Friday, April 21, 2017

Giving My Body for Science

I first recognized my love for science in eighth grade. We watched a movie about blood. They showed a close-up blood cells moving through the veins of a rabbit's ear. My friend fainted, but I was hooked.

My neighborhood is overly tamed now. I haven't seen monarchs for years.
What I didn't realize is I had been a scientific observer for a long time. I grew up outdoors in a large half-wild yard with a running irrigation ditch and a changing cast of barn cats.

I caught bugs and watched the legs of launching grasshoppers, the unfolding of beetle wings. Caterpillars and tadpoles were raised in mason jars in the garage. I dug holes and wondered at the changing colors in the layers. My favorite recess activity at school was cracking open little rocks to see how they looked different inside.

Though poetry beat out biology when I mapped college plans, I have never lost my curiosity. There is so much to learn.

Scottish Folds are great if you only need cats to be ornamental.
Even now, as I spend way too much time shut indoors, I open my office window to feel cold wind and watch birds at the feeder. I recognize wolf traits in my shaky old dog and look (usually in vain) for tiger genes in my aristocats.

There are two very intriguing funnel spiderwebs under my bathtub.

On the bad days stuck in bed I explore every science and nature program Netflix can throw at me.

Tomorrow will not be spent in bed. It is Earth Day, but more importantly it is the Utah Science March. I will be there.

The purpose of this march is to show support for public funding of research. A tiny fraction of our tax money goes a long way toward paying for science. I think it should be a higher percentage. Businesses do fund some science, but  naturally expect research to pay for itself eventually. Much of what needs to be studied will not have sellable results, but it may lead to more "practical" knowledge in the future. All research helps us understand this amazing world.

I had to sit out the Women's March, the Tax March, and other political protests, but it's essential to me that my sick body makes it to this one. Also I have help. My boys have reserved the day and are reluctantly accompanying me. We will ride the train downtown meet at a park and walk uphill to the capitol building. Afterwards we walk back down and ride home. Three years ago this would be no big deal. Now I know I will suffer for it.
So far, medication has kept my hands from looking like they feel.

Unless the new miracle drug (which I will start taking tomorrow) is a real miracle, Sunday will be a total loss to exhaustion. Monday and Tuesday I will feel the pain and struggle to get back on track. It's worth it.

The biologic I'm starting is last one available before a drug my doctor considers dangerous. (You should read the warnings on the ones I've taken.) I've never had a medication work for me for more than a year and a half. I need more choices.

Medical advancements come from weird places. Diabetes medicine was developed from sea-slug venom. There is a possible new antibiotic in the saliva of Komodo dragons. Bats have an amazing immune system that may lead to cures as well.

If cures for my illnesses are discovered, it will be through scientific research.

Komodo dragons look more likely to yield biologic weapons than antibiotics.


This week's scarf was time-consuming. There are a lot of color changes and other fiddly bits, but I am very pleased with the final result. It is made from a pattern called Jewel Dragon by Svetlana Gordon which is available on Ravelry.  I'm starting another one today out of my homespun and preparing this one for sale in my shop--after I make signs for the march.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oh,We Like Sheep: The Easter Celebration Dillema

This poor little guy looks scared. I hope he's a chocolate cake.
Like Christmas, Easter is a confusing mashup of Christian celebration, earlier pagan traditions, and consumerism.  Maybe because I have a hard time reconciling the Christian and pagan in my own nature, I would prefer to unscramble the spring holiday omelette. I want this dress, but not in pink.
As a celebration of Christ's resurrection, and through Him, resurrection for everyone else, Easter should be the most important and sacred Christian holiday.

The ideal celebration for me would be a church service with lots of good music, then a day of quiet contemplation, scripture reading, and Handel's Messiah.

(Consumer me points out that it would be appropriate to do all of this in a new dress.)

But I love all of the other, springy stuff. Dyeing and hiding eggs is fun. Bright colors and baby animals are always welcome. And who can turn down a holiday that has chocolate and jelly beans on the menu?

Rabbits? Hares? One of each?

There is a solution. We can celebrate spring-in-general when it was originally celebrated, on the equinox. Spring equinox is under-celebrated now.

 I have only heard of one equinox tradition--planting peas. (Somewhere I read that you should plant peas naked on the night of the equinox, under a full moon. But I'm sure the full moon doesn't line up that conveniently most years)

It's a good start, but when we are all longing for spring and thrilling at each brave crocus, it's also an excellent time to color eggs and play games.

The holiday would need a new name though. Equinox Bunny doesn't roll off the tongue.

Because I am a knitter, and a great fan of sheep, we can have sheep and lambs dancing around both holidays.

I look longingly at sheep year-round. To balance out the nastiness of politics, I follow numerous shepherds on twitter. (Not enough American ones, send me links.) Today I am using pictures from two of my favorites, so I want to make a quick introduction.
These lovely Zwartbles sheep are on the calendar in my office.

The beautiful black sheep of Zwartbles Ireland can be seen on twitter from two points of view. The
Zwartbles Ireland handle shows sheep farming from the point of view of the shepherdess (who must work with a Go Pro at all times). Another handle, Cat Shepherd, shows the same flock from the point of view of Bodacious, one of the farm cats. Both feature beautiful videos of sheep, cats, and dogs.

Herdwick Shepherd, James Rebanks, cares for his flock on the hills of England's Lake District. His memoir, The Shepherd's Life explores the challenges faced by rural communities worldwide and the choices young people from those communities have to make. My parents loved the book too, so it's not just for sheep lovers.
Rugged Herdwick lambs are born black, then gradually change color.

Though I always have toy sheep around, and pull out more as Christmas decorations, sheep really belong to Easter.

Jesus uses sheep and shepherds as key metaphors. He is described as both the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.

A conversation between Jesus and Peter  ( John 21:17) makes it clear that Christians are expected to be both sheep and shepherds as well.

"He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, loves thou me? . . .. And he said unto him, Lord, thou knows all things; thou knows that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

So as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be sheep, but when serving or leading others, we become shepherds.

A recent sermon  (by Dale G Renlund) on being a good shepherd caught my attention by referring to one of my favorite books, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. As the novel begins, the good bishop is deciding whether or not to visit a man who is locally hated for  acts during the French Revolution and is an atheist to boot. The bishop concludes that shepherds must love and minister to all sheep, regardless of their condition.

I see this care from the literal shepherds. They must be first to tend to injury and illness. Though we city folk like to focus on fluffy, bouncy lambs, the reality also includes death, wounds, blood, and constant excrement.

Along those lines, Chaucer points out the importance of religious shepherds being good role models:

For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a preest take keep,
A shitten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel ought a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shoulde live. 

(A rough translation--if priests are corrupt, their followers will weaken. It is a shame when a dirty shepherd is sent to lead a clean sheep. Instead shepherds should set an example of cleanliness for their sheep. )

It's a great line, but the metaphor only works from a distance. I have worked with enough raw (unwashed) wool to know that real sheep are only clean at fairs and auctions. They are animals, after all, and live outdoors in fields.

Being a good shepherd, a caring leader,  makes sense, but why, as followers, should we emulate these animals?

Popular culture describes people as sheep only when they are naive, easily robbed, easily manipulated. Sheeple is the current term of scorn. Do real sheep fit the stereotype, or do they have virtues we city folk are unaware of? Maybe someone reading this can enlighten the rest of us.

Although I adore sheep from a distance and follow several shepherds on-line, I don't have much personal experience.

 When I was very young, my grandparents often raised a sheep or two for meat. I remember bottle-feeding lambs and I remember dreading them being butchered in the fall, but not much in between.

Dad never got attached to the critters. Part of that is the farm wisdom of not bonding with dinner, but he also thought they were incredibly stupid. (He also suspects God is being rude by comparing us to sheep.)

I don't know which breed our backyard dinner sheep were, but I do know that different breeds tend to have different personality traits. What were ancient Palestinian sheep like? Were they special in some way?

Did so many people in Nazareth and Judea have experience with sheep that they were a natural choice?

Herdwicks climbing to Heaven
If Jesus spoke to us today, he might have an easier time making the point by comparing us to dogs and good dog owners. But in the Bible, dogs are only referred to in negative ways.

While we are asking, "Why sheep?" we need to look at the metaphorical vision of the resurrection, with sheep on the right side and goats on the left and also ask ourselves, "Why not goats?"
Will these goats (in great sweaters) really be left behind? 

P.S. Good news--more doctors looked at the lump on my neck. No one thinks I need to worry or even need surgery.


Knitting has been slow lately. Mostly because I have been working on two more complicated works. This week's shawls is the most complicated lace I've knit since I lost my mind over two years ago. Much unpicking and re-knitting was required. But I finished! (Almost. It still needs to be washed and blocked before I decide if I can part with it and list it in my shop.)

This bright orange yarn is amazing. I got it from Renaissance Yarns. It is 40% merino, 30%viscose, 20% angora rabbit, 10% cashmere. Remember in The Emperor's New Clothes how the emperor was told the cloth was so light he couldn't feel it? This shawl is like that. I sat knitting with four feet of finished shawl on my lap and it had no weight at all.

 It was the perfect project to work on during the summer and I finished it during the week of a tree-cracking April snowstorm. With summer in mind, I went back to Renaissance yarns and bought a nice silk/cashmere blend in lime green for an upcoming project

Friday, April 7, 2017

Church in Pajamas--Time to Renew and Reflect

Are children better behaved, or just uncomfortable, while wearing their "Sunday best?"

 We Mormons believe in putting on our Sunday best for church. Women wear dresses or skirts. Men mostly conform to a uniform white shirt and tie. Visitors in other attire are welcome, but definitely stand out as visitors. 

The dress code can seem demanding, so can the time. We spend three hours together, first as an entire congregation, then in classes divided by age and gender. There is no professional clergy on a local level, so most of us have Sunday responsibilities to speak, teach, play the piano, or keep records. It is considered best policy for everyone to have a “calling.” Sundays are only a day of rest along the lines of “a change is as good as a rest.”

But twice a year, for many of us, church becomes very relaxed and casual.

On the first weekends of April and October, the LDS church holds General Conference. This is a time when leaders speak and we tune in at home via TV, radio, or internet. There are two, two-hour sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, plus a two-hour meeting specifically for men on Saturday night and a two-hour meeting specifically for women the previous Saturday.

This sounds like a lot of preaching, but there is always an air of holiday around conference time. It is a time for mission reunions, family reunions, and special breakfasts or picnics. 

Best of all, instead of waking up early to have everyone well-dressed in time for 9:00 AM church, the family can gather in front of the TV in pajamas at 10:00.

Church children’s magazines print bingo games and coloring books to help the youngest feel involved. I remember a picture of a podium with a hole cut above it and a page of potential speakers to hold it in front of.

As a teenager I chose special crafts projects—cross stitch or knitting, especially for the wonderful “free time” I would have while watching conference.

General Conference was not always so cozy. Early Mormons met in the largest buildings they had available. For many years that building was the Tabernacle. I attended conference live there once. It was not comfortable. Pioneer-designed benches are far from ergonomic.

Wooden benches in the Tabernacle

But I can imagine that for my pioneer ancestors, sitting for any period of time was a delightful rest in itself. 

Instead of plowing, planting, digging, pulling weeds, or hand-scrubbing laundry--all while trying to keep children from falling into fires or irrigation ditches--these faithful people were able to sit in clean clothes and think about a better world.
Comfy modern seats in the Conference Center

My ancestors also had the challenge of taking notes so they could keep and review conference teachings. Today I (and you) can find talks almost immediately on and review favorite sermons from the past fifty years.

When I was younger, I hoped to hear something new--like the starting date for the Millennium. But now what I need to hear is the same messages I hear at church on Sunday, the same messages taught to my pioneer ancestors.  Messages that were , in fact,
 taught by Jesus (and Old Testament prophets before Him.)

Speakers at General Conference did not disappoint. I heard messages of hope and reassurance of God's love. I heard the call to repentance with the promise of forgiveness and opportunity to improve. I heard the commandment to love my neighbors (i.e. everybody) and find ways to serve them.

As I said, I hear these messages in church all the time. But there is something about the change in setting and circumstance twice a year that helps me listen better.

Do you feel hopeless? Are there bad habits you need to change? Do you want to view people in a more positive way?

Sitting on the sofa in pajamas and watching Mormon leaders speak helps me reset my priorities. What helps you? Do you respond best to nature, novels.  poetry, music, TED talks?

Please share. The world is a troubled place and many of us are in need of inspiration.


I've had some rough patches of pain this week, so nothing is finished or beautifully photographed, but I have some works in progress to share.

This little shawl is mostly finished. I need to tuck in loose ends, wash it, and pin it into the right shape to dry. It has been in this condition for a week now. Luckily it is for a May birthday, so I have time. 

This is being made from three kits I'm subscribed to kind of following a pattern from another site, so I think it is enough mine to sell. Next week it should be in my shop. I'll give all the knitterly credits then as well as the information on this last work in project which I also have underway. Since I am having minor surgery to remove that lump I mentioned last week, I am being very optimistic about next week's knitting. (Maybe I'll knit better on good pain pills.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Lost in Space: Another Glitch in my Mission

Laika, Soviet space dog. She was sent up into space with no plan to ever bring her back.

I have seen The Right Stuff more times than I can count-- more times than Star Wars (#4, the first one) and Monty Python's Holy Grail put together. That's a lot for a geek of my generation.

The real Chuck Yeager with San Shepard
It doesn't hurt that Sam Shepard, who plays Chuck Yeager, is seriously hot, especially on horseback. But the real reason I've seen the movie so many times is that my (also seriously hot) husband is obsessed with the history of the space program.

For that reason, I have also seen From the Earth to the Moon. The Dish and Apollo 13, multiple times, as well as any documentary we can find. (I'm not complaining. I love history, especially history that doesn't involve people killing each other, so space history is good.) I'm looking forward to sharing Hidden Figures with my guys soon.

All this is background to my latest health issue. Some time after Christmas, I noticed a lump near my collarbone. It is small. I have to point it out to people.

My doctor examined the bump. She says it feels "cystic" and makes that sound like a good thing. (Don't look up cystic on Google Images. Take my word for it. Eww.) Chest X-rays and blood tests hinted at nothing alarming. But she's still referring me to a general surgeon to have it removed. So there's that to look forward to.

To continue with space program metaphors, this bump is probably like the wrench they found in a panel of Apollo 1 while investigating the deadly fire: something ultimately harmless that nevertheless shouldn't be there.

In proposing this article, my husband used a quote from Apollo 13, "Well, that's the glitch for this mission."

They thought the big glitch was losing one engine at launch. Then a few days later the oxygen tank blew up.

 My initial glitch was, of course, RA.  Then a decade later my brain blows up and I have fibromyalgia.

Is this bump the carbon dioxide buildup, the possibly frozen parachutes, the definitely frozen hot dogs? No idea.

At this point my husband switches missions to Apollo 14. It was no less buggy than the proceeding mission. Before launch, there was a weather delay and problems with docking between the CSM and LM.

Once in lunar orbit, the LM computer started flashing an ABORT light. Everyone was fairly sure that the only thing wrong was a small piece of solder floating loose inside the circuit, but some last-minute reprogramming was required to convince the computer to carry on with the mission. Then, when landing, the radar temporarily failed. If it hadn't finally acquired a signal, the landing would have been aborted.

Shepard Gemini
But the cool thing about Apollo 14, is that Alan Shepard returned to space.

He was the first American in space during the Mercury missions. But an inner ear problem and resulting dizziness kept him frustrated and grounded during Gemini and most of Apollo. Surgery solved the problem in time for him to make it on one of the last Apollo flights. He finally got to walk, and play golf, on the moon.
Shepard  Apollo

I am supposed to create a victorious analogy for myself here--an Alan Shepard on the moon moment that may come after all of these health struggles and hassles. If all of this eventually turns me into a successful professional writer, something I've dreamed about for as long as I can remember, maybe the analogy could work.

I appreciatie my husband's optimism. He never suggested that this bump might be like the frozen O ring or damaged heat tiles that downed the space shuttles. He wouldn't even allow himself to think it could be like the worn wiring that started the Apollo 1 fire.

The way I am feeling right now, the most fitting space analogy might not be from the American space program at all, but from the Russian one. As health problems pile on and I face uncertainty and lack of control over many aspects of my future, I really relate to Laika, the dog who was sent into space on Sputnik 2. She had no idea what was going on, no say over her destiny or destination. (But she seems to have had a positive attitude.)

P.S. I did take some control over this mission. I called the surgeon's office. Lump comes out April 14. I'll keep you posted.


I was able to get more done this week. This is a lace scarf that is now available in my shop. It is feather-light and made from super-soft merino wool, so it can be worn comfortably next to the skin. I like the asymmetrical color shift.

I also finished a project I am not selling. It is from a kit I've subscribed to from . It is made of a very nice merino/silk blend. I think it is called a "concho," or cross between a cowl and poncho. If I keep it, I will probably wear it with the point in the back. 
 I don't know if it is going to be mine or a gift, but since it is someone else's yarn and pattern, I'm not comfortable putting it up for sale. If you are on my Christmas list and want this, speak up.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Princess Life would be Beastly

I don't plan to see the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm not boycotting to object the gay moment or to protest Emma Watson's Vanity Fair  pictures. I didn't see the cartoon version either. I just don't care for princess stories.

Me as Wonder Woman with attitude (and Bat Girl)
I played dress-up as a kid, but never recall playing princess. We played Charlie's Angels, solving mysteries and taking down bad guys, or Wonder Woman with her bullet proof bracelets and invisible jet.

 When I played alone, I was in the Star Wars universe. As a healer with the force, I nursed injured rebel soldiers on an isolated planet. I also gathered all the battered and broken dolls in the house and played "orphan train." But I wasn't trying to find people to adopt my blind or legless orphans. We were going to build a home together somewhere in the west.

In any case, the Disney marketing people weren't as good yet and didn't catch me. I did se all their movies, including the princess ones, but that gave me Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. All these girls did was housework (and sleep or be dead) until a prince came along and they could wear pretty dresses and get married. Mom made me help enough around the house that I knew getting married was more of a beginning than an end to housework.

Birds aren't very useful when it comes to mopping floors.
I didn't analyze any of this until my senior year of high school when I read part of The Cinderella Complex by Colette Dowling. The main point is that fairytales give girls the wrong expectations. We  expect a man to come rescue us, then to live happily ever after. Of course life doesn't work that way, so women are left unhappy and unsatisfied because even a perfect man can't deliver unending bliss.

Waiting around to be rescued, whether from dragons, poverty, or boredom, is not acceptable. I need to have life planned in advance and under my control. (Not that that works, as my illnesses always remind me.)

When my first high school boyfriend graduated and left me behind, I cried a lot, but I also made a plan. I realized that I enjoyed having a boyfriend, but that I wanted to choose the boy instead of waiting around hoping to be noticed. I picked out and stalked that boy and we are still together more than thirty years later.
I caught Prince Charming by not acting like a princess.

In the eighties, Mormon women and girls were under a lot of pressure to be stay-at-home moms.

I decided I could do that if I had to, but that there needed to be a plan B. I choose teaching because I noticed that teachers and nurses didn't get the same criticism other working moms did.

Plan B became plan A as most women in my generation ended up working full time anyway. I enjoyed the independence that comes from earning my own money and being able to provide for a family.

I miss that. At almost fifty, I am a stay-at-home mom whose kids are grown and who physically can't do housework.

My handsome prince does most of it, as well as figuring out how we will survive financially. I have a hope that writing can be turned into a full-time job and a source of income, but I haven't worked it through to a plan part yet.

What does Kate think? 
To be a princess or a queen is to be put on a pedestal and worshipped for beauty, grace, and kindness. A pedestal is elevated, but narrow and not very stable.

The life of the former Kate Middleton, now Duchess of something, is a real -life princess experience. Every time she leaves the palace, she must look and act like a princess. Every dress she wears and every expression on her face is analyzed by the press and royal fans.

 Imagine if she were to appear in leggings and a t-shirt and quarrel with a salesperson about a coupon. It would be front page news world-wide.

Another famous, voiceless woman
The duchess's job is to be beautiful and have babies. She's doing a great job. But almost all of the work other mothers do to take care of a home and family is done for her. Kate must have time on her hands and thoughts in her head.

But she isn't allowed to share them. As a royal, it would be improper to express an opinion on Brexit, immigration, or national health care.

As a nobody I am free to complain about anything I want. I prefer being a nobody to life in a gilded cage.

One last complaint about princess movies. They usually end with a wedding. (Rom-com problem too.) In reality, that is when stories start. The best, worst, and most important stories come later. More people should write them, read them, and film them.

p.s. I'm not anti-cartoon. I love Moana, Brave, and the lifetime romance portrayed in Up.


I hurt myself by being too active last week. This week was spent flaring and trying to drag myself back into life. So knitting is still minimal and poorly done. I hope to have something to show next week.