Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Few Good Things

A popular Christmas ornament available here.


Saturday I will be making homemade doughnuts--another baking tribute to Grandma. This is how we always celebrate New Year's Eve. Though I don't know how much energy I have to celebrate.

2016 has been a rough year. The ugly election made us too aware of how divided America is. Conflicts of interest, Russian hacking, etc., make unity unlikely any time soon. Then we add in the deaths of famous people who have the amazing ability to touch our lives, even though we never met them.

On a more personal level, this is the year I lost my career and with it a great deal of my independence and self-esteem. I've spent far too much of this year sick, lost, and sad.

But, of course there were good things. I am focusing on them today


Despite a dysfunctional mother, life is good in our little household.

 My brilliant husband managed the budget well enough that we don't really feel the 1/3 difference between  my pay check and  disability. It also helped that his department was spared from layoffs earlier this year, so his job feels secure.

Oldest returned from an LDS mission to Washington DC. He found a job at Best Buy right away and is thriving there. He hugs me every time he walks into the room. 

Youngest graduated from high school. He empties the dishwasher daily, wrangles the pets, and serves as back-up memory for my leaky brain.

Both boys are life savers for me with help around the house and errands and both boys are starting college (year two for Oldest) in just a couple of weeks. 

We can also count on love and support from our extended family and church family. Some families feel isolated and alone--tiny islands against the world. No fear of that. Someone is always checking in on us, inviting us over, helping in countless ways.


This blog has been a blessing. Giving myself a Friday deadline means there is structure to my week beyond the tedious demands of laundry. Due to the weirdnesses in my brain,  I can't write as I would like to yet. But writing is work I believe in. It gives me hope. 

Part of the hope comes from reading the work of people who turned blogs into books. I have followed the Yarn Harlot, a writer and knitter in Toronto, since we both had small children. Her life as a full time writer and knitting teacher sounds like something I would love doing.

Just this year, I found an additional role model--The Bloggess. I can't say I want her life, but I want her courage. Despite much stronger depression and anxiety than I deal with, and RA, she manages to live life on her own terms, often wacky ones, and to share them with the world. Her first memoir, Furiously Happy made me laugh out loud when I didn't know I still could. Just seeing a new posting from her on my Twitter feed makes me smile.

Speaking of Twitter, that is also new to me this year. It is definitely a mixed blessing. Made up mostly of real-life strangers, my Twitter crowd has formed the dreaded "political echo chamber" where I only hear people I agree with. (In contrast on Facebook, among friends and family, I started a four day argument by re-posting a petition to sign.)

 On the positive side, I am following knitters, dyers, spinners, and shepherds. Most of them are in the UK, which means that when I get up due to painsomnia in the middle of the night, I see beautiful pictures of green countryside and videos of new lambs. (See

I believe in buying my yarn and fleece more locally, but I have bought British shepherds' books, calendars, and artwork, all of which make me feel like I have travelled instead of being stuck at home all the time.


All things Hamilton make me happy. I love history, politics and musicals, so it feels like it was written just for me. Listening to it makes me feel determined and patriotic. I have the soundtrack and the mix tape. They provide fight music when I write letters to congressmen.

 Youngest, who loves history, but isn't big on music, has read all about every scene and can tell me what is accurate, what is less so, and where every bit of subtle irony lies. He  also pointed out that the real Hamilton was not as likable or admirable as Lin-Manuel Miranda.

I want more. I have 1776 and love it, but it is pretty silly. Is there any other patriotism-inspiring music that isn't blatantly-right-wing country, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or John Phillip Sousa? Please tell me.  I'll be happy to try out any recommendations. 

And More:

In additional media, I have found  something for everyone--

for those who want to see the good in this year (video):
16 Ways 2016 is not a total dumpster fire
Glove and Boots Best of 2016

for those who want a fresh start (article):

for those (like me) who need to plan a whole different life (audio):
 Loss and Renewal

for those just fighting to survive until tomorrow (article):
When Trauma, Anxiety, and Depression Make It Impossible to "Count Your Blessings"


Of course there was yarn for Christmas, so I had to start a new sweater for myself. I am slowly making progress on my son's sweater.

But the best progress is in production of what I think of as niece pieces. I have seven beautiful nieces.  Six are under the age of twelve. I have knit baby things and toys for them, but it is time to move them into serious knitwear. The aim is beautiful, but sturdy pieces in good yarn and fabulous colors. Each piece can be worn as a shawl for warmth by a little girl or a scarf/shawlette by a woman. I'm having fun making these up, so I'll put them in my shop and make them available to other women and girls, then go "shopping" for my nieces as birthdays approach. (Of course, if nieces or their mothers are reading, I will accept requests.)


I finally saw my doctor and I have requested a new biologic. Now the work starts. I need to read pamphlets on two options, then call my insurance company. Once they or I have selected one, I fill out a form for the specialty pharmacy which I will bring to the doctor's office to fax to the pharmacy, which will then call me to schedule the delivery. Fun.

Within two months, I will know if it is working.

More immediately, my family is fasting and praying for me on Sunday and will give me a priesthood blessing.

 I need to humble myself and prepare to accept God's will. That's hard. I've been fighting tooth and nail against learning anything from this illness. What I have learned so far is that what I want doesn't determine what I get. It's time that I turn my illness over to God and accept His guidance as to the best way I can contribute to the world around me

Your thoughts and prayers are always appreciated.

Friday, December 23, 2016

A Tradition of Hope: Intergenerational Baking and Thinking of the Future

I haven't asked yet, but I'm hoping to commission a camel and a donkey from SheepInStitches.

Solstice was quiet. I bought two trios of LED candles that could be left on all night, then lit everything else I could find until bedtime.

The highlight of the day was when two sheep ornaments arrived from an artist (and sheep farmer) in Britain. She sews all sorts of delightful creatures in evenings after farm work--horses and dogs, as well as sheep--and she will make portraits of individual animals. Check out her shop:

I was ready for Christmas, almost. One important detail remained. I needed to bake German Stollen. It's a tradition I adopted from my German grandma, who called it Kluben (no idea about the correct spelling). I'm sure Grandma didn't bake stollen every year. Mom made it sometimes. Sometimes no one did. But I have become a fanatic. I first tried the recipe in college. I've been baking stollen for my family every year for almost three decades now.

Without help, this year it might have really hurt me. I've been weakening quickly after the smallest exertion and not sleeping well. Next week I'll be seeing the doctor to try a new biologic.

Adult children to the rescue! Youngest is my constant right-hand man.  He stays on top of the dishes, making cooking and eating at my house even possible. Oldest is working retail right now and exhausted, but he had today off, so I booked an hour of his time. He managed the mixing and kneading of three batches. At the end of the day, my tummy is full of Christmas bread and I'm no more tired than usual.

Here's how it's done:
Hand mixer required, but extension cord is optional unless you, too, are working from a 1950s kitchen
I'll share the recipe with you, an ancient family secret. My version comes from Better Homes and Gardens:New Cook Book 1981 edition. I have boosted the add-ins to reflect the way I actually bake.

German Stollen

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 slightly beaten egg
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup mixed candied fruits and peels
1/3 container candied cherries
1/3 cup chopped blanched almonds
2 tablespoons finely shredded orange peel (fresh or dried)
1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel (fresh or dried)


1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon butter

In a large mixer bowl combine two cups of the flour, the yeast, and cardamom. In a saucepan (or the microwave) heat milk, the 1/2 cup butter, granulated sugar, and salt just till warm (115-120 degrees) and butter is almost melted; stir. Add in egg. Add to flour mixture. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for for 1/2 minute; scrape sides of bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can mix in with a spoon. Stir in raisins, candied fruits and peels, cherries,  almonds, orange and lemon peels.

Turn out onto a lightly flour surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3-5 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise in a warm place till double (about 1 3/4 hours). Punch down; turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Three risen batches ready to be shaped into loaves
Roll one third of the dough into a 10x6-inch rectangle. Without stretching, fold the long side over to within 1 inch of the opposite side; seal. Place o. a greased baking sheet; repeat with remaining dough.

Cover; let rise until nearly double (about 1 hour). Bake in a 375 degree oven for 18-20 minutes until golden. Combine the powdered sugar, hot water, and 1/2 teaspoon butter; brush over warm bread. Makes 3.

Nine loaves ready to be delivered to my parents, siblings, and uncle

I am trying to follow Grandma's example in more than Christmas (and New Years) baking. Now Grandma, like most Germans was never known as a sunny optimist, but immigration is an act of hope. So is religious faith and raising a family.

 Grandma's hopes were never outlandish. She didn't hope for riches and fame in America, but for a life in peace, with enough to eat and access to an LDS temple. She didn't hope for a mansion, but for a roomy kitchen, big windows, and more (though still not quite enough) bedrooms. Grandma hoped for, and built, the house I live in now.

Like Grandma, I won't entertain fantastical hopes for 2017, just feasible ones.

Hopes for next year:

1. I hope to travel. There are two planned trips right now and more  possible. In the spring, I will visit redrock country with my parents. They will trek all over Canyondlands National Park. I will read, knit, and nap in the campground at amazing Dead Horse Point National Monument.

 In the summer, a dear friend and I will visit either St George or Cedar City, Utah to visit the temple and attend at least one play.
This second trip, and trips I would like to talk my husband into, require more strength than I have now. They depend upon the next hope.

2. I hope for a (temporary)cure: I want a new drug. (Huey Lewis has no idea.) I'm hoping that the latest period of easy exhaustion has come on because my biologic medication is failing me. Switching will mean giving up the ease of a twice daily pill in exchange for a regular injection, but if I come back from the dead, it's worth it.

3. I hope that (baring the unexpected miracle cure) Social Security Disability comes through. Ironically that, or the miracle cure, is what is required for me to work again. Once I'm approved, I can try out part, or part-part time work and the salary lowers my benefit, but I don't lose the security. I would love to get back out into the world and contribute in some small way.

4. I hope my family is happy. My husband is struggling to find a comfortable place in his work. My boys are starting school and continuing to edge into adulthood. I want things to go reasonably smoothly for them and for all of our family.

Squirrels and deer are less appreciated on the Menssen compound.
5. I hope for peace of mind. I don't sleep and can't find calm. There are many reasons. I think fear over upheaval under the new administration is part of it, but it is amplified by personal insecurity. The  sudden shift from frantic to idle has thrown me into a tizzy. I have the best possible support system, but I feel quite useless, which makes me feel helpless.

I'm doing a lot of religious reading, watching and listening in hope of inspiration and/or a sense of calm.

Easy to get carried away with wildlife photos.
 I'm also watching a lot of nature and travel shows. When I get this posted today I'm on to season two of Wildlife SOS. Its a show about nice British people rescuing baby foxes and hedgehogs. They even saved a squirrel stuck in a bird feeder.

I need some stinking badgers

Reading/listening about science and history helps too. In the middle of the night, after starting a Facebook holy war and reading a few chapters of the Book of Mormon I listened to a series of podcasts with historians talking about the place of 2016 in history. It's nice to be reminded sometimes that it is not currently a plague year.

6. I hope for peace on earth. So one impossible dream. But I like to look at it more as a long-term goal. I'll do what I can. You'll do what you can. Multiply that by the good people on earth. Count on help from Heaven too.

We can all make things better a few lives at a time. It sounds like too little, but look back at my picture of Dead Horse Point. That was carved very slowly, over time, by water. The key is in persistence. Don't ever give up.

Here are two videos I found helpful.

Sharon Brous on hope through religion

John Green on hope after the election


Long before ugly Christmas sweater parties became a thing, I made myself a beautiful Solstice sweater, which I wore on Wednesday.

I don't have any new knitting for my shop today. There are several items of charity knitting that I need to turn in soon and I would love to make a few more pieces, but I also have two pieces of personal knitting I am trying to finish first.

My mom has requested a white vest. The pattern that I think will give her the desired fit is very simple. it is essentially a rectangle with arm holes. There is no inside out or upside down. Mom doesn't need that kind of accommodation, but her daughter does some days. This should be finished by Christmas, since it is a January birthday gift, this is efficiency, not last-minute craziness.

Last Christmas I tried to make a sweater for Youngest. I chose a nice-feeling wool/cotton blend that I swear grew as I knit with it. It is a little baggy on Oldest who is three inches taller and at least fifty pounds heavier than his brother.

So I'm trying again, only sort-of following a pattern that will eventually need steeks to set in the sleeves. I'm also supposed to steek to add a v neck, but he doesn't want a v neck, so the finishing part should be interesting.


Not great. Hopefully better when holidays are over, days are longer, and a new biologic has had a chance to kick in.

In the meantime, here are some beautiful Christmas watercolors by Jill Cook, friend and artist. They hang in my house year round. Copies of these and other great works are at

Friday, December 16, 2016

More light!--A desperately needed Solstice.

This is not here. We have no sun here, no blue sky.  I don't want to go out into the dark to take pictures.
It's dark right now, at 4:30 in the afternoon. Not inky dark yet, but a cold grey darkness that seems to have lasted for days. There is no snow on the ground to amplify the weak light.

Even indoors, it feels dark. The Christmas Tree barely lights the room around it. Full-spectrum lights in the kitchen can't touch the dark corners of the room or in ourselves.

This is never a good time of year for me. I definitely feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. (SAD, how cute😠.) The darkness becomes tangible by mid November. From Thanksgiving through Valentines Day I'm a little off--sadder, slower, more tired.

Darkness, even more than the cold, serves as a wall to keep people like me out of Canada (and Scandinavia). I follow a couple of bloggers from Toronto. The city looks lovely and sounds like a great place to live--in the summer. The northerly latitudes are for hardier folk. When I start thinking of moving, especially this time of year, I think about Hawaii, or Ecuador.

2016 has been an especially dark year. This is the year that pain and mental confusion stole my ability to teach in the classroom. This is the year that district kicked me into disability limbo instead of finding work where I can use my planning abilities and twenty-four years of experience.

Pain, confusion, helplessness  entwined with finally having time to get politically involved. I'm hoping my desperate fear of the upcoming presidential term is mostly displacement of all the hurt I feel over leaving my job the way I did. But so many people seem to feel the same way that it's hard to convince myself  I'm just overreacting.

My ancient European ancestors were overreacting if they genuinely feared the sun would not return without Solstice rituals.

But they were clearly right that this turn in the season, the return of light and promise of eventual spring, is worth celebrating. This year the Solstice is December 21--this coming Wednesday.

Celebrating Solstice is simple. During this complicated preparation time before Christmas, simple is a blessed relief.

For those of us who are not committed pagans, there aren't  generations of family traditions to keep. Stores are not urging last-minute Solstice purchases or playing annoying variations of popular Solstice songs.

The most complicated my Solstice ever got was with colleague gifts one year. Instead of a Christmas card, I gave a Solstice cards and candles. Here is a haiku I wrote for the occasion.

Winter's icy haze
is pierced by this bright promise:
the Sun will return

The tradition all over Europe is to light a bonfire. (That seems to be how all holidays are celebrated there. We may be missing out.)

 In the Salt Lake area, it has been windy enough that bonfires and fireplace fires should be allowed next Wednesday without violating smog restrictions.

My tradition is even simpler. I light a candle. Often several. And I keep lighting candles in my kitchen window night after night until I don't feel the darkness any more.

So Wednesday, light a candle, or a bonfire. Light one for me too. I'll light one for you.

THE KNITTING (which you can find in my shop just in time for Christmas )

Outdoor Solstice celebrations require warm clothing. I own a Solstice sweater, and have sold one from my shop, but hats make more sense for most customers. This week I knit a hat in three different "sun symbols" of my creation.
 I made one with bare winter trees and pale sunlight.
There is also one with lit matches all the way around it. I imagined that pattern right before falling asleep. I think it is a little troubling.

Could I really hurt someone so odd?
(Poe's hypnogogic state is pretty freaky. A few nights ago I fell asleep imagining I was stepping on the face of a platypus. I also was that platypus. All of it had something to do with perspective in writing. I'm not making that image into a knitting project. But I bet there is a pattern somewhere)

Anyway--I also have a sunrise hat I knit earlier
 and an orange one that just looks cheery.

 An appropriate choice for snazzier dressers is this golden lace rectangular stole

 or a large square shawl the color of summer skies.

 All of them are available in my shop. Orders made immediately should arrive at US addresses in time for the Solstice. You have a couple more days to get things in time for Christmas. Locals please convo me and I can arrange a drop off to save you the shipping charge.
My muses from literature--Mme. Defarge and Miss Marple

I hate asking for sales when more important things are happening. But I need yarn to keep myself sane and busy indoors (and to record the revolution in code like Madame Defarge).

You need to keep your ears warm while sledding, caroling, or protesting.

 Let's help each other.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sabotaging Santa

So, I pointed out last week that I'm not Santa's number one fan. I'm pretty sure I got my attitude from my mom. She grew up in a small town where everyone ran around on Christmas afternoon checking out each other's presents. This comparison was tough for poor kids who got less. When you are poor, you understand that your parents earn less money, but it has to be hard to figure out why Santa Claus brings more presents to the rich kids.

Deer prints on our lawn are actually quite common.
Santa came to my house growing up, but nobody went out of their way to be convincing about it. No one walked on the roof or left reindeer footprints on the lawn. Apparently, at three I asked Mom if she and Dad were really Santa and she didn't lie. I remember being aware that our lack of chimneys was a potential problem, but I was probably preparing tales for younger siblings.

Even though I was lucky enough to raise kids in a house with a chimney I was intentionally unconvincing. Santa and I used the same wrapping paper and had the same handwriting. By early elementary school, most kids stop believing anyway.

A very sweet donkey and nice blue coat.
Adding in the German tradition of St Nicholas Day compounded confusion. Once a year, on the evening of December 5th, my husband and I would argue over whether Santa used a donkey or reindeer. The important lesson my sons learned from all this is that their parents are pretty silly.
What treat do you leave for a kangaroo?

But no one objects to an early infusion of Christmas candy. Putting carrots into our shoes for the donkey only happened a few times, but I still give everyone a treat for Saint Nicholas Day.

Some traditions shouldn't  continue.
I never introduced the negative consequences. For Saint Nicholas Day, that would be the very problematic "Black Peter"-- Santa's slave who beats bad kids with a stick.

But good old American Santa's naughty and nice lists aren't great either. I'm sure every kid knows really bad kids who get everything they want. Besides, what kind of parent is going to fulfill the threat of no Christmas?

My kids were just old enough to miss all the Elf on the Shelf madness.  I knew about kids finding him in a new place every day. I was glad not to have to figure that out while working full time.

So it was only last year that I was horrified to learn that Herbie is there to narc on kids to Santa. The only good I can see in that, is for a parent to be able to direct whichever kid is in the tattletale stage to just tell it to the elf.

I do appreciate the gift-giving aspect of Santa Claus, which brings us to


I am officially done with my Christmas knitting. But I have taken on a commission through my Etsy Shop to make a hat in time for Christmas.

I'm also actively working on charity knitting. I'll turn in three hats and a baby blanket tomorrow. I also have yarn for projects for my mother and my son, so there is plenty to do.

The sun shone for a few minutes this afternoon so I went outside with my dog, my camera, and three hats that needed photographing. All of them will be in my shop shortly.

Inspired by a petroglyph of a deer.

Inspired by people petroglyphs in Canyonlands National Park

Inspired by too much Atari time as a kid


I'm still pulling as hard as I can.
It depends on the minute. Still need to set an appointment with my doctor to adjust medications.

I still feel like there are things that I need to do right away, but have no idea what those things are. Learning to live slowly is taking time.

Peace be unto you
Peace out, Dudes!