. They want to be seen.

While the next patch is getting ready to open up. There will be another bunch after that, and another after that.

They are a forever reminder of the passing of time and how good life has been. Even that was worth it. It has to be, it’s not like I had a choice so it is, but, it actually is.

It helped me learn which way up is.

A penny for your frosts
Tuesday February 06th 2024, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Food,Life

I’ve seen this idea. I’ve thought hey, that would actually be a good idea. And then I’ve forgotten all about it.

Woke up this morning going, maaaan. The Crohn’s? A blockage after eating that bit of sweet potato? (Ding ding ding we probably have a winner. It’s an ostomy thing.) Was it something that should have been thrown out after the power was out for five hours Sunday? But we never opened the freezer, and then last night it was why save the good stuff when Wednesday’s another storm, right?

He said he seemed normal enough.

So it was just me, then, and I hadn’t eaten anything he hadn’t. I spent the day trying not to get dehydrated; by dinner time I chanced a little solid food. It was encouraging, and I should be fine by morning.

So. The good idea?

Take a paper cup. Fill it most of the way with water. Put it in the freezer. Put a small coin on top of the now-ice and add just a few more drops so it stays in place after the cup is put back in the freezer. (Edit: just put it there and the penny’s lower surface immediately freezes in place.)

If you have a power failure, check afterwards to see whether the penny dropped.

Better to toss the chicken than the cookies, but that way you’ll know if you actually need to.


Sunday February 04th 2024, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

Our average annual rainfall is 12-15″. We got 3″ in two days, and I know the southern part of the state has had it much much worse.

That was the first power failure in memory where it was the oven that I didn’t open for fear of letting the temp escape. The blueberry muffins came out okay enough.

There had been a flash, and then part of the house had power, three rooms did not, and in several rooms, you’d flip the switch, think, well not that one, and then two seconds to, in one case, five minutes later, the light decided to turn on after all.

Except only halfway.

The hallway bathroom looked like it was auditioning for Halloween.

The oven was out.

The microwave could still helpfully offer a timer?

The computers were out.

The fridge was out.

The big freezer in the garage was out, but its temperature alarm was not.

Basically, anything that took a lot of power was cut off, and the house was starting to get cold.

The printer, unasked for, suddenly woke up every ten minutes on the nose and made sounds like it was printing. Bizarre.

And yet, most of the lights were in fact still on. You just couldn’t cook nor access any food that wasn’t shelf-stable–a definite heads-up that we need to buy soup or something and in sizes that won’t have leftovers. Yay for only slightly soggy blueberry muffins.

We looked at the breakers. He flipped some. Then I did, one at a time. The notations for what each goes to was written in pencil 35 years ago by the electrician and there was no way, so it meant turning one off, running inside, seeing what effect if any that had on anything in any room, flipping it back on in the rain and trying the next one as the camphor tree helpfully threw leafy bouquets at us. We were wondering if our wiring had been fried in that flash.

It didn’t seem like a power failure and yet it was acting enough like one that I finally said I would call the city.

City Utilities, said my phone, had a number to call to make a voltage report.

So this was actually a thing?

‘Known problem. 8:30,’ the recording promised.

At 8:37 the lights in the room where I was knitting an afghan row suddenly went out. I didn’t get up to get the flashlight across the room because they were still on in the living room and down the hall when suddenly oops, no they weren’t.

He tells me that means that of the two 110 volt lines going into the house, they cut one and then the other to work on them but for the sake of electronics they should have done both at the same time.

Me, I’m just glad for people who are willing to be out working in that storm with such hazardous wires flailing around them in the winds. To not have to replace a thousand dollars worth of food in the freezer for the second time in a few months.

The heat kicked on as I sat down to write this right after I had my computer back and man, it feels good.

The light in the front entryway refused to be resuscitated. That is a problem I can handle.

Update: the official rain monitor went down with the power failure at 3:46 pm and it has not yet been rebooted, so that three inch tally means up till that point.

Saturday February 03rd 2024, 10:45 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

I kept thinking of her all day that day, and wondered.

Her husband went blind from diabetes. He was on dialysis for years.

My kids were young and my lupus was new.

After reading Norman Cousin’s book, “Anatomy of an Illness,” I decided the author was right, I needed a new creative outlet. The smocked dresses I’d made my little girls–the arthritis meant I couldn’t do those very fine needles anymore.

But then what?

I was at the library with the kids when Kaffe Fassett’s first book about fell off the shelf into my hands. Glorious Knits. Sweaters and coats in dozens of colors (which I’m convinced were the starting point of the painted-yarns industry: all the color work but not the strands to untangle nor the ends to work in.) I hadn’t knit since college and couldn’t do anything like that in a million years but I was sure going to ogle those pictures. Especially the ones at a Dutch amaryllis farm.

Could I knit? With physical therapy help for my hands and big enough needles, yes.

I made a dozen Kaffe Fassett designs over the next few years.

But when I wanted something simpler or portable, having no idea how to do lace, I was making triangle scarves in plain stockinette. They worked up quickly and they were brainless. You didn’t have to haul fifty skeins everywhere. They always fit.

I splurged and bought a little bit of angora at the late great Straw Into Gold in Berkeley.

At church, Jean admired the scarf it quickly turned into.

It took her a long while, but eventually she made me a request.

It was not for a showy Kaffe Fassett, beautiful though those were.

Walter, she told me, couldn’t see–but he could still feel. Would I be willing to knit her a scarf like that? In angora? For him, for her wearing of it, for the softness to comfort him?

How could I not?

Jean, a Pearl Harbor survivor, had family gathered around celebrating her 98th birthday on Wednesday, a few days early. But it was time to be together now.

She quietly slipped away afterward to the waiting love of her life whom she had missed for so very very long.

They are together again. Their joy is so strong even I can feel it.

Wild’s ride
Thursday February 01st 2024, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Life

News media: Twelve year old Australian girl cleaning her guinea pig’s cage outside on a summer day suddenly finds her beloved pet being eaten by a snake, screams, grabs the snake’s tail end, and as caught on their security camera swings it around and around and around and around hard at full speed till it lets her guinea pig go (it was fine) as her dad and dogs come running out there.

I’m just picturing the snake’s reaction: Well, that meal took a turn!

Purple cowl a fragilistic expedite all options
Monday January 29th 2024, 10:25 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life,Lupus

I got hours of portable knitting in, but it was nonstop with no way to so much as walk out of the room for a break, with a fine, slippery cashmere/silk on very slick needles that the stitches kept wanting to leap off of. My hands needed to stop after that.

Not that I’m complaining. It’s good to see that 2019 Stitches West skein finally starting to live up to its endless sweet-talking promises.

Today was, at long last, the day for the retina surgeon.

He was thorough, he took his time, he asked for questions, he gave plenty of info so that I could begin to figure out what to even ask, he came highly recommended by other eye doctors, and I came away feeling like they were right–I’m in great hands here.

Did the lupus have anything to do with this?

Maaaaaaybeeee? he answered. We really don’t know enough yet. But, (scrolling through past meds) are you still on Humira? That’s a great anti-inflammatory, it could help with this.

No, that stopped working. ’09, colon’s gone, I’m off it.

Had I ever had iritis?

Yes, probably 30 years now, and narrowed optic nerves (we both knew that means autoimmunity at the eyes) but they had no baseline at the time.

Did I need surgery?

Yes. He could set it up right now. It won’t be like cataracts, where you go in with impaired vision and walk out marveling, I can see! It will be a gradual improvement over time, but improve it will.

But mine was not an emergency. Yet. He wanted to know how I was doing with it.

Well, I said, I have this small pill I have to split every day; it has a cut line down the center. I can see it fine with my left eye; I am totally blind to it with my right, with the pill itself fuzzed out. Reading has gotten hard (although I still do a lot of it) and I find myself holding things to the left side, which was always my bad eye. But the brain compensates and I wouldn’t even have known there was a loss of the center of vision if I didn’t shut the left, just that fine/small things seem difficult. Lines of text wobble in height and intensity.

I didn’t say, And it’s been a strong motivation to knit everything! Right now! Don’t wait!

He compared November’s screening at the optometrist’s to today’s. He could schedule it or he could give it a wait-and-see for two or three months to see how it goes.

I asked him, If it were your eye what would you do?

He considered that a moment. The latter.

Reassurance and a plan felt great. April, then, for a re-check and a decision then, and most likely we’ll schedule it then.

The receptionist, trying to warn me about the time involved with such screenings, told me, Set aside three to four hours for it.

Yeah. (I almost held up my project.) I know.

I’ll bring an easier wool and needles for flying a bit blind with those eye drops.

Put a nickel in
Thursday January 25th 2024, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Life

Melanie’s passing ran front page of the Washington Post and the New York Times both. As it should. I never knew her last name before, nor that her parents were Ukrainian and Italian.

I told my husband I was going to knit–and I’d wound up the now-dry hank and another one besides and was ready for it–but it was the purple cowl project I picked up, the other being too many strands to untangle if you move it around much. I sat back down at the computer.

That voice.

That intensity, that sincerity. Singing with Johnny Cash, talking to Johnny Carson. Clips of concert after concert.

What surprised me was how instantly the earlier ones took me back to more than just the music of that era: that beautiful velvety boho dress. Just one dress, in sleeves of orange and brown, silky, shimmery and substantial in the skirt, again and again, venue after venue. Clothes were expensive back then and all you have to do is look at closets in older houses to remember that people didn’t own a lot of them. If you wanted something for best you saved up for it first–and it would last.

She did tell Johnny Carson that she’d been told she had to get a new dress, a blue dress. She’d been told not to sing and not to bring her guitar while she was being interviewed.

Carson joked that they must have had the same publicist–and then he invited her to play that guitar.

She was wearing her favorite dress. It was not blue. She wore what she liked.

And then her voice sang her love to the world.

Such a relief to get started
Tuesday January 23rd 2024, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Life

I looked wistfully over at my knitting project and then called the good folks at It wasn’t just my hearing that made that phone call go on for ~70 minutes, but it was very productive. Richard had a break in his day and was able to talk to her directly with his own questions.

The woman explained that their services are paid by insurers across the country, so no fee to us (and they know they are answerable to them) and made a point of saying if there is every any problem with any of it, to call her. During enrollment? After? A problem with the company? Call her. She’s on it.

Then she emailed more info and asked for more questions.

So, hmm, do I want the extra that pays $5k towards hearing aids after two years when mine cost $8k and last longer than that? Etc.

She told me the brochure PDF from that company says $1k max on aids but they’ve upped it and haven’t changed the description yet, but five it is. Just so I know.

I like this lady!

Medicare for all would be even better
Monday January 22nd 2024, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

I was talking to a friend on Sunday. She was wearing a mask due to her husband’s health, which meant my hearing had to depend on my ears only but we did our best.

But one of the things she said was that, like us, her husband hadn’t signed up for Medicare because he had coverage through his work.

He was hospitalized. He had turned 65. His insurance refused to cover the hospital part of the bill on the grounds that Medicare should be covering it.

But nobody tells you that! I wanted to protest.

She also said that if there is a gap in your healthcare coverage and then you sign up for Medicare, you pay a fine–and she emphasized this–every single month for the rest of your life for that.

Medicare was insisting they had had a gap of two weeks.

They had not. But they had to prove it, and she spent hours each time waiting in line at the Social Security office and then the IRS office and then back to the SS one. She had to show them physical proof.

You know those medical cards you get every year from your insurance company? she asked me. SAVE THOSE. They are your proof that you had continuous coverage. Get an envelope, keep them in there, put it in a safe place, but never throw those away and never lose them.

After she got home she emailed me this link. Because nobody knows what they’re doing when they suddenly have to decide on what to choose among the bajillion Medicare plans out there while insurance agencies cold-call and spam you mercilessly.

I started trying last year (not too persistently, because it was so discouraging and because I thought the work coverage was fine) to find out what the difference is between Medicare Advantage and Medigap plans and why one would want one or the other and what the difference in costs would be. That site has the point of the whole thing right there front and center: one makes you use a doctor from their plan, while the other lets you go to any Medicare entity whatsoever. That’s Original Medicare. You then pay a Medigap policy not to have to deal with the 20% co-pay bills nor (assuming you choose a good plan) the paperwork.

There are far more details than that but I’m just getting started.

Basically, for the first time in all these months I feel like I have a good source of information. Medicare’s own site was definitely less helpful as far as I was concerned.

So I thought I’d pass the good word on for those coming up on this soon.

The local bi-annual conference
Saturday January 20th 2024, 10:50 pm
Filed under: Life

A meeting tonight at the church, and someone was quoting our old friend Rob who moved away a year ago:

‘We are all standing in the river of the love of God. Let’s make it a work party with shovels and pickaxes and clear out those channels for the water to reach others.’

It’s love that makes the difference. It’s the love that is what it’s all about.

And we know that, we all know that, but the discussion that followed where people told of people who’d made a difference to them made such a difference.

It’s all set now
Wednesday January 17th 2024, 9:42 pm
Filed under: Family,Food,Life

Tart cherries out of the freezer, pie into the oven, dinner on the table, good times.

We were waiting for it to finish baking. Then he told me a story that, if he told me forty years ago well it’s new all over again to me now because I sure didn’t remember it.

I had made some reference to the Hostess Fruit Pies of our youth: they sold them in the vending machines in the dorms but I couldn’t afford them on my budget, and they were always, always sold out anyway. I managed to snag one twice my entire freshman year–but that’s okay, since they didn’t have more than about a single actual cherry apiece in them. (My mother was a master of pie baking and those were always such a disappointment.)

He looked at me funny. They had cherries!

Was he sure?

He was.

Did he have a lot more of them than I had to make that observation by?

So that’s when he told me.

He was a teaching assistant in the computer science lab and people were constantly coming to him for help. He told me, The problem is people think computers are, are, magic! It’s ‘the computer’s not working,’ not, I told it something wrong.

GIGO! I said. I remembered that phrase! Been a long time since I’d heard it, though: Garbage In Garbage Out re computer commands.

So he would ask them, Tell me what it’s not doing for you. Then when they explained, without even going and looking he’d tell them, I bet you a cherry pie that the problem is in the…

He told me, They’d have like a typo in their code that they were sure they didn’t have; it’s easy to do, you just have to find it. Or something like that. Once they had to explain what the problem was he knew they could find it, they just needed to know they *could* find it. His job was to help them learn that, not do it for them.

And he gave them a little extra incentive to want to. Plus he got a hand pie out of it.

I could just picture some poor sod hitting every vending machine on campus looking for a danged cherry Hostess.

He told me, I never–not once–lost that bet.

Then he mentioned an old friend of ours at the next grad school who said to him one day, Every time you come in here and we talk I always, always find the bug. You never tell me what it is. You never go looking for it. But after you leave I always find it. How do you do that?!

The answer was, (You find the confidence and then) You think it through. That’s how.

And with that, we decided not to wait till our Definitely Not Hostess tart cherry pie had set, much less cooled down. Straight out of the oven. A little whipped cream for a little cooling and we dove in while it was still, frankly, a bit soupy.

We figured out we wanted it right now enough not to let that bug us.

That’s snow blizzness
Monday January 15th 2024, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

The new intarsia afghan: I promised myself a minimum of two rows a day no matter what else might happen. And so a boulder in the river is almost done and a tree trunk has started growing on the bank, but it’s all just barely begun.

Meantime, last winter’s atmospheric river pattern is returning. I will try not to complain about the cold because I know what the real thing is and how many people would rather have to drive in ours than shovel theirs. Brrr. Stay safe out there, you guys.

Which brings us (with thanks to Margo Lynn) to the results of some snowplow naming contests; my favorite is CTRL SALT DELETE, but Cleerance ClearRoad Survival’s pretty good, too. CNN link here. Catch My Drift?

2:34 a.m.
Saturday January 13th 2024, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

Years ago there was an article about a woman who got a McArthur Genius Grant that made it possible for her to continue her research into why some women get so ill in pregnancy that they can’t keep food down. Or certain types of food.

One of the things I remember was her delight that that money meant she could indulge in buying papayas, her favorite–and not even have to worry about the cost! I always wondered if she ever got pregnant after that and if she could eat those while she was. Because you know sometimes life has a twisted sense of humor like that.

So here’s my Genius-wannabe take on another aspect of womens’ health: why does insomnia become so prevalent after menopause?

When our second child was born, my mother-in-law came to town to help out after my own mom had left, and one of the things my MIL did was to get up when the baby cried at night, wait while I nursed him, and then show up in the doorway and tell me to go back to bed while she burped and changed him.

Sometimes I was desperately grateful for the break, sometimes I didn’t actually want (though I would never have said it) to hand him off because it was my alone time with him without a two year old bashing a book in my lap while the babe was in my arms nursing demanding that I read to her (ie, pay attention to ME, Mommy, ME!) but I knew my MIL’s time in which to get to make those offers was short, so of course I let her have some baby time too. Zzzzzz.

I couldn’t believe she would wake up like that for me, night after night the week she was there. That she was willing to wake herself up and be sleep-deprived along with me when she didn’t have to be.

What follows is in no way meant to downplay that sacrifice on her part because of course that was far, far more than rolling over, looking at the clock, and rolling one’s eyes at it.

But here’s my theory: that evolution designed us to help the next generation survive those first few days or weeks or whatever of motherhood and get more rest so that there would BE a generation after that, while increasing the bonding between all the generations at that most tender of times.

Which is why I was telling my stupid body at 2:34 a.m. (and 2:36 a.m. the night before that) that the youngest grandchild is now four bleeping years old. There’s nobody to go help in the night. Knock it off, willya!

Friday January 12th 2024, 10:06 pm
Filed under: Life

The doctor started her day by making mine: the biopsy results were in, and they were negative.

I was getting ready quickly because there was a funeral at 10:00 and I was picking up a friend who lived in the opposite direction, and one is not late for those.

Agnes was 87 and had passed quietly in her sleep.

When we moved here, we were young parents far away from family. Agnes was this tiny woman from Puerto Rico who loved to laugh, who with her sweet accent called me Daughter, so I called her Mom. We would laugh some more when I would say Mom and we would see someone who didn’t know us do a startled double take and try not to stare while trying to figure it out. Good times.

Her son and daughter-in-law had toddlers in the nursery at church just like we did, and I remember their Nathan was always looking out for his little sister. Protecting her. Helping her. Being her big brother was something he took great pride in. They were so adorable together.

The whole family moved to the next city over a few years later.

Nathan, at twelve, was made an honorary fireman by the firefighters there while he was fighting cancer.

And here I was today, in that same building where his funeral had been attended by enough firefighters that their red trucks parked lengthwise had filled the back of the parking lot.

His mother was so inspired by the loving care her son had gotten that she went back to school and became a nurse at that hospital so she could be that and do that for the next families walking in those shoes.

After the remembrances, the laughter, the heartfelt musical solo that left my face mask damp, I talked to my old friends about their mom.

And found myself asking one 30-something a question he probably had not been asked in a very very long time.

Are you Nathan’s brother?

He was.

I told him how Nathan had always looked out for his sister, and his face just–someone remembered! Nicole, he answered, eyes moist. Yes. Yes he did.

When we love someone they are part of us forever. His grandmother will be remembered. His older brother is remembered, and now he knew that. The good that we do does in fact live on.