As Time Goes By

it has been nearly two years since I posted on this blog, and as you may have noticed, I waved my magic wand and made all my prior posts private.  In part, this was due to not wanting to be reminded of the unpleasantness of the events of 2012, in which the C word played a major role,  in part because I could think of nothing to say, and in part because I was trying to hide from the world.

Truthfully, my thoughts have not been material and my material has been less then worthy of thought.

But lately, I have perked up and become interested in a variety of textile arts, mostly of the weaving ilk, that I thought I could blog about and if you want to read about it then we have what is commonly referred to as a mutually convenient situation.

As I sit here eating my dinner of half a flax-seed English muffin with organic peanut butter and local honey, accompanied by a glass of my favorite low-cost red wine of the year (H3 Merlot, 2011, a Columbia Valley wine produced in Washington State), I consider what to tell you first.  

How about this: I am a grandmother!  This to a sweet little girl born the first of June, given an Irish name loaded with more vowels than is legal in Scrabble.  She abides in a land far far away in the regions of the maritime Carolinas, and I shall refer to her with such monikers as seem proper at the time, including but not limited to Sweetpea, Babydoll, Sugar and the like.

As a new Grannie, my current knitting project is all about Baby.  It grows slowly in the form of many shades of pink, which I am informed is her favorite color.  Indeed, from my own entrance into the world and up until and including the present, my own favorite color has been any shade of pink.  I well remember my bedroom curtains and bedspread as a child with its three wide ruffles of successively deepening pink.  I remember them mostly because they were cotton and I was the one who had to starch and iron them.  (My baby half-sister hated them and as soon as I left for college she burned them and painted the bedroom blue.)

But I digress.  The idea is that I am using the stitch pattern from The Rainey Sister’s Surrounded afghan, reducing it to a 3″ block, and knitting these in 3 shades of pink plus a pure white (the yarn is Dalegarn Baby Ull).  These will then be arranged in nine-patch blocks so as to produce a traditional quilt arrangement called Sunshine and Shadow, thusly:

 

The knitted blocks look like this:

I have completed 7 of 9 for the first nine-patch, and am working on the last 2 simultaneously.  So I am almost 1/16th done.  Hopefully I will pick up speed and get it finished by September, when I plan to visit my magical wee girl descendant in the land of her birth

Getting Away: Part One

The best thing to do with fingertips that have betrayed you is to ignore them completely.  This is best done while traveling to visit in-laws, and on the way enjoying non-fingertip activities such as wine tasting.  This is easy to do in eastern Washington, where there are 12 viticultural regions.

We began our little trip by visiting brother-in-law Number One (aka Little Brother) in Richland.  He and his lovely wife took us to lunch at Wine O’Clock in Prosser, a lovely little wine bar run by the Bunnell Family, which just happens to produce wine.  Our lunch was delicious, and we bought our first bottle of wine.  Here is my dear Brian and I before our lunch.

From there we proceeded to the Red Mountain viticultural region; specifically to the Hedges winery, where Pete Hedges (a friend of the BIL) had generously offered to give us a private tour.  Outside the winery stood rows and rows of raw material; wine on the vine.  This year’s grapes are awesome due to the unseasonably wet spring and the nice sunshine following.  Wine grapes, of course, are tiny little things.  So very cute, don’t you think?

We learned many things; all about how wine barrels are toasted; how they are made of any number of varieties of oak; how a by-product of wine is cream of tartar, and why Pete Hedges will never again jump into a wine press to fix it.  After the tour, we tasted.

We also got a good look at the wine “library”, a collection of all vintages that the Hedges winery has produced since its inception.  Here we are with Pete in the wine library, a dark, cool place where I wouldn’t mind being imprisoned as long as I had a good corkscrew handy.

We bought three bottles of wine (knowing we can find more in our local wine stores) and bid a fond farewell to Red Mountain.

I think my favorite winemaking region is Walla Walla, and as luck would have it, our journey took us to see our dear friends Dicksie, Gale and Deb in that very city.  We had a fabulous time there, and may have gone wine tasting at four or five other wineries.  Here is one of my all-time favorites, L’Ecole No. 41, whose owners converted an old schoolhouse.  A sign near the bell invited me to ring it, and so I did.

Here are our young friends Dicksie and Gale standing on the schoolhouse steps:

It would be impolite for me to say exactly how young Gale is, but I would encourage you to thank him for being a B-17 pilot in World War II.  He is an amazing guy, and his wife is no less wonderful.  If it were autumn, you would see them in glorious handknits.  But for now, you can see her knitting here and his other amazing photos here.  You’ll want to grab a nice merlot and spend some quality time browsing those pictures.  While doing so, you will see beautiful photos of the Grand Tetons.  We received sound advice from Gale on where to go to get great photos, which as you will see later on was exactly right.

From Walla Walla we drove to Bozeman, Montana, taking Highway 12 along the Snake River.  There we stopped to stay with Sister-in-Law No. 1, where I got to hold little babies (her grandchildren) and play with their older siblings.

Brian, as you may know, is a twin, so next we caught up with Brother-in-Law No. 2, aka The Twin, in Cody, Wyoming.  No wine in Cody, but we were well supplied from Walla Walla.  From Cody we drove through Yellowstone and thence along the Grand Tetons to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Breathtaking scenery accompanied us for miles and miles.  After a day spent touring around Jackson, we went out to Schwabacher’s Landing (recommended by Gale) to take photos.  I can’t decide which I like best– I’d love to hear your opinions!  I’ve numbered them from 1 to 5 for ease of reference.

No. 1

No. 2

No. 3

No. 4

No. 5

The rest of the trip was just as good as the first part, but I will save that for another post.  My fingertips are better, but they still don’t like so much typing!

The Knitting Police

How many times have you heard someone say “there’s no such thing as the knitting police”?  Well, I’m here to tell you that there IS such a thing.  They are unpaid volunteers, heroes– brave creatures who risk their reputation as a “nice person” to tell you the truth about your knitting or to keep you out of trouble to begin with.  You may not want them to work in your universe, but in mine they are essential citizens.  They provide criticism or advice as warranted.  They are the ones whose compliments you trust because you know they will tell you the truth.  They warn you of bad design choices– sweaters that will make your Rubenesque curves look like charging hippopotami, armholes that emphasize your aging, sagging bustline,  negative ease that you should have left behind in the ’80s.

If you aren’t aware of the Laws of Knitting, these enlightened enforcers will illuminate your path so that you can obey them in the future.  They may write you a ticket for bad grafting, but at the same time teach you how to do it right or refer you to source of proper instruction.  They may give you a warning for curling button bands; they may point out the egregious nature of the stockinette you produced while drinking the fifth rum and Coke (thought you’d gotten away with that, did you?).  They may even have the nerve to tell you that you will have to rip something back fourteen inches to fix it.  They are your friends.

Not everyone loves the knitting police, and these seek to deny their existence.  Many there are who believe that in this cruel world only kind and positive things should be said.  Instead of saying words to the effect that short sleeves make you look like a sumo wrestler they say “oh, I’ll bet you’ll love those short sleeves in the spring”.  Rather than telling you that your neckline pickup is sloppy, they’ll suggest you wear a scarf over it to “pick up the color of your eyes”.  Not quite as bad as offering you aloe vera for your burns as you blaze upon the stake, but along the same lines.  In the very wise words of the song from Ishtar (sung endearingly off-key):

Telling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.
If you admit that you can play the accordion,
No one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Of course it is possible for our knitting police officers to cite offenders with tact and compassion.  The ratio of compassion (the “eggshell factor”) should be inversely proportional to how well the officer knows the perpetrator.  Practically strangers?  Approach with caution, use tact and euphemisms; do not scare the knitter into defensiveness.  “Maybe it’s just me, but is that cable crossed incorrectly near the bottom of the back… I could be wrong.  In fact I probably am.  Don’t worry about it,  it’s probably just the light.”   Longtime friend?  Fire at will.  “Your increases don’t match and you left out the right bust dart“.  Plain and simple, straightforward and honest.  If more knitting police would come out of hiding, knitters would (probably) be grateful.  Think of the times when you’ve had spinach stuck in your teeth.  Your companion lets you know; you are grateful.  It’s the same kind of thing.  Really.

The Knitting Police Academy does teach that habitual offenders should be left alone.  If they do not have a proper appreciation for the Laws of Knitting and fail to show interest or aptitude for such, they should be kindly tolerated.  Like the colorblind cartographer who doesn’t care if his socks match or not, these known knitting lawbreakers pose no threat to society.

One more thing:  there is corruption among the Knitting Police.  Outliers on the Force will be intentionally cruel and possibly not even well-meaning with their interpretation of knitting edicts.  They might be open to bribes in the form of delicately hand-dyed qiviut or combed merino top, but they will never help your knitting skills, so you’d best buddy up to a KP officer who is honest and perhaps curmudgeonly.

Ok, lecture over.  Here’s a photo of what my fingernails look like right now.  Cool, huh?

My left hand is worse, so I’ve got surgical tape over the first two fingernails.  The official name for this condition is “Onycholysis”  (some websites report the condition as “painless”, and by this it is obvious they have never endured it) , so I guess I’m officially an Onychoholic. Although by the grace of god I was able to put down the bottle of Taxotere and conquer my addiction to chemotherapy once and for all, I am stuck  with this hurty condition until the nails grow out.  Until that happens, I’m doomed to knit only a row now and then, but I’ve got a cushy side job.  I’m high in the ranks of the Knitting Police.

Just as we were about to have galoshes surgically attached to our northwest feet and umbrellas implanted atop our Seattle skulls, the sun arrived.  Every year the weather teases us just a little bit more, and only the intrepid and those who take massive Vitamin D supplements can survive it.

I suddenly remembered (perhaps due to the sunlight) that I am supposed to occasionally tell you about my fiber endeavors, including (but not limited to) knitting.  Though I have missed a few months’ worth of Nihon Vogue classes, I still try to learn what is taught and thanks to good friends and fellow classmates I can do that.

My current project is just underway– a cardigan to be knit with Madelinetosh sportweight merino in a color called “Composition Book Gray”, which is a beautiful hue of cool grays trending toward lavender.  Lately I am drawn to this color like a caricature, as you will find out in future reports of other projects.  After having dutifully swatched and tallied up my gauge in all its permutations, I work on my draft in my little studio room, for once unencumbered by cats, who are presumably elsewhere in the house doing what cats do best– napping and dreaming about that poem where the cats creep in on little fog feet.

This particular cardigan will be round necked, with a twisted stitch motif placed on either side of the narrow button band.  The vertically knit bands will be created separately and sewn on for a nicer finish.  I am also putting in bust darts,  shaping the waist,  raising the back, adding short rows to the bottom sides, and raising the bustline for a nicer and more flattering fit.  The ribbing will be twisted rib.

Here are the swatches more plainly seen:

I have cast on for the back with a provisional caston and commenced with the first few rows.  It will be slow going, because unfortunately, since my fingernails are detaching from their beds, knitting hurts.  My oncologist assures me that this will “only” last for a few months.  I’m sure he meant to be encouraging.  Meanwhile, I’m in the process of trying to figure out how best to knit without using movements that involve, however remotely, my fingernails.  This is harder than you might think, because as you push the yarn along the needle, there is a pushing and pulling against the nail bed.  I’ve tried wrapping my fingertips in various substances, to no avail.  I’m hoping to have an epiphany any day now.

We have all heard it in a particularly grating voice from our past:  “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything”.  But lately I don’t have anything to say, nice or not, and I especially don’t have anything to write.  This leads to poor blog quality, and hence to a dearth of blog entries.

I could tell you about ongoing treatment; the fact that to date, in pursuit of the total annihilation of cancer cells  I’ve been cut open, poisoned and burnt, but just in case that’s not enough I’ll soon be in a period of  “modification” for five years on a drug called Anastrozole.  This drug has many possible side effects, none of which would make the average person burst into song.  But, since the clever cancer-fighting people have you start taking it so soon after other treatments have ended, any such side effects could be blamed on the poisoning or the burning or even on advancing age.  Conversely, the Burners and the Poisoners can point their fingers at the Modifiers, and vice versa.  At least their fingernails are still completely attached (unlike mine), so that when this pointing occurs it looks nice and doesn’t hurt.

But people don’t like to be reminded of cancer, and frankly, I’m getting tired of it– having it, treating it, talking about it– myself.  So, no, let’s not talk about cancer treatment.

I could tell you about my recent quick trip to San Francisco.  Two full days of glorious sunshine spent among fabulous knitting friends; delicious food, a much-needed respite from the cancer treatments we’re not talking about and escape from my cloudy rain-soaked habitat.  But that would only make you jealous, and if you live in the same area as I do, you might immediately book a trip to sunny California, thus creating a crowd of such phenomenal proportions at the airport that small children might be crushed.  I would not want to be responsible for the maiming of small children.

Also, having recently switched to an iPhone after my poor Droid died, I apparently did not actually know how to take pictures.  I didn’t take an especially beautiful picture of the Golden Gate bridge from Cavallo Point, I didn’t take photos of my friends who were with me, and I didn’t take a photo of the guy and his wife who were riding a rented dirt-bike tandem.  However,  if I were going to write about this trip, I might mention that when we were in Berkeley at A Verb For Keeping Warm –those last five words actually become a noun when taken together, which could especially entangle your brain if you are on shaky ground when it comes to grammar– a lovely young lady half my age– and therefore much more qualified to take pictures with fruit products–did so (note that I am actually wearing one of my wigs; my real hair would never look that good).  And by the way, I’m the one in the middle:

I could write about the Tour de France– not the cycling portion, because that is not my forté– but how I had this crazy idea that while my cycling-fanatic husband watches the race, memorizing each cyclist’s vital statistics, performance metrics, strategy and position like an idiot savant (but hey, he’s my idiot savant!), I will pretend to be Julia Child, but without the Voice.  The idea was/is that each day I will prepare a dish from the region where the race’s stage occurs that day.  Possibly I could recount to you how it was difficult at first to find food uniquely Belgian, for in spite of the fact that the race is called the Tour de France, the first three days were spent in that country just northeast of France.  Possibly you would read about the first day (Saturday), on which I prepared a Belgian pork roast from a recipe purportedly from Liege.  It was so-so.  Or should I say comme-çi, comme-ça?

If I continued with this story, you would discover that on the Second Day I requested the services of the resident breakfast expert/favorite cyclist, who obligingly made Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream: delicious.  And further, on the Third Day,  how a plethora of Belgian cuisine appeared on the dinner plate: prosciutt0-wrapped Belgian endive (blah), roasted  Brussels sprouts (good), and dark Belgian ale (yum).  Frankly, it’s a good thing the bicycles are now moving out of Belgium and into France.  But since this is not a food or cooking blog, or even a cycling blog, I won’t bother you with that stuff.

Would you like to hear about my goal of cleaning one kitchen cupboard a day?   My recent abysmal scores in Spider Solitaire?  The 700-piece jigsaw puzzle we assembled in one day when my mother-in-law visited?  I thought not.

So, my apologies for a blank blog entry.  Maybe I’ll think of something soon.

When you can’t knit ganseys, you can at least read about them.  And when you read about them, you can find out that the person who writes about them recently published his first novel, which you can also read.

In my lifetime, I have read thousands of books, mostly fiction.  When I was young, I would check out more books from the school library than any other student.  I would devour them, dodging chores and ignoring the great outdoors; scurrying through homework assignments, oblivious of people around me as I escaped into one  fictional world after another.  I read about the Incas, about the great San Francisco fire of 1906, about secret rooms and murders, romances and families, creatures who lived in the core of the earth and much, much more.

By the time I was an adult, I was much more discriminating about what I would read.  First and foremost, a book has to be well written.  This requirement includes proper vocabulary, correct usage of grammar, the avoidance of trite phrases (“somewhere a rooster crowed”), and resisting the urge to modify every noun twice or thrice over  (“The pretty blonde girl sat on the bright blue sofa and looked into the sparkly mysterious brown eyes of her gallant, unexpected, handsome visitor.”).  I also detest predictable plots, the inclusion of every minority group an author can think up for no reason at all (ostensibly because it might help get him published), the propensity to ignore completely the fact that one or the other sex exists, the inclusion of the “obligatory sex scene” when it does nothing to further the plot, and other crimes for which the perpetrators go sadly unpunished.  Often the books that offend are actually quite popular, a fact which causes me to ponder the eventual literary extinction of our race.

Secondly, the book must have an intriguing and logically viable plot (even if it’s only viable within the world the author has created).

And thirdly, the author must make me care about the characters, and must respect them himself (for example, don’t make me care deeply about a character and then kill him off, never to mention him again, ever).

The advent of eReaders such as Kindle and Nook, coupled with the ability of anyone with a computer, an internet connection, and the will to self-publish a book has led to a confusingly vast array of books presented to the world via that very means.  Editors may or may not have had a hand in these books, but certainly the mainstream publishing houses– which up until recently filtered our literature through a sieve netted with their unique take on what readers will or should like– have not.  This is both good and bad.  Because authors may now thumb their noses at publishers and bypass them completely, we have the opportunity to read great books we might otherwise have been denied, but we have to sift through the trash for our treasure.

This is all a very long way of saying that Gordon Reid’s book, An Inquisition of Demons, is one of those treasures.  Reid is a master of the English language;  he wields his words with deft artistry.

Set in medieval times, the novel nonetheless utilizes modern language.  Historical events and characters figure into the plot, and though we are not hit over the head with the hammer of philosophy, we are nonetheless compelled to think about our humanity and how our failures are sometimes the very things that make us better.  This is not your faddish vampire or zombie story; your soul will not be in mortal peril if you read it, and you are unlikely to have nightmares about it.  Did I say it was refreshing?

Is this a literary masterpiece?  No, it is a very entertaining and well written first novel.  But be patient– his second novel is just around the corner, and it is brilliant.

Read Reid.  You won’t be disappointed.

Current Compendium

1.     You know it’s been a long time since your last post when you have to sit for a few seconds in front of the login page before you can remember your password.

2.     Somewhere along the way– possibly after my second chemo treatment– I lost my sense of humor.  I prefer to think that it fell off in small chunks at first, then collapsed in total chaos right before the final treatment.  I’ve been wandering around ever since, collecting little pieces and trying to glue them all back together.

3.     There may be signs of actual peach fuzz growing on my bald scalp.  The color is a beautiful shade of “Less”, as in “colorless”.  I am both impressed by this non-color and dismayed that it will be next to impossible to find a colorless-enhancing shampoo.

4.     Meanwhile, I alternate between wearing no hat, light hats, heavier hats and wigs in this season that, in the Eastern United States is called Early Summer but in Seattle is indistinguishable from Gray and Misty Alternating with Sunshine But Never Temperatures above 69 Fahrenheit.  Luckily, the flora and fauna of this region flourishes, and our eyes can feast on its beauty even as we huddle in our raincoats.

5.     During my chemotherapy I often read about side effects of Taxol.  I smugly reminded myself that at least I wasn’t taking that drug.  Turns out Taxol is just another name for Taxotere and yes, I was taking that drug.  One of the side effects is neuropathy (nerve damage) in the fingertips and toetips that will likely last for weeks if not months.  This means that all twenty of these tips have increased sensitivity, tingling and numbness all the time, but especially if you try to do something with them–  like type (or play) on a keyboard, for example.  Have you ever tried to get by without using your fingertips?

6.     Another long-lasting side effect of chemo is called “capillary spillover”.  The capillaries (small blood vessels) basically get over-intoxicated, say “oops, I must be full” and spill fluid out into the rest of your body.  The evidence is much swelling, especially in the legs and ankles, but also noticeable in the hands and other parts of the body.  “They” told me I should wear compression stockings.  Try putting on compression stockings when you have (see above) neuropathy in your fingertips and toetips.

7.     Bone pain (which feels a lot like muscle pain to me) is ongoing, as is fatigue.  Imagine that you have just worked out on a weight machine (or with barbells) and you did the very last repeat that you could possibly do.  That’s how my arms and legs, neck and back feel whenever I move.  To combat this, I have adopted a contrarian attitude and go for at least three walks a day of about a mile each around my neighborhood, which has small rolling hills.  It is a masochistic habit, but I like to think that it will help with the swelling and bone pain and that eventually I will be the victor over my own body.  Since I was a couch potato so long that I was starting to sprout, I am grateful that I feel well enough to force myself to do this.

8.     I have begun my radiation treatments.  Every weekday I drive down to the clinic (which takes about a half hour with traffic), get four zaps of radiation which last about five seconds each (two on each side of Letitia Lefbreast, one that hits near the surface and one the hits deeper into the tissue), and then I drive back home.  So far, I have no noticeable side effects from the treatments, but I do treat my skin with three different potions three to four times a day in an attempt to prevent radiation burns.

9.      I had my buddy the Port removed last week.  This was done with local anesthetic only.  After enough Lidocaine had been injected around the port (near my right collarbone), my surgeon made an incision over the scar that was there from the insertion.  As she prepared to make another cut, scalpel hovering midair, she casually said to me “I was doing some research on the web and came across your blog.”  This, my friends,  is why if you say anything about anybody on your blog, it had better be nice!  It had been, and my opinion has not changed.

10.    When the Lidocaine wore off, my body somehow decided that having a 1.5-inch slash in the skin and several stitches in the chest wall hurts as if you had a poison-tipped spear thrust into your upper torso.  Either the pain lessened after a day or so or I’ve gotten used to it, but the incision site still lives right under the strap of a certain undergarment and reminds me of its presence.

11.     I remind myself daily that all these complaints are temporary.  I know that in the  future, that these complaints, as well as complaints typical of my pre-cancer past, the kinds of whines I used to have about meaningless and selfish things, will be much less frequent.  I mean to live, laugh, love and enjoy.  I hope you will too.

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