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.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Living Like a Cat

Last weekend winter finally arrived-- all at once-- with 16 inches of snow.

While my son and husband spent most of the day shoveling, I spent most of the day in bed.

Storms are never great on my joints, but there is an additional problem. My insurance company changed with the new year, which meant I needed to go through the entire pre-approval rigamarole again for a biologic I have been taking now for months. The time involved has put me a dose behind on the miracle drug that makes me just functional enough to move through my day.

Also, I had been fighting to keep going after overdoing it had thrown me into a flare. My body always tells me to go back to bed, so I often ignore it, but Saturday it gave me no choice. Since then I've been trying to take it easier.

Resting is not in my nature, but I have role models. My dear cats only get up to eat, drink, and use the litter box.

My cats are basically throw pillows, but lions and other wild cats sleep almost as long. They hunt, eat, sleep. So my trip to the grocery store counts as hunting. My trip to the aquarium, as tempting as some of those fishies look, does not.

I was scheduled to end the week with a return trip to the aviary, but the weather was looking dicy again. I was relieved that my friend suggested to cancel before I had to.
This same friend often says she can't imagine living like some of the aquarium animals that seem to do nothing. Imagination may be the issue. Does a fish know it isn't doing much? Is it capable of boredom, sadness or joy?

How about my kitties? I assume they dream; my dog does. What do they dream about?

I have a favorite poem, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, about cats and their imaginations that applies to the moggies we have loved, but not to our current aristocats.

On A Night of Snow

Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet -
stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light,
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar -
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!

I want to be out in the wild winds, but my body insists on staying by the fire. I'll behave for a few more days and let my miracle drug kick in again. Maybe I can dream about being stronger.

Friday, January 19, 2018

In a Fowl Mood

Once again, I flew too close to the sun, which caused me to crash and burn. Someone needs to clip my wings before I do it again.

Let's try this in clearer language. I felt draggy last week, but Friday was my anniversary. When my sweet husband suggested dinner and a movie to top off the flowers (which still look great), I took a handful of pills and set off with a smile. It was fun, even if the new Star Wars movie isn't worth recommending.

Saturday we took advantage of nearly snow and ice-free conditions to lake a longer and harder walk than usual. (Sorry US East Coast, we get all the global warming this year.) I expected to be wiped out the next day, but Sunday was okay. I went to all three hours of church and got my steps in afterwards.

Consequences hit on Monday. I'm now recovering from a flare--sleeplessness, fever, pain, the works.

But since I apparently can't sleep this one away, I still get out and go. This week's adventure, on Wednesday, was to the Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park, downtown Salt Lake City. A good choice as the terrain is flat, paved, and cane-friendly.

 I hadn't visited since my kids were little. At the time, the aviary had just begun a big makeover. All of the habitats have been improved or replaced since then and renovations continue. My current favorite is a South American exhibit which has indoor and outdoor rooms for all of the birds, so they can choose whether it is warm enough to be outdoors.

There are many birds of prey, most impressively an Andean condor, and four eagles. These massive birds are at the aviary because they were injured in various ways and could not be returned to the wild.

I'm not sure if that is also the case with the vultures and owls . There is a large, beautiful Owl Woods, but not large enough for nighttime soaring. I have a membership now, so I'll be back to ask if they are part of conservation efforts.

The ducks reminded me about clipped wings. All of the ponds contain our native green-headed drakes and their speckled-brown mates, but they also have a lot more "exotic" ducks from around the world. The natives fly in and out at will, but careful watching reveals that the more official residents are missing some wing feathers. I assume that is also the case with the pelicans and flamingos. This doesn't hurt the birds, but it does keep them from flying away.

In fact, the feathers grow back every year.  In the eighties, one of the flamingos didn't get his wings clipped and started migrating with some (much smaller) wading birds that lived part of the year in the Great Salt Lake. Although the famous "Pink Floyd" raised a lot of publicity for both the aviary and our local water birds, I'm sure he also is a cautionary tale for bird keepers everywhere.

A careful look at the two sets of ducks in the aquarium reveals that they are missing flight feathers too, which makes sense. They have roomy ponds to live in and around, but it would be a danger to everyone if the ducks took it into their heads to soar around.

But there are free-flying birds in the South America section of the aquarium. There are two big enclosures for the toucans and some birds that are known to bite, but dozens of other birds, some as large as magpies, fly freely within the exhibit. Their freedom, limited though it may be, is probably what makes me enjoy that exhibit the most.

Near the birds is a new section for butterflies, all painted ladies so far. They add another example of the contradiction of flight within captivity.
And captivity is the theme for the week. I feel trapped by my failing mind and body. Yet I have incredible freedoms that most women in the world don't have and very few in history did.

I'm reading my fifth biography of Emily Dickinson as preparation for our podcast. She lived at a time and in a social class that restricted women to the domestic sphere. But it was a time of change. Women were publishing novels and poetry and pushing for political change. Emily was an avid reader of these pioneering writers.

The question all Dickinson biographers struggle to answer is why Emily chose not to seek publication and ultimately why she chose to pretty much disappear into her father's house, communicating mostly with letters and refusing to see any but a select few acquaintances.

Why did a poet who struggled against the loss of freedom required of a convert submitting to God and of a woman submitting to her husband, confine herself in this way?

Theories run the gamut--madness, agoraphobia, a broken heart, uninterrupted intellectual freedom. My current book, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds, by Lyndall Gordon, makes a very good case for epilepsy, which was still highly misunderstood and stigmatized in the 1800s.

Secrecy is part of of Dickinson's appeal. No one knows how autobiographical her poems are. Not telling was part of her privacy and freedom.

In a somewhat related vein, I just finished reading a good novel my sister sent me for Christmas. To the Bright Edge of the World is about Arctic exploration, Native American folklore, trauma, tragedy, and love. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read. One of the main characters is a gutsy women one generation younger than Dickinson. She studies birds and learns how to use the very primitive cameras available in 1885 to become a pioneering wildlife photographer. The book goes into great detail about the patience and stillness required to capture beautiful images of wild birds. I thought of her often while trying to photograph captive birds. She could have accomplished miracles with the camera on my phone.

THE KNITTING can wait. I have designed a hat pattern to sell as a podcast fundraiser and I've started a hand spun sweater for a friend, but I don't have it in me to photograph them. My plan is to take a nap, then figure out how and where I can walk today.

Friday, January 12, 2018

This Old Dog is Trying to Learn New Tricks

For some time, I’ve been working toward launching a podcast about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I’ve read two biographies and a novel I expected to be a biography. I’ve pondered the poems I know and read many new ones. I’ve even written four episodes.

Now for the hard part—technology. There are so many things to do:

come up with a catchy title and pay for a URL  
design a logo that looks good in a thumbprint
record and edit the podcast
save that recording in the proper format 
find a server on which it will be hosted
follow many steps in formatting and writing descriptions in order to have the podcast listed on iTunes and other podcatchers
design a webpage about my podcast on which to list sources, provide additional information, and ask for donations
set up a business PayPal account if I want to accept donations.

It’s entirely overwhelming, but I need a challenge. So does my youngest son. So I’ve “hired” Youngest to be my editor and producer. If and when we make some money, I will use it to pay him.

Youngest is a digital native, but not a tech geek. He will have to learn everything from scratch too. We are starting to learn together.

The very successful History of Rome podcast, by Mike Duncan, was recorded on Garage Band, so that is where we are starting. We sit together at my computer and listen to lessons I found on the App Store. Most of them don’t apply. As cool as it sounds, I don’t need a good drum loop or impressive bass line. So we skip and try to learn the important skills.

So far I have recorded one reading of the first poem on my iPad and moved it to the main computer. I’ve also found music to cut up for intro/outro and transitions. Goals for next week are to actually create the first complete podcast and start the web page. 

Once we know what we are doing, Youngest will manage the webpage and do all the technical stuff to get the podcast on line and I can go back to focusing on research and writing. The goal is to have episodes ready to listen to by the end of February. 

The old dog in the pictures is my Bingo. He’s about 11. Bingo walks with me and makes sure we know that people are at the door. Despite several years of obedience training, sit and stay would be a new trick for him.

p.s. Today is my wedding anniversary--27 years. I don't know how it happened, but my sweet husband and I have now been married longer than we have been alive.


I finished the feet bag and made a feet hat. I’m happy with the bag, but the hat is a little big. Footprints are a little bigger than ideal for colorwork in knitting. I may try them as a vertical pattern instead of a horizontal one if I start feeling footsy again. It may happen. I’m planning a new trip to the museum next week. If you are interested, both the hat and bag are available in my shop.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Is it Better to Look Lazy?

In middle school orchestra I learned about an Italian composer so lazy he wrote music in bed. It was a lighthearted tidbit shared by a young teacher to young students. I remembered the story, but not the name, Vivaldi or Verdi, I was sure.

Actually the composer was Rossini, Gioachino Rossini. He wrote many operatic hits and a few flops, but is most known today for writing the theme music for the Lone Ranger (aka the William Tell Overture.)

In the anecdote I found online, Rossini composes in bed, and when a page of music falls to the floor, he starts over rather than picking it up. Lazy. Except he wrote 40 operas in 20 years, so what was really going on?

No one seems quite sure. The big question is not actually about writing in bed, but why a genius with fame and fortune would give up writing music at 38? Especially since Rossini stayed in the public eye and apparent good health until the age of 76.

Apparent may be the key word. Many of us appear to be fine even when we are suffering. There are reports that Rossini had deep depressive episodes. I have stayed in bed due to depression, but reported “flu symptoms” when I had to miss work. Likewise, Rossini may have been hiding under the covers when friends dropped by. Acting too cool to get out of bed would have seemed preferable to revealing a condition still often misconstrued as weakness.

Hiding our frailties seems instinctive, maybe it is. I’ve read that house cats don’t act sick unless they are deathly ill because they need to hide weakness from larger predators.

Though I walk more comfortably with a cane than without, I usually leave it home. There are logical reasons—it’s in the way when not in use, I can’t wrangle my dog and use a cane at the same time, etc,—but pride comes in as well. I don’t want to stand out as being unwell. 

Not me. I'll never be that cool.
I color my hair blue, so apparently I don’t mind standing out, but I want to stand out for being quirky, not for being gimpy.

I really dread my likely future need for a wheelchair. I remember having unkind thoughts about people who seemed too fat to walk. Now I realize I'm fat partially because I can't walk as much as I'd like to keep weight off. (We won't talk about baked-goods here.) My vanity goal is to lose weight before my joints give out so that when I need a wheelchair, others don't have such thoughts about me.

I started thinking about Rossini because I want/need to increase my writing production. The plan is to launch a poetry podcast this year. I would love to issue weekly editions, but sometimes it takes all I have to get this blog written. Maybe if I could write from bed - - -

So Santa brought me a keyboard for my iPad. I’ve written this from the living room sofa, from the kitchen table, from the laundry room, but not from bed.

Because morning is unfriendly to me. I go to bed planning to start reading research materials or typing the blog or podcast as soon as my husband’s alarm goes off at seven. But I usually can’t even roll over and turn on a podcast to listen to until nine. Guilt over neglected pets gets me dressed and feeding critters before 10, but my drugs and brain rarely work before 11. That’s a huge chunk out of my work day before I wash dishes, do laundry, exercise, etc. 

Rossini didn’t exercise. He only cooked for fun.  And I’m pretty sure he had servants in addition to wives and mistresses. I may have to delegate or ignore even more housework to become a more productive writer. 


I had two projects on needles when this week started. The plan was to be disciplined and finish them before starting more.

But I fell in love at the Museum of Natural History. The whole section on prehistoric people of Utah fascinates me. This high desert country is hard to live in. I can’t imagine the work that went into keeping a family fed, sheltered, and clothed. But people have been doing so for about 10,000 years. 

We only have stone tools for the earliest people, but the Fremont and Anasazi peoples lived in Utah during what was the Middle Ages in Europe. And the technology was similar. Farming, hunting, basket weaving, pottery. 

I love looking at the housewares and clothing of these people. What seems to survive best and touch me most, is the moccasins. They are crafted in much the same style as the Minnetonka moccasins I wear everywhere (without the rubber soles), but are so small. Here is a related article I found while looking for pictures. 

Part of that is I am a big person, with very big feet, but I also think a lot more child moccasins survive than adult ones. Kids outgrow things before they wear them out. Even with hand-me-downs, a few shoes will survive intact.

I needed to express my feelings in knitting, but I don’t generally knit socks. So I went with a feet theme. Bare feet on a sandy path are on what will be a bag. I also plan on putting smaller feet on a hat, but probably need to churn out two or three more Space Invaders hats first. I’ve sold two this past month and am down to the last one. You can snag it and other items at my shop.