Friday, November 17, 2017

Fuzzy Familiarity and Fossils

We spent Saturday in and around Vernal, Utah: gateway to Dinosaur National Monument.

Vernal is a strange place to me because I feel like I should know it better. My Grandparents lived there when I was little. We visited often. But I only have two clear memories.

The clearest one is visceral. My aunt's horse, Sunday, stepped on my foot. I was only three or four years old, but the remembered feeling is very clear.

My other memory is that the house had an apartment built onto it. There were two ways in, to go outdoors or to crawl through the window.

I feel like I should remember more, but I really don't. Grandma's house, to me, is the one in Orderville where my grandparents lived through my later childhood until after I was married.

Because we visited on vacation, time off from regular life, the house was an oasis. It was packed with books and board games. There was a climbable tree in the front yard. Upstairs and downstairs fireplaces burned brightly year-round.

Orderville is a tiny town on the road between Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. It is the perfect base camp. So we joined with cousins on all sorts of adventures, then came home to Grandma's amazing cooking. Orderville will always be one of my favorite places.

Vernal, on the other hand, always makes me feel like I should have a connection with it, but I don't.
I do like the dinosaurs and the dinosaur museum. Main Street in Vernal is dotted with dinos of varying quality and accuracy.

The museum has both casts of skeletons and real bones. A lot of it is dedicated to showing the process of finding fossils and the many hours, actually years, of cleaning and assembly before creating museum-ready pieces.

The museum ties in well with the monument because it is a quarry that has been left intentionally unfinished since the 1920s.

In prehistoric times, the area was a flood plain that collected a whole lot of stegosaurus bones along with a few of the allosaurus that preyed on them. This fossilized graveyard has been kept intact so we can see how the fossils were found.

In addition to giving the history of paleontologists who find and work on the bones, both the museum and the quarry give credit to local artists who have created paintings and models that bring the bones to life. This stegosaurus statue traveled to a worlds fair in the twenties then became a part of the monument. He has been painted in several different color schemes over the years, but is always happy to welcome visitors.

I'm always a sucker for dinosaurs, but this year I was more moved by two completely different creatures. The first caught my eye because it was so familiar--the fossil of a fresh water ray. I didn't know rays lived in fresh water until I visited the aquarium almost a year ago. Now I watch the silent, graceful creatures every week and count them among my friends. I even bought a plush version which is currently sitting on my lap. (Petting and squeezing him helps these stiff fingers get back to typing.)

The second creature is not familiar, but fantastic. The unintathere is an elephant-sized, saber-toothed herbivore that lived in Utah during the Pliocene epoch. Sadly, no plush versions seem to be available, but I want one. Actually, I want a real one.


Knitting this week is getting a bit tedious. I am at work on my fifth of six mermaid tails and another secret Christmas blanket. But last night I was delivered a batch of wool for a sweater commission. Sweaters are scary because they have to fit, but I am excited to start on something new.  In the meantime, here are some potential Christmas gifts you could purchase from my shop.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Sabbatical

Hibernating animals always fill me with envy.
I have felt tired and overwhelmed for my whole adult life. And I fantasize about escape.

A clear college memory is epistemology class my freshman year. The professor explains that there is no way we can be sure whether a table is real or a creation of our minds. I'm quite certain that either this class is stupid or I am. The classroom is recently  remodeled with soft new blue-grey carpet. I  long to curl into fetal position in an empty corner.

A few years later, I looked back at college as the easiest point of my life and hoped for some real break, enough time off to find and refresh myself.

People think school teachers have all summer for that, but cleaning up and setting up classrooms plus required training subtracts about a month from that and most of us have second jobs as well. By the time summer starts, it ends.

In the middle of teaching and parenting and coping with the early years of RA, I created a poem about tiredness and longing.      


last year's harvest wasn't worth the planting
blighted fruit on spindly vines
stunted by spent soil 

so this year
I lie fallow

let raindrops puddle in tired eyes
     soften trampled soul

     bindweed halo hair
     rub aching toes

     roots pry open cracks

     worms wriggle in
     consume the wastes of overwork
     leave nutrients behind

let skin bask in dandelion sun

     bees bring pollen
     dance with drifting seeds

     heart catch fire with trees
     till leaf-fall knits soft afghan
     against frost burn
     snow fall

     sap slow cloud-chilled

     dreams breathe beneath snow

     dormant till spring 

My wish came true. I had to leave work. I've had more than a school year of rest now. If I wish, I can spend the day in bed or while away hours birdwatching through the window. 

 I'm still tired. And even though I have very few real responsibilities, I'm still overwhelmed. 

But I wear bright colors and a smile and go out into the world pretending to have it all together. Are we all pretending? Would something good, or bad, happen to society if we stopped? 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Overstepping My Limits

I'm writing from the midst of one of the worst flares I have had in a long time. This one was not caused by travel adventures, but by trying to take better care of myself.

A flare is more than tiredness. For many RA sufferers, joints swell and turn red. My flares, like other parts of my disease, are invisible, but my hands and feet get hot. I feel feverish in general. Every joint throbs.  My head aches like it does during sinus infections, only a little deeper. I'm tired but not sleepy, just depleted, agitated, and angry.
Flare pain for me is a pacing, fidgeting, tossing, turning sort of pain. The itching, which I had greatly reduced through lots of lotion and patience is back at full strength. I want to pull my skin off and stomp on it, but really don't have that kind of energy. It's hard to focus on knitting, reading, or even TV. Meds help a little, but the only cure is rest and time.
And like most of my flares, it is entirely self-inflicted.

My husband has lost 10 pounds since spring. Part of the credit goes to orthodontic work that has curtailed snacking, but a lot is dedication to walking. My sweetheart walks about two miles every day at work and around a mile in the evening with me.

He's found the Pedometer cell phone app to be a great motivational tool. It allows you to set your own daily goal and charts how many days you complete it. As you reach the goal each day (and also if you double it) confetti appears on the screen. For those of us who grew up with video games, that is a great reward (even better than the bouncing cards after a successful round of Solitaire).

I've had a cell phone for a couple months now and have gradually formed the habit of carrying it with me when I leave the house. A week ago I started step counting. My goal is modest. Doctors recommend 10000 steps a day. My goal is 5000. Here are my totals for the last week:


Looking at these numbers and at the bar graph on my cell phone, it would be easy to see Wednesday as a problem. Actually getting 4000 steps the way I  felt Wednesday was a miracle and an accomplishment.
The location of one of two walks on Monday
Monday and Tuesday were the problem. I got enthusiastic, pushed too hard, and hurt myself.
Apparently I've walked 19.9 miles in the last week, which is cool, but I need to find a saner balance.

The step counter can help me with this. Just as it tells me if I have enough steps, it tells me if I have too many. For now, I shouldn't go much over 8,000 and certainly not two days in a row. I will gradually increase what I can do, eventually 10,000 steps a day may be realistic for me, but I need to be patient with myself.
View from our usual walk, but from about a month and a half ago. All fall colors are long gone now.

This finished project is a Christmas present of the genre I call "computer chair blanket." It is made entirely of washable acrylic, which makes it very practical and usable.

From the leftovers, I created another very practical item. To count my steps, I have to carry my cell phone at all times. I rarely wear pockets and don't wear a bra, so there is no useful place to put the thing. Oldest works at Best Buy and sells all kinds of accessories, but as I also don't wear a belt, he couldn't find a commercial solution. Knitting to the rescue. This is a cell phone holster that I will usually wear under my clothes. the phone will be close to my waist so answering it won't require disrobing--not elegant, but a solution.

I'm burning through Christmas money fast, but have almost finished my shopping. How is yours going? I have lots of cool hats in my shop that may be exactly what your loved one needs.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Festival Without Shakespeare (kind of)

After buying the new car, my husband suggested a wonderful fall getaway--to Cedar City for another Shakespeare Festival play--my choice.

It was the closing weekend. The only Shakespeare play on offer was Midsummer Night's Dream, which I saw in June. Thought it was a great production worth another view, fairies really aren't my husband's cup of tea. Another play, The Tavern, sounded like something we could both enjoy. 

We did. First of all, the stage work is incredible. The setting is a ramshackle tavern in the middle of nowhere during a huge storm. Props, sound effects, and acting are all designed to make the storm real. Whenever the door opens, actors struggle to close it again. More amazing is the fact that every time the door opens, the furniture blows about a foot across the stage. After an actor manages to close the door, he or she picks up the furniture and places it back where it belongs. 

Items also blow past the back window. The audience can see wires on the flying items, but there is nothing visible on the furniture. I have no idea how that works. A "fire" at the front of the stage flickers realistically and increases when actors blow on it.

The acting was all solid, but it was definitely a vehicle for the main character--an escaped mental patient  obsessed with Shakespeare--played by Andrew May. He was brilliantly over-the-top, spouting Shakespearean lines in grand style and moving "theatrically" at all times. Before I did a little post-play research, I thought that perhaps the play, full of local references, had been written with Mr. May's talents in mind.

It turns out that the original play was written by the famous George M. Cohan. Local references were added when the director, Joseph Hanreddy, adapted the play for the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

When I watch a Shakespeare play, even a clunky early one like As You Like It (which I also saw this summer) I never think about myself as the writer. The elegance of language makes the thought too intimidating. But I can imaging writing The Tavern. It is melodrama and farce and nonsense. It would be great fun to write. Having an excuse to borrow Shakespeare's best lines would be icing on the cake.

My sweetheart suggests we make this fall festival run a tradition. The friend I went to plays with this summer wants to go back next year too. I'd go a third time too if I got an excuse.

Silk and cashmere--you know you want this.


My knitting sale was disappointing. My friends made great refreshments and provided a beautiful setting. My mom and aunt stayed almost the whole time to make things feel more comfortable. But very few people came. Those who did were generous and I have a little more Christmas money to play with, but the big "discovery" of my work has yet to come.

It is impossible to make a living wage knitting, but I would love to average enough each month to pay for my yarn and maybe the internet bill. If you'd like to help, check out my shop.

These poor sheep need a home!

Friday, October 20, 2017

My Kind of Crazy

I read two novels this week. Both have female characters who deal with mental illness, as do I. Naturally I've been thinking how these characters experiences are similar to and different from mine.

The book I enjoyed most was Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I'd stopped reading RA novels as a rebellion against my profession, but my husband turned me on to his Vlog Brothers Youtube channel. Liking the author as a person led me to buy and read the book.

The character, Aza, is a seventeen-year-old girl in high school. She has the typical challenges of friends and homework, but she is also coping with the death of her father and with navigating "normal" life with OCD. Her illness takes the form of obsessive thoughts about her microbiome. Aza is terrified that the wrong germs will prevail and kill her. She reads and rereads articles about deadly bacteria.

Knowing that so much of our bodies are made up of bacteria makes her uncertain of her self-ness. Also, therapy has taught Aza that she is not her thoughts, but then, who is she? Medication is also an issue because if those chemicals change her, is she still herself?

The medication issue was a big one for me. I resisted antidepressants for a long time because I was afraid they would change who I am. Fiercely anti-perky, I really didn't want any form of "happy pill." I only started medication for the sake of my children. After more than 20 years, I can testify that my medications did not take away any of my natural German snarliness. They do keep me from crying all the time.

Aza's obsessions helped draw me into the book. I'm also fascinated by bacteria and parasites. I watched every episode of Monsters Inside Me. But my interest doesn't come with the same fear or the same sense of disconnection from myself. Aza struggles to find and hold on to herself, I struggle to value a self I sometimes feel stuck with.

My struggles more closely resemble those of Emily in Emily Dickinson: Beyond the Myth by Patricia Sierra, yet I had a hard time getting into the book.

I was looking for a biography. This is a novel from Emily's point of view. I don't think Emily, as portrayed in this book, would approve.

I do approve of the author downplaying whatever mental illness Emily may have suffered from. Diagnosis of the long-dead is a dicey science. In the book, Dickinson's withdrawal from society is a conscious choice she makes to focus on her art. At least that's what she tells herself. But we still see Emily unable to descend the stairs to meet a friend, unable to leave her house to sit at a loved one's death bed. 
I understand. social interaction is a lot of work and sometimes I just can't. Sometimes, even if my body is working, my mind revolts and I really need to stay curled up in a quiet corner.

Fortunately, I have a sense of adventure that gets me up and out of the house. It also gets me in trouble sometimes. Tonight is one of those times. Months ago, I was gutsy enough to ask a kind woman with a beautiful home to host a boutique of my knitting. Now it's here, the neighborhood is invited and I'm terrified. This is happening Thursday night. I publish Friday, so it will all be over when you read this. How it went is the topic of next week's blog. 

THE KNITTING--is all packed up for the show or for a trip we may take afterwards if technical difficulties with the new car are taken care of. I'll get back to you on that topic as well.
The fall crocus are in bloom--hope for spring as the leaves start to fall.

Friday, October 13, 2017

My Week as a Sidekick

I'm trying to learn how to take good pictures with my phone.

Last weekend was a wonderful adventure--Road trip!

Husband was eager to get out of the house and away from his computer. I'm always up for a drive. So we hopped into his sexy red car and started out, choosing our destination as we went. Eventually we settled on Flaming Gorge, a reservoir and hydroelectric dam in Eastern Utah.

My husband takes really good pictures.
It's no fun to go the same way twice, so we circled around the back side and arrived via scenic byway.

We saw antelope, deer, bison, and a herd of either wild or very unsupervised horses. Fall colors were fantastic and pretty small towns tempted us to move away from the traffic and strip malls at home.

We ended up driving all day, coming over a mountain and down a winding road towards home as the last light faded from the sky. It was a glorious day, definitely a wonderful prelude to an otherwise tiring (though productive) week.

I am slowly getting better at this.
I feel like I spent the rest of the week at a car dealership. The insurance money came in from our deer-totaled car and Oldest was ready to leap into adulthood and buy a car of his own. He did the research, picked a likely car, and set up an appointment to see it at our nearest Carmax.

Oldest didn't need my help, except it was apparently my responsibility to add the new car to our insurance.

So I went along, listened and nodded, but let my son do the talking and deciding. The presentation there was low-pressure and informative, my kid is really a grown-up, so it was as good as buying cars gets.

Which means it only took two or three hours. That's a long time to sit to make one phone call.

But oldest has a car now and doesn't need mine. Mission accomplished.

We sidekicks are always happy to help.
But two days later, I was back at the dealership. Husband's sexy red car is impractical in snow and aging into increasingly expensive repairs.  So he has been talking for several years about replacing the dream car with something more practical. It turns out that our road trip was a way of saying goodbye to the Mustang.

Oldest's positive experience led my husband to the Carmax website and to two possible replacement vehicles.

And led me to another couple hours at the dealership. More input was expected from me this time. Technically this is "our" vehicle, but my husband is the one who will be driving it every day. This is replacing a car from wall posters and action movies. My husband was the one who had to choose.

We are now the proud owners of a luxurious silver SUV.

And I got to call the insurance company.


I've completed the second of five or six planned mermaid tail blankets. This is as many as I have to have ready by Christmas and I've got a good start on next Christmas.                                                          

This is a very long, mostly wool scarf I will call Odd Ends. I would wear it if I wore coats. In the meantime, I will put it up for sale.

Next week a friend is hosting a trunk sale, which I hope will greatly reduce the inventory in my shop. After that I'll spruce things up and add more new items.

This week I will be desperately tucking in loose ends and getting things accurately tagged and organized.

The last item I am listing is my only attempt so far at the "messy bun hat" which has at least been popular on Twitter knitting feeds.

Basically I had a limited amount of lovely yarn and ran out. I think it works.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Planting Pretty Poison

Two weeks ago today, my oldest son was on his way to work, then a deer jumped in front of his car.

Oldest is fine. The car is not, nor was the deer. (Cops put the large doe down after arguing for an hour over who had to do it.)

But it was one of those horrible reminders of the fragility of our little universe. And life isn't designed to give us time to hold our loved ones close until we stop shaking.

No, once the police were done, I had to drive Oldest to work, and pick him up, and sort through insurance decisions with my husband. In a few days, I dropped Oldest off at the airport for a work reward trip. I'm not usually nervous putting people on planes, but we had already used up a lot of luck, karma, blessings, so I was very relieved to pick him up a couple days later.

Scottish, not Serbian, and best played loud

Still unable to curl up and cry, I channelled fear into aggression. Instead of poetry CDs of Dickinson and Whitman, I crank up nihilistic Franz Ferdinand, to volumes my young adult children turn down.

Oldest has understandably been  avoiding the wandering country road where he hit the deer. I have sought it out, driving it whenever possible to break any curses there may be.

And I bought and planted bags and bags of daffodil bulbs.

Deer-proofing for flowers
You see, our usual contact with deer is in the garden. Deer eat everything we want to grow: vegetables, fruit trees, roses, pansies, and tulips. They are pretty cheeky too, walking between the cars and our house to eat the roses, picking pansies out of pots on the porch.  Each spring, I enjoy my tulips while they last,  knowing that they will inevitably disappear in the night.

 Serious gardeners in our neighborhood build serious fences, and sometimes find deer trapped inside, tangled within, or impaled upon them. Landscaping becomes an act of war.

Deer-proofing barbed-wire for vegetables--10 feet high
And plants are weapons. I've long since given up on pansies. New plantings are all made with deer in mind. Plants for my pots must be fuzzy or aromatic--traits deer don't find terribly appetizing. Or they can be poisonous, like the daffodils I've been planting.

I hurt myself planting daffodils. I dug in the garden and pulled out weeds as if I were a healthy person accustomed to physical work. I exorcised some fear, but created a lot of pain. I had to crash for most of the last week.

This Tuesday I sat in the car and cried, unable to face the effort of walking into the gym to swim. But I was able to walk the aquarium on Wednesday and limped into the pool on Thursday.  I'll hike, gingerly, today. I'm on the mend.

Also, despite my rage, I'm really not planning a cervidae slaughter in my spring flower garden. Deer somehow sense that daffodils are poison, so they leave them alone. Deer are smarter than I am that way.

Because I've been poisoning myself for about a month now--with health food.

As I cleaned out my cupboards so Youngest could sand and stain them, I found several boxes of herb tea which I started to consume in large amounts. I would microwave mason jars full, then refrigerate them, so I had something cold, but not sweet to drink.

I enjoyed gallons of smooth iced tea before unbearable itching reminded me I am allergic to chamomile.
I found out about the allergy decades ago when I planted the dainty herb in my garden. Young and ambitious, I had romantic ideas of a kitchen filled with herbs hung upside-down to dry. When I handled the dry herb, my eyes watered and I thought I would sneeze myself to death.

I haven't grown it intentionally since, but chamomile has become an odd invasive weed, growing only two inches high up and down our driveway. It hasn't hurt me in that form, but some of it's cousins have. I'm allergic to the whole sunflower family. I can no longer grow the tall garden sunflowers that rain pollen on unsuspecting passers-by. A gift of sunflower-based soap from Kansas gave me reactions through a plastic wrapper. The wild cousins that beautify roadsides here in the fall are okay-- as long as I don't get too close.

I didn't think I was allergic to drinking chamomile. But it is the most likely cause of an unbearable itching that has covered my entire body and made sleep impossible. Even as the worst has eased, I feel the sensation of trying to pass thistles through my pores.

 I've stayed away from all herbal tea for over a week now, and urges to pull my skin off have calmed. I'm down to my standard constant itchiness instead. I talked to my rheumatologist about the ongoing feeling of having bugs crawling on me. He likes the term "formication" with its tidy Latin ant root, but doesn't offer solutions because it's not his specialty.

 I have an appointment with my family doctor on Tuesday. Maybe it will give us something more interesting to talk about than my cholesterol for a change.

Maybe she will even have some suggestions. Right now all small comforts are appreciated.