Friday, March 16, 2018

Time Tavel? No Thanks

We Mormons are highly encouraged to keep journals. 

Most of us have at least tried, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one whose efforts are pretty hit and miss. I wrote daily from sometime in middle school until I got married, but my adult life is recorded in poems, sporadic paragraphs, a few saved letters, and this blog.

Many of us use old age to make up for the lapses by writing life histories. Even journal keepers write shorter versions that are more accessible to the next generation.

This week at DUP, I had the opportunity to share what little information I could find about a pioneer woman who did not get the chance to write her life. All I could find was one page of anecdotes from a granddaughter.

Antionette Davenport Leavitt had an interesting life story. She crossed the plains from Illinois to Utah as a child and became one of the earliest residents of Wellsville Utah. She eventually became  the second wife in a polygamist family at a time when the federal government was cracking down on polygamy. 

We know she helped neighbors with illnesses and with stubborn milk cows, that she was a skilled seamstress and lace knitter. 

During at least one winter, her  children suffered from chilblains due to inadequate shoes.

Her husband called her Nettie and bought her a four-burner stove that the neighbors all came to see. 

Was Nettie happy? Did she love her husband? What did she dream about? 

There is no way of knowing because she didn’t have time to keep a journal and didn’t reach old age when she might have had the time to write a history. 

Nettie Leavitt died trying to give her birth to her tenth child. 

All of us at DUP (Daughters of the Utah Pioneers) enjoy learning about these pioneer ancestors, but none of us feel compelled to  reenact their lives. 

After so many of our meetings we chat about how hard it would have been. Every aspect of life was so much harder than it is now:

Tending to fires and cooking on wood stoves

Scrubbing laundry by hand

Sewing the family’s clothes, sometimes from fabric you spun and wove first

Growing enough food to feed the family year after year

Treating illness without modern medicine

Trying to keep anything clean

No modern feminine hygiene products


Outhouses and chamber pots

Weekly baths, reusing the same water for the whole family

Husbands often absent because they are 
serving missions, taking care of another family, in jail, or hiding from the law.

We admire our pioneer grandmothers, but would never want to trade places with them.

 As a chronically ill person, I’m especially grateful for modern medicine. FIfteen years without biologics would have left me severely crippled and I don’t know if I would have had anything other than frowned-upon alcohol for pain control.

Of course,  I would probably have died in childbirth before RA had a chance. Both of my big babies were delivered cesarean.

  Every once in a while when I was teaching a student would ask, if I could go to any time or place in the past, when and where would I go? 

My answer was that though there were many times I’d like to peek at, especially prehistoric times, there is no other time, and a limited number of places, even now, where I’d be willing to live as a woman.

THE PODCAST this week is not about pioneers, but it is about the prairie. Emily Dickinson has a very romantic view of grasslands, which I compare with a book I read about the dust bowl.

To Make a Prairie

My brilliant mom has been drawing Emily Dickinson coloring pages for me to use as a podcast fundraiser. the set is available in my shop for $15. As you can see, I've been having fun with them. I've printed multiple copies and if you buy the PDF, so can you.

THE KNITTING is back on track. I've finally started my "Christmas" sweater (above). Most years I buy myself yarn for a sweater to knit during the grey days. This one is a combination of my homespun and some great brown from Mountain Meadow Wool in Wyoming. The color is called "pinecone." The sweater will be Scandinavian in style with color work around the neck and above the ribbing at the waist and sleeves. It should be done by the time it stops snowing in May.

I also made myself this sweater out of natural sheep grey from Mountain meadows and my hands-on. In fact, the light grey is spinning fiber from Mountain Meadows too.

I enjoy the gentle exercise of spinning and the unique yarn it produces, so I am working on this natural Corriadale from Beesybee in California. I may dye it a light green or rose color when I'm done, which will only slightly tint the natural color changes.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Sleepless and Stupid

Werewolves are sleep-deprived and have strange symptoms too.

Fibromyalgia is bizarre and frustrating--

And controlling my life this week.

 One of the symptoms is poor sleep. I think I've been getting 3-4 hours a night lately, even though I spend about 12 hours in bed. 

Only one of those nights is explainable. I forgot both my lunchtime and bedtime fibromyalgia drug doses. When that happens, and sometimes when it doesn't, I'm suddenly allergic to myself and my whole body itches. No sleep at all that night.

But I only got a few hours the next night. I'm not tired, just sort of strung-out. I keep postponing anything that looks complicated because I know I'll get it wrong. This is resulting in lost and unanswered emails and tasks piling up. I'm glad I paid all the bills last week.

Even knitting isn't working terribly well. I finished the complex color work on a new sweater only to discover it was over 100 stitches smaller than it was supposed to be because I missed one sentence of instructions. Pictures next week if it works out.

Of course, the fibromyalgia drugs work by freezing the part of my brain that sends out false pain alarms, so at my best, I'm functioning with a partially paralyzed brain.

But a Stellar's Jay is yelling at me through the window and my daffodils are blooming, so there is spring and hope.

And I got a podcast done on fainting robins and being kind. 

Next week will be better.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Sometimes it's Who You Know--and Who They Know

 I played the viola from middle school through college. Most of that time I played in orchestras. Though I never practiced enough to be good, violists are in short supply, so I was able to experience serious classical music from the middle of the Utah Youth Symphony. It was an amazing experience.

For that reason, I've always wanted to see the Utah Symphony more often.

But it’s downtown. Tickets and parking are expensive. I’m the only one in the family who really wants to go. It's smarter and cheaper to buy CDs of the pieces I really care about.

I had accepted this situation, but suddenly things have changed.

My friend has a friend who has a friend who is sometimes given handfuls of free symphony tickets. Now I’m part of a group who attends the symphony on a fairly regular basis. 

Glass sculpture in the lobby of Abravanel Hall--Utah Symphony's home
Since the new year, I have been to a Mozart/Hayden concert and a Saint-Saens/Bernstein one. There is a second Saint-Saens/Bernstein concert I can attend tonight.

The last concert left me with a major talent crush. 

Well, I have a crush on Bernstein to begin with. My mom made sure of that by never missing a Boston Pops concert on PBS while he was the conductor. The fact that he was old enough to be my grandfather didn’t keep me from finding him thoroughly attractive.

The new crush is likely young enough to be my son, but as this is a TALENT crush, it’s not creepy. For the Bernstein number, Age of Anxiety there was a piano soloist. Conrad Tao came out in skinny jeans and a t-shirt under his tuxedo vest and I was automatically charmed by youthful energy. When he started to play, I was blown away. His fingers are superhero-fast, yet he manages to be powerfully expressive.

 He’ll be back in April and I’m hoping we’ll have tickets for that performance too. Here are links to short clips from his solo and his thoughts on the piece.


This week Emily comments on frogs and fame. She certainly makes privacy  seem preferable--to be a "nobody." 

Yet, if I was content with a quiet, private life, I probably wouldn't be blogging and podcasting, or as Emily would say, telling my "name-- the livelong June--To an admiring Bog."  

Which do you prefer? Listen and decide.

Episode 1.3 I'm nobody! Who are you--

THE KNITTING--has been frustrating.

 Between getting wool that didn't quite match and having a pattern that needed to be altered because it didn't fit the size of yarn I spun, this sweater has taken three times longer than it should have. But it it finished and gorgeous. If it wasn't so warm (Menopause impermanently tropical.), I'd be tempted to keep it. 

It won't be in my shop because it's a commission from a friend, but there are other nice things there that you might like. 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Why I'm not Canadian

The news moment of celebrities threatening to move to Canada when elections don't go their way has long since come and gone. But we non-famous citizens think about it sometimes too.

 Politics here have been ugly for a long time, but Trump  made it worse. His very existence makes life psychologically challenging for those of us who are liberals in red states. It took months to accept that most of the people I go to church with, people I have known and loved my whole life, voted for someone that horrible. (Actually, I haven't accepted this so much as chosen to live in denial.)

Then there is health care.

 Insurance companies and drug companies are impossible to plan around. A very expensive biologic that I received for free most of last year is now costing $150 a month and may soon cost up to $2000 a month unless I am able to do a paperwork and phone call equivalent of  triple backflips through the right flaming hoops.

 Every time I have to switch drugs, my doctor gives me a couple choices so I can see which one my insurance company prefers. What the doctor or I might prefer is far less important. So, national health care, socialized medicine, I'm all over that.

So sometimes I will tell my husband, or my children that we are moving to Canada, or Sweden, or Norway, but I don't make big announcements because it's never going to happen.

 Here's why:

1. They don't want me.

You know how folks complain about people moving into the U.S. just to go on welfare? I'd be one of those people in another country.

Sure, Canada takes in a fair number of refugees, but I hardly qualify.

What they (and Mexico) want as far as immigrants go is what every country wants--people in high-skill, high-demand professions.

I have yet to find a place that is in desperate need of people to explain poetry while sitting in a comfortable chair. If you know of such a place (preferably tropical) please share.

2. Snow

Utah may advertise "the greatest snow on earth," but we've only had about four snowstorms this winter and I'm fine with that. We need more snow in the mountains, but I really like being able to walk on sidewalks in the park almost year-round. I live on a narrow, "country" road (i.e. no curbs and gutter, no sidewalks), which only counts as two lanes because they painted a yellow line down the middle. It is scenic, but not safe to walk on. It snowed about two feet Sunday and Monday, so I didn't leave the house until Wednesday.

Socks are also an issue. I really don't like them. My feet may be claustrophobic. I spend most of my time barefoot and when I must wear shoes I have bare feet in moccasins. Canadian knitters seem obsessed with socks and I get it. It's snowing right now and I'm wearing socks. I'd have to do it all the time if I moved somewhere actually cold.

3. Dark

I suffer from raging seasonal affective disorder, at a very temperate latitude, in a dry climate with 300+ days of sunshine a year. Just thinking of the mid-day winter photos my sister sent when they lived in Sweden for two years makes me want to cry.

4. This is my country

I am both the daughter of an immigrant and a daughter of the Mayflower and the Revolution. When Trump was elected, I hung an American flag on my front door. It is my battle flag. This is my country and I am determined to work towards making us live up to our ideals.

(Bald eagles are jerks and America the Beautiful would be a much better and more singable anthem than the Star Spangled Banner, but let's accomplish liberty and justice for all first.)

Still stuck and behind on the knitting, but I have another podcast--mermaids and maybe attempted metaphorical rape. Tell me what you think

Friday, February 16, 2018

Enough. Too Much.

I was in the classroom, teaching, when I heard about the Columbine shootings. There is a clear picture in my mind of the weird old Mac computer  on which I tried to write lessons and  record grades. In addition to my usual seventh graders, I co-taught a couple of mixed regular level and special ed classes. Compromising with another teacher on curriculum was a new challenge. Eighth grade, incredibly hard. For whatever reason, eighth grade was always harder for me than seventh. There were so many needs to fill, academic and emotional. 

I don’t remember how the news filtered through the school, but I remember the heavy, helpless sadness. Teaching, functioning, felt like swimming through mud. It was similar to the sadness created by 9/11, but not as distinctive because it would be repeated again and again.

We practiced, accepting that, like a fire or an earthquake, it could happen to us. Doors were locked, lights turned off, windows covered, students sat on the floor against the wall that seemed least likely to be in the line of fire. 

Some of my seventh graders honestly couldn’t be quiet to save their lives. I scolded them angrily, knowing it might come down to that.

I also knew, without question, I would risk my life to save students.

I never had to. But there were shootings by students from my school, right before and right after my time there. Not mass shootings, but individual grudges dealt with by 13- or 14-year-olds—children-- who used their parents’ guns.

I am not one of those “liberals who have never shot a gun.” Yes, I’m a liberal, but I have shot rifles, shotguns, and handguns as well as B.B. guns, wrist rockets, and bows and arrows. Due to impatience, poor depth perception, and cross dominance (right handed, but left eyed, apparently),  I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.


But, incompetent as I am,  I could hit lots of people by firing into a crowd, any idiot can. And right now I, with a lifelong history of mental illness and proven poor gun skills can buy one. So can anyone feeling hate toward the world. 

Neither hate nor mental illness is unique to the United States, but this is the only country that makes it increasingly easy to buy guns of war, the only country in which mass shootings, and school shootings are common. 

I’m not coming for your guns. I wouldn’t want to diminish others’ opportunity to participate in target shooting or hunting. I won’t even argue against the defensive handgun you keep under your pillow or in your car, as long as you know how to keep your child, your grandchild, or the criminal you are arming yourself against from shooting someone with it.

I want a sane training and licensing system for anyone who wants to buy guns and ammo. Something like a driver’s license. It would require the same kind of training those of you who have gone to concealed carry or hunter safety classes have already received. 

This would greatly expand business for gun ranges and gun-safety teachers. All the required practice would even increase ammo sales.

More importantly, it would allow fewer idiots and incompetents (like me) to own and shoot guns.

Like driver’s licenses, it isn’t a perfect solution. There are still idiots on the road and people without licenses. There are still fatal accidents, even vehicular homicides, but the roads are a lot safer than they would be if we just let everyone have an unrestricted right to own and drive cars.

It’s time for Americans to unite and take a stand.  We need to tell our representatives and the NRA that we insist on sane and responsible gun control.  We need to vote accordingly.
We need to make America safer.


On a happier note, though my knitting is still backed up and unphotogenic, my podcast is is finally launched and available. I read and talk about poems by Emily Dickinson. It is less than six minutes long, so please give it a listen and pass it along to anyone who needs a weekly dose of poetry.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Desert Island between Deserts

The Wreck of the Julia Ann, painted by Captain Pond's sister, Edith Pond

I love reading and learning about people who endure heroically to overcome great obstacles.

There is some irony in this because I can endure almost nothing. Two hours of socializing sends me to bed for an afternoon. Too long a walk can knock me down for a week. I will have to lay down and rest once I finish writing this today.  Maybe reading about the physically strong is a form of escapism for me.

In preparing a lesson for my next Daughters of Utah Pioneers (DUP) meeting, I have discovered another amazing event. One principal character led a life worthy of novels even before the main adventure.

John McCarthy was born to a well to do Irish family in 1820.  As a teenager, he attended a boarding school for potential priests where he became dissatisfied with some Catholic doctrines. John began to rebel and was punished by being forced to wear a horse hair coat dipped in lime while sleeping in a dungeon.

Kind friends helped McCarthy escape. His parents were so upset their son would not become a priest, they disowned him. Without other resources, John stowed away on a ship. Once discovered, he worked hard to prove his worth and served as a sailor for several years.

Eventually John settled in Australia where he met and joined LDS missionaries. He preached for three years before being assigned to join the main group of Mormons in Utah.  After much preparation, John and 27 other Mormons made up half of the passengers on the American ship Julia Ann, bound for San Francisco.

McCarthy was a prolific writer. Stories of what happened next are largely based on his account of the journey.

Captain Pond
The ship and her captain, Benjamin Pond,  had successfully made the same voyage earlier that year. Unfortunately, this time, the captain was given an incorrect chart, so that one month into what should have been a three month voyage, they were eighty miles off course.

In the middle of the night, the ship collided with a reef and started to break apart. Two women and three children were washed overboard. Before more could be lost, a brave sailor took a rope and swam to a section of the reef that was above water. They then formed something similar to a zip line which passengers and crew used to escape the ship.

 A young mother, 17 years old, volunteered to be the first to sit on a sailor's lap and ride to safety. She wrapped her baby in a shawl and tied it to her husband's back. Just as she was setting off, her husband and baby were washed overboard, but sailors were able to grab her husband by the hair and rescue him. All three of the little family survived.

Getting everyone to the reef was only a temporary solution because there was no food, water, or shelter. For two and a half days, the survivors endured tropical sun and salt water while a small boat was repaired well enough to bring them to a nearby island.

The island, which would be their home for seven weeks, was inhabited only by rats and seabirds. There was no running water, but the survivors were able to dig for water that was palatable once filtered through sand. All of the survivors worked together to gather food and water. The captain was impressed to discover a sixty-year-old woman out at night hunting for turtles.

Eventually the small boat was strengthened for a longer journey to seek an inhabited island and appeal for rescue. Nine men, including Captain Pond and John McCarthy, set off. After three days of rowing into the wind, they reached Bora Bora. Soon the castaways were brought to Tahiti to recover. They eventually found passage on other ships bound for California.

Later, many of these people travelled by wagon from California to Utah and helped establish towns all over Utah and Nevada--an adventure full of additional trials and triumphs.

I am trying to find the right way to be inspired by such tales of courage and faith. Like many LDS people, I feel weak in comparison to my forebears. The disability that leaves me pretty useless on my better days exacerbates the feeling. 

Like a true English major, I find comfort from poetry more readily than from scripture: 

When I Consider How my Light is Spent --by John Milton
When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
   And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest He returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
   Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
   And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”
For those of you who stopped reading when you saw poetry, here is the key point. Milton has gone blind and feels useless, but realizes that God does not need him; he needs God. The key line is the last one, that makes most sense if you think of servants in royal households. "They also serve who only stand and wait." 
I may need to sit and wait, but will try to be useful as I can. 
(Efforts toward starting the podcast have slowed down knitting and knitting photography, so be patient with me. I have been spinning prodigiously and will try to better photograph my efforts for next week.) 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Incomplete Resurrection

After playing the ritual insurance company/doctor's office/specialty drugstore game of telephone, I am finally back on my miracle drug.

Actually, that depends on your definition of miracle.

Commercials for biologics definitely portray miracles. Last weekend, after spending a day in and out of fever dreams, I crawled to our favorite local restaurant for takeout. While waiting, I watched a Humira add on TV. A woman was happily inspecting and hauling crates of produce. Apparently, thanks to Humira, she could open her own restaurant. (Humira is not my current medication, but one of many I used for about a year before it stopped working.) Other biologic commercials are similar--people paint their houses, play soccer with their children, jog with their dogs.

Biologics do make a difference. For me it's the difference between spending most of the day in bed or being able to putter around the house. Biologics helped me teach for about fifteen years after my diagnosis. They also protected my joints, so after almost 20 years of pain, X-rays show very little damage.

These medications have only been available since the nineties and they have made a huge difference in the lives of RA patients. If I had gotten sick 20 years earlier, I would have expected rapid deterioration, multiple joint replacements, and a shortened life.

So I am thankful for my miracle. I'm back from the dead. But it is not a biblical resurrection, a complete renewal of life after death. I feel more like Frankenstein's monster--a movie version--lurching around in obvious disfunction. But at least I'm lurching.

In other news, I've used my renewed energy to get serious podcast work done. The first one is recorded. I have three in almost final draft form and one as a rough draft. I'm to the point now that I can work with my husband this weekend on the technical stuff and start submitting episodes to podcast providers for approval. I'll let you know when they are available.

I've also come up with a couple of fund-raising items to cover podcast costs. I've designed a hat based on one of the poems I'm talking about. Once the podcast is launched I'll sell the hats, and the pattern to make the hats. Also, my artistic mom has agreed to make Emily Dickinson coloring pages for me to sell as PDF files. They will also be available through my Etsy shop.