Friday, January 27, 2017

Snowed in, Digging out

Digging out can seem overwhelming.
THE MUSING:
It snowed 13 inches on Saturday. My husband was under the weather, so Youngest spent most of his day shoveling and salting the main part of our sidewalk and around our cars. Oldest came home from work and cleared his grandparents' driveway. That's how winter is in snowy places, a cycle of snowfall and digging back out. No one stays snowed in very long.

Except when you're snowed in metaphorically.
This is how my brain looks.

I've been away from work for eleven months now--essentially "on vacation," free to read and knit full time. But I've never been able to relax. The urgency I felt when I had papers to grade and lessons to prepare has never left me. My brain is very driven, but now has a hard time focusing.

 It doesn't help that the real world seems to be falling apart shortly after my personal world collapsed. My husband is legitimately worried that I won't survive this presidential term without a nervous breakdown.

And of course my body has also resisted any attempt to move on with my life--until this week. I started a new medication Saturday and I'm starting to think I might be digging out.

Last week I announced plans to focus on self-improvement. Earlier this week, I thought about changing that because just surviving was all I could do. But today I swam at the gym for the first time in months. Today I feel hopeful.

My favorite self-improvement scripture, Luke 2:52, is a short verse, easily overlooked at the end of accounts of the Savior's birth and childhood:

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

It first came to my attention as the guiding scripture for a youth leadership camp I attended through 4-H when I was in high school. They pointed out that each way Jesus developed, we should develop as well:

Wisdom = Mental
Stature = Physical
Favor with God = Spiritual
Favor with man = Social

My main mental focus is my writing--this blog and a novel I am trying to struggle through. I need to develop the discipline both physically and mentally to write as a full-time job.


Physically, there is so much, but the main thing I will do is stay as active as possible and try to eat more fruits and vegetables. It is too easy to stress eat.

Spiritual development is hard because it seems to be thrown off so easily by my physical state. But church reached me strongly this Sunday. Prayers and scripture reading feel a little more effective.

I've been most consumed socially, not with being social, though I am trying to to spend more time with friends, but with my political involvement.

It's hard to stay focused when new controversies and fears are released daily, but I have chosen my battles. I am going to focus on health care and education. I call, email, Tweet, and Facebook message my representatives regularly and try to follow information on those issues.

I have to stay focused financially as well. I am on the mailing list of every liberal and progressive group in the country. Each one asks for just a dollar, or five, or ten. I don't even want to make the effort to research each of these groups.

Picture from LDS Humanitarian Aid site
I do want my limited funds to genuinely help people, so this is my resolution--whenever I am tempted to make a donation or buy a t-shirt, tempted enough to find my purse, I am going to donate to LDS Humanitarian Aid Fund instead. Humanitarian Aid feeds, clothes, and shelters people affected by war, famine, and natural disasters world-wide. I can use my money to help people my president wants to turn away.

Active LDS people simply donate the same way as they pay tithing, but you can also donate by following this link: https://www.ldsphilanthropies.org/humanitarian-services/funds/humanitarian-general-fund.html That website also shows how and where money is currently being used.

Of course, this is available at my shop.

THE KNITTING

This elegant wrap reflects the colors I see from my window right now--snow, bare trees, blue sky, birds at my feeder. 

Worn long and straight it is about knee length, or it can be draped in a variety of ways. The wool is soft and comfortable next to skin.


The materials I used are one-of-a-kind. The cream stripes are a super-soft blend of lambs wool and Angora rabbit fur from https://www.etsy.com/shop/RenaissanceYarns Lisa, the shop's owner, recycles luxury yarns so they can be knit anew. 

The colored stripes are made from yarn I spun myself from a combination of wool from https://www.etsy.com/shop/LaughingLambFibers and https://www.etsy.com/shop/CreatedbyElsieB. 


I also made a quick, lightweight scarf from samples and leftovers. Almost every color is represented, so it should match with everything.
This fun scarf is also available in my shop.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Choosing My Battles

I don't mind if you disagree with my opinion. I don't like being told I shouldn't express one. I support your right to be completely wrong; please support mine too.

Confession--Despite being raised to be a good Christian, despite being a pacifist by nature, ever since Trump was nominated, I have wanted to punch someone in the face.

If the hair was blue, she would look just like me.

Most of this Is because I have yet to find anything positive in the "content of his character". 
(Since I am an overweight, disabled woman , daughter of an immigrant who was born a refugee, I  am quite sure he would be equally dismissive of me.) 

The more I have learned, the more I am convinced that Trump is not just another politician with different opinions than mine. He is an actual threat to the safety and freedom of America.

I love America. But what can I do to protect my country? I have been taught to turn to scripture for such hard questions.
Captain Moroni with the banner of liberty

There is a great story of patriotism in the Book of Mormon. A military leader, fighting against invading armies at the border, learns that the democratically-elected government is overthrown. His response is to rally his countrymen to the cause of freedom and march on the capital. 

Freedom is restored in this story, but:
  1. This is not the correct role for the military in America.
  2. It is the role of my elected representatives, who have been raised on this story. I'm hoping that somewhere in their very conservative hearts they  have the patriotism and courage to act. (The whole Utah delegation reads my blog, so this will totally work.)
  3. I am physically barely functional enough to write a weekly blog.

The third point is my biggest issue right now. I planned to attend the Salt Lake City branch of the post-election women's march when it was announced. I bought the t-shirt and was contemplating patriotic sign ideas. But it isn't going to happen for me. 

"Nasty Woman" sweatshirt is in the mail

New meds have arrived, but they don't start working that fast. I am currently writing on an iPad from my bed. There is an icy water bottle on my neck because I am trying to lower my temperature and the nausea and headaches that go with it. 

There is no way I will be well enough Saturday to drive  downtown, walk and stand for at least two hours, then drive home again. I might be well enough to complain about politics via Twitter.

So back to scripture. But scripture mostly focuses on self-improvement, not improving society and government. I will share my favorite self-improvement scripture (Luke 2:52) and my plan and progress next week. For now, local and church-wide leaders advise me to have faith that things will be okay.

Yes. Things will be okay in the very long run. Good will ultimately prevail over evil. But it doesn't take a lot of research or even casual following of the news to know that for many lifetimes of many people in many places, things are never okay.

Also, I am not trained to practice passive faith. My Mormon ancestors in Nazi Germany were told to lie low and survive, but usually Mormon faith requires action.

 We practice faith healing inclusive of modern medicine--praying that our surgeons have good days or our doctors' receive insight into what is wrong. 

My pioneer ancestors packed up, moved, and rebuilt again and again in order to make it possible for their world to be better.

I am not just going to wait for things to get better.

Years ago, I considered devoting my retirement years to politics. I wanted to run for office. This year my body let me know that I can't even be a good political volunteer. My individual efforts will have to be small. 

I will read and try to share what I learn. I will make small donations to good causes. I will continue to knit for charity. I will be kind to people around me and try to extend the same kindness on-line. I hope I can build up strength to be more involved in my church and the community around me. 

For those who are marching Saturday, here are some free, beautiful poster images: 

http://www.openculture.com/2017/01/download-print-free-shepard-fairey-protest-posters-for-the-trump-inauguration.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OpenCulture+%28Open+Culture%29


Available in my shop.

THE KNITTING

When the Women's March plans first emerged, women in a yarn shop in California decided to knit pink hats with cat ears for protesters. The idea went viral. Tens of thousands of hats were made and donated.


I was initially excited, but I don't like pink and didn't have pink yarn or extra money. Also I was actively trying to make a bunch of hats for the homeless, so I didn't participate, but am feeling left out now. Ironically, I realized last week that I did have a pink cat hat in my shop.

I also just finished a sweater for myself that has a lot of pink in it. Most of the yarn is from https://www.etsy.com/shop/jilldrapermakesstuff. Jill is a talented dyer who uses American wool.
My photographer husband will be very bothered by the garden hose in the background. 
 And I've finished of my son' sweater. Well, I have to spend some time tucking in loose ends, but it is essentially done. The yarn here is also all-American, from my favorite woolen mill http://www.mountainmeadowwool.com .

I haven't done much for my  shop. So in continuance of the pink theme, here are some more pinkish items you can find there.






Friday, January 13, 2017

A Murder of Magpies, a Dust of Snow, a Week Reclaimed


THE MUSING

The magpie is probably the most recognized, and least liked, native bird in the American West. As a child, the first thing I learned about them was that they eat eggs and baby birds from other birds' nests. I have heard stories of them attacking the eyes of living wildlife and livestock.
This is an Australian magpie. All of their animals are deadly. Beware koalas.
Roadkill makes up a good chunk of their diets. If I died hiking in the nearby foothills, my corpse would not be found by spotting circling vultures but by the sight and sound of a murder of magpies perched on the scrub oak.

Yes, a group of magpies is called a murder. But there are also other terms: tiding, gulp, charm, and parliament. I prefer murder.

In the Ukraine, but it could be anywhere in politics.
Parliament sounds a little European and distinguished for American magpies. If they were called a legislature or congress that would probably catch on. Magpies sound argumentative. Waking up to magpie "song" outside your window at 5:30 in the morning is not a Disney princess experience.

But tiding may be the best term for my magpie experience this week. Watching a group of magpies "murder" the contents of my bird feeder yesterday, made me think of an omen-filled poem by Robert Frost.



Magpies are in the same family as crows.


Dust of Snow

Related Poem Content Details

The way a crow 
Shook down on me 
The dust of snow 
From a hemlock tree 

Has given my heart 
A change of mood 
And saved some part 
Of a day I had rued.



The initial images of the poem--poisonous hemlock and carrion-eating crow--would usually be taken as bad tidings. yet, the crow's action made the poet's day better.

This week has been bad. I haven't slept well, I'm running a fever, and the course of ordering new medication always takes a couple weeks. Most concerning, however, is the fact that the disability check sent out December 22 hasn't arrived yet. Needless to say, being short 1/3 of our income for the last three weeks has been a problem. Many phone calls have been made. A new check was allegedly sent overnight two days ago.

I'm not a pretty cryer.
Yesterday I lost it. I cried on the phone with my insurance company person, emailed a law firm, over-shared on Facebook (sorry friends) and wrote a very angry blog post (that I'm not publishing. You're welcome). 

It was at the end of that angry energy that six magpies arrived at my bird feeder. Their swooping and perching 
distracted me and helped lift the mood.


In spite of a dire reputation, magpies are beautiful birds. I relate to their folk reputation of being attracted to shiny things. I love the black and white contrast and the iridescent blues and greens in their black feathers. 

I could totally rock this skirt!
Magpies are perpetually overdressed considering the grubby way they make a living. Since I could best describe my own look as elementary school Halloween gypsy costume, I admire their sense of style.

Today (Thursday) is my 26th wedding anniversary. It is a day to celebrate love and count blessings. I will watch snow fall and bake cookies for my husband. 

Love (and magpies) is saving a part of I week I had rued.

Flowers and a giant bear from my sweetheart

P.S. Check arrived via UPS Thursday afternoon.

These are therapeutic  colors for January
THE KNITTING

This week I made what is my favorite of the niece-pieces so far.

The background shows our current weather: partly snowy with a chance of fog.

This is a simple knit triangle in fantastically bright colors that remind me of a piƱata. I used leather straps for the closure on this one, which makes it a little more sophisticated. Ribbons I had considered were ruled out as being a bit too "girly." Until I give it away for a birthday or find something to match with it in my wardrobe, it will be available in my shop.

I want to spotlight another great color-burst from my shop. This sweater mixes neutral grey with wonderful brights.


In other yarn news, I'm continuing to work on my son's complicated sweater. I'm finished with the body and one sleeve. When I finish the second, I have to get brave and cut arm holes. It should be finished and photographed next week.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Snow Day

THE MUSING
Tuesday morning the phone rang at 6 a.m. Not a welcome sound, but it would have been a year ago.

While teaching I would be awake at 5:30, listening to local news, and looking out the window. And the call  I received, a robocall from the school district, would have been what I was waiting for--almost.

In most places, Tuesday would have been a snow day. But this is Utah; we are descendants of hardy pioneers. We don't have snow days.

Snowy places do have fewer snow days. My sister moved to Virginia from Michigan, then lived in Sweden before moving back to Virginia. She explains the differences well.

"In Michigan . . . you only got out for a really bad ice storm. Snow and cold was life. You sent your kids to school in full snow gear--boots, snow pants, hats, gloves, etc and they'd build snow forts at recess. 

Sweden went even a step farther. When winter was coming we asked friends how we'd know if school was cancelled for weather and got blank stares. It was so completely unheard of there that there wasn't even a method. No one, adult or kid, had ever seen it done. In general in Sweden weather was something you just worked with. They didn't cancel outdoor parties for rain or beach trips to cold either, so you certainly aren't going to cancel school over it.
In Virginia, I am not exagerrating when I say they cancel every time there is an official winter storm warning and most times there is a watch--which has resulted in several "rain" days when the snow never happened. We cancel for any snow accumulation. We cancel if there is any ice anywhere. After a snowstorm, we are often closed for a week or more waiting for every trace of snow to melt from roads and parking lots before it's deemed safe to return. We wind up with 10-15 snow days every single year. . . . And then there's all the early releases when they are scared it might start to snow and all the late starts when they think it is too cold. We also get early releases when it is too hot and have even had days off when there were weather service warnings for high winds or flooding. In other words, if weather isn't ideal, schools close."

In Utah, Students and teachers dream about snow days. We've seen the Simpsons, our cousins, kids on the news, experience snow days and they seem wonderful. Snow days are portrayed as unplanned holidays with sledding and hot chocolate.
Here is a great song about snow days from a teacher's point of view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YnIRfvFLiWQ


But the POWERS THAT BE have to consider the practical problems of snow days. 180 days of school time is legally required. No one is going to pay for extra, cancellable days. Days that are cancelled during the winter have to be made up. There is also the awareness that kids will be dropped off at the school at 6:30 in the morning no matter how many news outlets are contacted. Principals have to show up no matter what to make sure those kids are safe.

Once during my time as a student, we were sent home early because a big storm was coming. It didn't. Parents were upset about kids turned loose without supervision or warning. The district was embarrassed.

Once during my 24-year teaching career, school was cancelled due to snow. The make-up day was scheduled on Saturday. It was a very unpopular decision. Only 1/4 of the kids showed up--more than I expected.

Now things are planned better. My Tuesday morning call was to inform me of a "late start" day. On exceptionally snowy days, school is postponed by two hours. This gives the snowplows time to get around and families a chance to dig themselves out. It works pretty well for the most part.

The down side is that, like I mentioned before, kids will show up at 6:30 whether school is open or not. Teachers who live close to the school are asked to arrive as early as safely possible on late-start days to help supervise students who arrived before 10:00.


Provisions are made that if a whole day is cancelled, it will be made up either on Presidents Day or on one of the Spring Break days.

I always told my students that it is much better to have a planned day off in April than a sudden day off during nasty weather in January, but I don't think they were persuaded. I know I wasn't.






THE KNITTING
I wore this scarf while finishing the blog. It is very nice next to my skin.
I have spent many hours spinning. One skein of yarn, autumn colors made from wool I bought at my local yarn shop and samples I got from a Phat Fibers box. It as worked into a handsome scarf that is not terribly long, but dense and nice and warm. It is available in my shop.

Poor flamingo really should have flown south this year.
Otherwise I have unfinished spinning and further progress on large projects, but not really stuff to show.

It is very cold out there in most of the US. Ten minutes photographing a scarf and filling the bird feeder was enough outside time for me and my dog. You'll need a hat just to go out and get the mail. Featured are a set of brimmed snow hats I created a while ago. They will keep you warm in style.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/168761476/wool-hat-with-brim-celtic-wave-in-red?ref=shop_home_active_57


https://www.etsy.com/listing/168808086/wool-hat-with-brim-peruvian-design-with?ref=shop_home_feat_3

https://www.etsy.com/listing/168761476/wool-hat-with-brim-celtic-wave-in-red?ref=shop_home_active_57

https://www.etsy.com/listing/168923805/knit-wool-hat-with-brim-scandinavian?ref=shop_home_active_44

https://www.etsy.com/listing/168962111/wool-knit-hat-with-brim-swedish-flowers?ref=shop_home_active_43


HOW I AM DOING

Better--kind of. Physically, nothing has changed. But  my family has prayed for me and I have seen my doctor. I have started the process of ordering a new biologic. I have hope again.

One problem. It's been 10 days since my disability check was sent. No sign of it and bills are coming due. Income insecurity is a new one for us and it feels scary. A replacement check will be sent, and brilliant husband is juggling things, so we are okay, but it reminds me how scary it would be to rely on a single source of income, especially from a source that hasn't discovered direct deposit.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Letter From Rep Jason Chaffetz


Last week I wrote Congressman Chaffetz with my concern over a bill that would reduce Social Security benefits. He was good enough to write back and let me know his opinions and plans. Here is his detailed, reassuring reply:


Dear Debra, 

Thank you for writing to me to express your views about Social Security reform. This is an important issue to me and to the future of our nation. I believe the problems with our current system are within our power to resolve. 

We cannot ignore the fact that Social Security is unsustainable in its current form. In fiscal year 2016, the federal government spent $944 billion on Social Security, or 24% of the total $3.9 trillion federal budget. These skyrocketing costs put the future of Social Security at risk and have dangerous implications for our national debt. I remain committed to ensuring that Social Security reform is consistent with the conservative principles of accountability and fiscal discipline. 

On November 9, 2011, I announced my proposal for Social Security reform. Under my proposal, Social Security's future would be protected while avoiding tax increases and trust fund insolvency by ensuring permanent annual balance and actuarial balance for the next 75 years. The vast majority of retirees, particularly those with average or below average lifetime earnings, would receive a larger check than they are getting today. Future retirees, including today's very young workers, will have increased certainty regarding their retirement. 

Again, thank you for contacting me. I welcome any more comments or questions you may have and invite you to sign up for my e-updates by visiting Chaffetz.House.Gov. You may also follow me on Twitter @JasonInTheHouse or Instagram at JasonInTheHouse. 


Remember that most of the power in this country rests with the legislative branch. Watch congress (in session now) and make sure that the people who represent you know your opinions.

I'll be writing a normal blog tomorrow. Back to my knitting.