Friday, December 8, 2017

Eating from the Tree of Life

Appropriate to my sense of humor, my family visited this tree of life in a local cemetery. "Reserve your spot today!"

Trees get a lot of attention this time of year. We bring them into our homes to decorate, string lights around outdoor trees, and travel to admire trees others have decorated. In this dark, cold season, it makes sense to embrace such obvious symbols of life--both the evergreens which stand defiant against winter and the deciduous trees that resurrect each spring.

It also makes sense that many different cultures world wide include a Tree of Life in their beliefs. Lately I have been pondering a Tree of Life story I grew up with.

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While dreaming, I find myself in a dark and dreary wilderness. Fog swirls around, obscuring any landmarks. I can hear, and occasionally see, a river, high and muddy with runoff. I also hear voices, some crying for help, some shouting that they know they way. But the only way that seems certain is to cling to a nearby guardrail and follow it slowly, step by step, trusting that it leads somewhere, hoping that it leads to safety.
painting by Minerva Teichert
After a long, difficult walk, I glimpse a light in the distance. The light is coming from a tree with fruit so brilliantly white it glows through the darkness. A kind guide welcomes me. At first bite, the taste of the fruit fills me with so much joy that the difficult journey becomes worthwhile.
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I have always seen this prophet's dream, as told in the Book of Mormon as a metaphor for life's journey. If I stayed on the right path and resisted temptation, I would be rewarded in the end.

But my extra dose of pain this past week has given me additional insight. Right now this story is more helpful to me as a metaphor, not for the whole sweep of life, but for each individual day.
Tree of Life sculpture BYU

Many, maybe most, of us spend great stretches of life stumbling through a wilderness of physical or mental suffering. Giving up often seems like the easiest, even the most logical choice. But we find something--faith, hope, love--to cling to and put one foot after another day after day.

And the reward comes daily too--bright bites of joy that make the struggle worthwhile. Just now I saw and heard a bluejay at my feeder. That alone made it worth today's fight to get up and moving.

As I hobble through the holidays, I plan to eat as many of those bites of joy as possible (as well as a decent amount of chocolate). I hope you will be able to savor many small joys in your life as well.



Tree of Life in Draper, Utah
THE KNITTING

I finished the commission sweater. It is currently drying. I'm still not sure I'm happy with it. I hope its new owner will be. I've also received and wrapped the yarn for my January sweater this year. I'm looking forward to designing.

If you are still trying to find the right gift for someone special, check out my shop. There is still plenty of shipping time at least through the 16th.
Do you have your Solstice hat yet?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Twisted


I'm not usually thankful for my health. In fact, I don't generally consider myself healthy. Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia have damaged my brain and body to the point that I cannot function well enough to work any more.

But, things can always be worse.

Tuesday morning I went out to fill the bird feeders and take my dog for a short walk. Somehow, while standing on a level sidewalk, I suddenly found myself on the ground with a sprained ankle.

As my mom always says, "No brain, no pain." I had what felt like an urgently busy day planned, so I kept moving. Somehow, I staggered my dog around the park, then went to the grocery store. Maybe I was in shock or had an adrenaline high because I haven't been nearly that mobile since.
I'm on the mend, but still have a more than few days that will consist mostly on sitting on the couch with ice on my ankle. I have to admit to being angry and not particularly stoic about these limitations. I want to do things!

In the meantime, I am thankful for aching, ornery joints that usually allow me

--to walk in the park and at the aquarium

--drive

--use the treadles on my spinning wheel

--go up and down stairs

--stand to cook or wash dishes

(I can still stand enough to do laundry, but am not currently in the mood to be thankful for that.)

Couch confinement did allow me to finish the very good Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan and to make some serious progress on my knitting.

THE KNITTING

I finished the Christmas blanket, and am almost done with the commission sweater, but it has me worried.

The lady I am knitting this for fell in love with the picture on the pattern. 

I don't blame her. That yarn is so fuzzy and lovely. I don't know if the pattern is all that impressive; maybe anything created in that beautiful material would be nice. The yarn shop lady did her best to match colors and gauge, but the yarn she chose is more than half synthetic, so I don't know if it will bloom as nicely after blocking as the original. And there are always nerves about whether or not things will fit. 

I'm not sure whether I would be better off finishing it this afternoon and ending the suspense or knitting something recreational to calm my nerves.

Though I am dithering about my knitting, I am finished with my Christmas shopping. How are you doing? Check out my shop for one of a kind cozy gifts.


Friday, November 24, 2017

I'm Thankful for Millennials


The kids are all right.

That's not what the popular press will tell you. There is no more sure way to make it on the talk show circuit than to write a book for worried parents about how we've screwed up our kids. But old people have always complained about young people.

When I was young, (officially a year too old for GenX) we were as a group lazy, lacking direction, and destined to be a burden to our parents indefinitely. Also in our midst were many dead-eyed criminals, most likely turned that way by violent video games.


Now that we are middle-aged and mortgaged, the focus has shifted to our kids, the dreaded millennials, hilariously described by the song above. Stereotypes can be fun, but youngest accurately pointed out that most millennials would make a better president than our choices in the last election. Based on my experience as a middle school teacher, I am inclined to agree

I taught seventh and eighth grade from 1992-2015, so all of my kids and my actual kids fall into the millennial category. Even while they were in the throes of adolescence, it was clear that almost all would grow into responsible citizens and many would be exceptional.

Facebook hit at the right time for me to follow many of these kids through high school into college, careers, and parenting. I also see former students working at businesses around our community. They are growing up beautifully.

I was reminded of this fact by watching the youngest of my students, now in high school, perform in Hillcrest High School's production of Les Miserables.

Hillcrest has built its reputation on academics (an IB school) and performing arts. Their musical performances are of professional quality, but with huge casts. This year there were over 200 kids in the ensemble, this is in addition to the named characters, stage crew, and orchestra.

The ensemble performed mostly in the aisles where they sang, danced, and acted with the same passion and precision as the leads. All of these students dedicated hundreds of hours, cramming in homework and setting aside sports and other interests to contribute. I was moved to tears not by the very familiar story and soundtrack, but by their amazing performances.

Millennials are generally more tolerant of others' differences than their elders and more passionate about the environment and about helping other people. I have met thousands. For the most part they are kind, helpful, dedicated to their friends and families, and hopeful about the future. As I keep telling my own kids, I am fine with them taking over at any time.


THE KNITTING

I don't participate in Black Friday, but if you follow any of the shopping conventions (Small Store Saturday, Cyber Monday) check out my shop for hand made, one-of-a-kind gifts.

I have to finish a few of those gifts, namely one last (for this year) mermaid tail, and a large fuzzy blanket.

I'm also well on my way into the commission sweater. The color work which will make it more interesting goes around the bottom.

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.


THE KNITTING

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.      
                            

Sabbatical

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:

Friday--6,646
Saturday--7,709
Sunday--6,553
Monday--11,175
Tuesday--8,900
Wednesday--4,195
Thursday--5,792

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.
THE KNITTING


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.

THE KNITTING

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!