Friday, April 28, 2017

Looking Too Good

Art by Molly E. Carlisle
There is some obvious irony that on one of the worst days in my life, a day I spent picking through the ashes of what had been a 24 year career, people kept telling me how good I was looking.

It was my last day at Union Middle School, the end of year faculty dinner. Though I effectively quit at the end of February, there were still things I needed to clean out of my classroom and there were goodbyes to say.

I probably did look relatively good. During the last several years I  “invested” in nice clothes. For  six months I religiously followed a diet of shakes, bars, and leafy greens and therefore lost sixty pounds. And I spent the last three months on sick leave. Compared to the zombie I had been for the last year and a half, I was doing pretty well.

I worked sick for a long time. Rheumatoid Arthritis hit in my early thirties. But my brain mostly worked, so I was able to do my job. 

Some years I walked with a cane. My husband made sure I had a comfortable office chair and a very ergonomic stool for perching in front of the classroom. 

Some days were better than others, but I functioned until fibromyalgia took away a lot of my brain power and doubled the load of pain.

All of this is old news. I laid my teacher persona to rest last summer and don’t care to dwell in the past. But I have a problem. I am on my last appeal for Social Security disability. Some time next year I will go in front of a judge to prove I am too sick to work. 

I desperately want to work. I know I don’t have what it takes to teach, but I look at every worker I see out in the world and imagine myself trying out that job.

I could do something else well. For a little while. If I am well-rested, take all the drugs and an energy drink and put on my best smile, I can function like a normal person for about two hours. 

The cost is hours or days in bed too exhausted to look at a book or TV. 

But the judge will be see me during the functioning two hours. 

Helena and I have a similar style. Maybe I'll be fine.
I recently watched a youtube video about framing. The point was that even when we are trying to be honest and natural on-line we "frame" ourselves and decide which parts we are going to share. I do that in real life. Maybe you do too. 

I am still wearing the nice clothes I bought to teach. I wear skirts and blouses to nap and sit on the couch knitting. I choose accessories to go to the grocery store, or the mailbox. Dressing up makes me feel more together, sharp, important. 

I don't even like sharing disabled, depressed, useless me with my family or my self. So how do I frame myself for a judge. Do I need to dress down? Should I dress like I would if I still had to get to work by 7:30--something inside-out or buttoned wrong. Do I need to wear two different colors of shoes to show how my mind is really functioning instead of what I can put together after three hours in bed staring at my closet working up the courage to get up?

My legal assistant wants to keep in closer touch. I guess I'll ask her. In the meantime there are more medical records to collect and many months to wait until I even get a hearing date.  I could be much sicker or much healthier by then. The future is hard to plan for right now.


Here's a follow-up on last week's blog:
I survived the Science March. It was fun.

The weather was beautiful and from the time we got on the train we were surrounded by fellow science fans with signs. Of course signs were carried, but they were also posted on strollers and taped to dog halters. There were families, groups of work colleagues, Boy and Girl Scout groups, groups of friends of all ages.  I went with my two adult sons (who care about science, but only marched to humor me).

It was my kind of hike. We walked two (long, Salt Lake City) blocks from the train station to the gathering point, then sat on the grass at the park for half an hour. Then we marched two blocks to the Capitol Building. Marching in a group of thousands turns out to be a good speed for an old lady using a cane. I couldn't yell and march at the same time, but I was okay.

Saturday, march day, was the first day on my new biologic and on an increased dose of fiber drugs. It may be a placebo effect, but I've been okay this week. My okay is eight hours of sleep at night and another three hours sleep in a nap, but I don't feel totally depleted.


I currently have three things on needles. The shawl, wrap above is odd and destined to get odder. it is made from some homespun I put together from two different color ways and is tied together with naturally dyed orange. If I can find enough orange it will also have lace around the edge. I'm probably keeping this one. It's me.

The silk scarf I am working on when I don't want to lose balls of yarn may end up in my shop. It looks a little odd right now because I am knitting it from yarn that was already knit a year ago, so it is curly. We'll see how it looks once it's washed.

And I think this will be a very nice, soft hat, which I will definitely sell if I don't give it away.

Finally, I have done all the finishing work on last week's knits and they are listed in my shop. Both are from soft merino blends and would be nice Mother's Day gifts.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Giving My Body for Science

I first recognized my love for science in eighth grade. We watched a movie about blood. They showed a close-up blood cells moving through the veins of a rabbit's ear. My friend fainted, but I was hooked.

My neighborhood is overly tamed now. I haven't seen monarchs for years.
What I didn't realize is I had been a scientific observer for a long time. I grew up outdoors in a large half-wild yard with a running irrigation ditch and a changing cast of barn cats.

I caught bugs and watched the legs of launching grasshoppers, the unfolding of beetle wings. Caterpillars and tadpoles were raised in mason jars in the garage. I dug holes and wondered at the changing colors in the layers. My favorite recess activity at school was cracking open little rocks to see how they looked different inside.

Though poetry beat out biology when I mapped college plans, I have never lost my curiosity. There is so much to learn.

Scottish Folds are great if you only need cats to be ornamental.
Even now, as I spend way too much time shut indoors, I open my office window to feel cold wind and watch birds at the feeder. I recognize wolf traits in my shaky old dog and look (usually in vain) for tiger genes in my aristocats.

There are two very intriguing funnel spiderwebs under my bathtub.

On the bad days stuck in bed I explore every science and nature program Netflix can throw at me.

Tomorrow will not be spent in bed. It is Earth Day, but more importantly it is the Utah Science March. I will be there.

The purpose of this march is to show support for public funding of research. A tiny fraction of our tax money goes a long way toward paying for science. I think it should be a higher percentage. Businesses do fund some science, but  naturally expect research to pay for itself eventually. Much of what needs to be studied will not have sellable results, but it may lead to more "practical" knowledge in the future. All research helps us understand this amazing world.

I had to sit out the Women's March, the Tax March, and other political protests, but it's essential to me that my sick body makes it to this one. Also I have help. My boys have reserved the day and are reluctantly accompanying me. We will ride the train downtown meet at a park and walk uphill to the capitol building. Afterwards we walk back down and ride home. Three years ago this would be no big deal. Now I know I will suffer for it.
So far, medication has kept my hands from looking like they feel.

Unless the new miracle drug (which I will start taking tomorrow) is a real miracle, Sunday will be a total loss to exhaustion. Monday and Tuesday I will feel the pain and struggle to get back on track. It's worth it.

The biologic I'm starting is last one available before a drug my doctor considers dangerous. (You should read the warnings on the ones I've taken.) I've never had a medication work for me for more than a year and a half. I need more choices.

Medical advancements come from weird places. Diabetes medicine was developed from sea-slug venom. There is a possible new antibiotic in the saliva of Komodo dragons. Bats have an amazing immune system that may lead to cures as well.

If cures for my illnesses are discovered, it will be through scientific research.

Komodo dragons look more likely to yield biologic weapons than antibiotics.


This week's scarf was time-consuming. There are a lot of color changes and other fiddly bits, but I am very pleased with the final result. It is made from a pattern called Jewel Dragon by Svetlana Gordon which is available on Ravelry.  I'm starting another one today out of my homespun and preparing this one for sale in my shop--after I make signs for the march.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oh,We Like Sheep: The Easter Celebration Dillema

This poor little guy looks scared. I hope he's a chocolate cake.
Like Christmas, Easter is a confusing mashup of Christian celebration, earlier pagan traditions, and consumerism.  Maybe because I have a hard time reconciling the Christian and pagan in my own nature, I would prefer to unscramble the spring holiday omelette. I want this dress, but not in pink.
As a celebration of Christ's resurrection, and through Him, resurrection for everyone else, Easter should be the most important and sacred Christian holiday.

The ideal celebration for me would be a church service with lots of good music, then a day of quiet contemplation, scripture reading, and Handel's Messiah.

(Consumer me points out that it would be appropriate to do all of this in a new dress.)

But I love all of the other, springy stuff. Dyeing and hiding eggs is fun. Bright colors and baby animals are always welcome. And who can turn down a holiday that has chocolate and jelly beans on the menu?

Rabbits? Hares? One of each?

There is a solution. We can celebrate spring-in-general when it was originally celebrated, on the equinox. Spring equinox is under-celebrated now.

 I have only heard of one equinox tradition--planting peas. (Somewhere I read that you should plant peas naked on the night of the equinox, under a full moon. But I'm sure the full moon doesn't line up that conveniently most years)

It's a good start, but when we are all longing for spring and thrilling at each brave crocus, it's also an excellent time to color eggs and play games.

The holiday would need a new name though. Equinox Bunny doesn't roll off the tongue.

Because I am a knitter, and a great fan of sheep, we can have sheep and lambs dancing around both holidays.

I look longingly at sheep year-round. To balance out the nastiness of politics, I follow numerous shepherds on twitter. (Not enough American ones, send me links.) Today I am using pictures from two of my favorites, so I want to make a quick introduction.
These lovely Zwartbles sheep are on the calendar in my office.

The beautiful black sheep of Zwartbles Ireland can be seen on twitter from two points of view. The
Zwartbles Ireland handle shows sheep farming from the point of view of the shepherdess (who must work with a Go Pro at all times). Another handle, Cat Shepherd, shows the same flock from the point of view of Bodacious, one of the farm cats. Both feature beautiful videos of sheep, cats, and dogs.

Herdwick Shepherd, James Rebanks, cares for his flock on the hills of England's Lake District. His memoir, The Shepherd's Life explores the challenges faced by rural communities worldwide and the choices young people from those communities have to make. My parents loved the book too, so it's not just for sheep lovers.
Rugged Herdwick lambs are born black, then gradually change color.

Though I always have toy sheep around, and pull out more as Christmas decorations, sheep really belong to Easter.

Jesus uses sheep and shepherds as key metaphors. He is described as both the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.

A conversation between Jesus and Peter  ( John 21:17) makes it clear that Christians are expected to be both sheep and shepherds as well.

"He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, loves thou me? . . .. And he said unto him, Lord, thou knows all things; thou knows that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

So as followers of Jesus, we are supposed to be sheep, but when serving or leading others, we become shepherds.

A recent sermon  (by Dale G Renlund) on being a good shepherd caught my attention by referring to one of my favorite books, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. As the novel begins, the good bishop is deciding whether or not to visit a man who is locally hated for  acts during the French Revolution and is an atheist to boot. The bishop concludes that shepherds must love and minister to all sheep, regardless of their condition.

I see this care from the literal shepherds. They must be first to tend to injury and illness. Though we city folk like to focus on fluffy, bouncy lambs, the reality also includes death, wounds, blood, and constant excrement.

Along those lines, Chaucer points out the importance of religious shepherds being good role models:

For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a preest take keep,
A shitten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel ought a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shoulde live. 

(A rough translation--if priests are corrupt, their followers will weaken. It is a shame when a dirty shepherd is sent to lead a clean sheep. Instead shepherds should set an example of cleanliness for their sheep. )

It's a great line, but the metaphor only works from a distance. I have worked with enough raw (unwashed) wool to know that real sheep are only clean at fairs and auctions. They are animals, after all, and live outdoors in fields.

Being a good shepherd, a caring leader,  makes sense, but why, as followers, should we emulate these animals?

Popular culture describes people as sheep only when they are naive, easily robbed, easily manipulated. Sheeple is the current term of scorn. Do real sheep fit the stereotype, or do they have virtues we city folk are unaware of? Maybe someone reading this can enlighten the rest of us.

Although I adore sheep from a distance and follow several shepherds on-line, I don't have much personal experience.

 When I was very young, my grandparents often raised a sheep or two for meat. I remember bottle-feeding lambs and I remember dreading them being butchered in the fall, but not much in between.

Dad never got attached to the critters. Part of that is the farm wisdom of not bonding with dinner, but he also thought they were incredibly stupid. (He also suspects God is being rude by comparing us to sheep.)

I don't know which breed our backyard dinner sheep were, but I do know that different breeds tend to have different personality traits. What were ancient Palestinian sheep like? Were they special in some way?

Did so many people in Nazareth and Judea have experience with sheep that they were a natural choice?

Herdwicks climbing to Heaven
If Jesus spoke to us today, he might have an easier time making the point by comparing us to dogs and good dog owners. But in the Bible, dogs are only referred to in negative ways.

While we are asking, "Why sheep?" we need to look at the metaphorical vision of the resurrection, with sheep on the right side and goats on the left and also ask ourselves, "Why not goats?"
Will these goats (in great sweaters) really be left behind? 

P.S. Good news--more doctors looked at the lump on my neck. No one thinks I need to worry or even need surgery.


Knitting has been slow lately. Mostly because I have been working on two more complicated works. This week's shawls is the most complicated lace I've knit since I lost my mind over two years ago. Much unpicking and re-knitting was required. But I finished! (Almost. It still needs to be washed and blocked before I decide if I can part with it and list it in my shop.)

This bright orange yarn is amazing. I got it from Renaissance Yarns. It is 40% merino, 30%viscose, 20% angora rabbit, 10% cashmere. Remember in The Emperor's New Clothes how the emperor was told the cloth was so light he couldn't feel it? This shawl is like that. I sat knitting with four feet of finished shawl on my lap and it had no weight at all.

 It was the perfect project to work on during the summer and I finished it during the week of a tree-cracking April snowstorm. With summer in mind, I went back to Renaissance yarns and bought a nice silk/cashmere blend in lime green for an upcoming project

Friday, April 7, 2017

Church in Pajamas--Time to Renew and Reflect

Are children better behaved, or just uncomfortable, while wearing their "Sunday best?"

 We Mormons believe in putting on our Sunday best for church. Women wear dresses or skirts. Men mostly conform to a uniform white shirt and tie. Visitors in other attire are welcome, but definitely stand out as visitors. 

The dress code can seem demanding, so can the time. We spend three hours together, first as an entire congregation, then in classes divided by age and gender. There is no professional clergy on a local level, so most of us have Sunday responsibilities to speak, teach, play the piano, or keep records. It is considered best policy for everyone to have a “calling.” Sundays are only a day of rest along the lines of “a change is as good as a rest.”

But twice a year, for many of us, church becomes very relaxed and casual.

On the first weekends of April and October, the LDS church holds General Conference. This is a time when leaders speak and we tune in at home via TV, radio, or internet. There are two, two-hour sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, plus a two-hour meeting specifically for men on Saturday night and a two-hour meeting specifically for women the previous Saturday.

This sounds like a lot of preaching, but there is always an air of holiday around conference time. It is a time for mission reunions, family reunions, and special breakfasts or picnics. 

Best of all, instead of waking up early to have everyone well-dressed in time for 9:00 AM church, the family can gather in front of the TV in pajamas at 10:00.

Church children’s magazines print bingo games and coloring books to help the youngest feel involved. I remember a picture of a podium with a hole cut above it and a page of potential speakers to hold it in front of.

As a teenager I chose special crafts projects—cross stitch or knitting, especially for the wonderful “free time” I would have while watching conference.

General Conference was not always so cozy. Early Mormons met in the largest buildings they had available. For many years that building was the Tabernacle. I attended conference live there once. It was not comfortable. Pioneer-designed benches are far from ergonomic.

Wooden benches in the Tabernacle

But I can imagine that for my pioneer ancestors, sitting for any period of time was a delightful rest in itself. 

Instead of plowing, planting, digging, pulling weeds, or hand-scrubbing laundry--all while trying to keep children from falling into fires or irrigation ditches--these faithful people were able to sit in clean clothes and think about a better world.
Comfy modern seats in the Conference Center

My ancestors also had the challenge of taking notes so they could keep and review conference teachings. Today I (and you) can find talks almost immediately on and review favorite sermons from the past fifty years.

When I was younger, I hoped to hear something new--like the starting date for the Millennium. But now what I need to hear is the same messages I hear at church on Sunday, the same messages taught to my pioneer ancestors.  Messages that were , in fact,
 taught by Jesus (and Old Testament prophets before Him.)

Speakers at General Conference did not disappoint. I heard messages of hope and reassurance of God's love. I heard the call to repentance with the promise of forgiveness and opportunity to improve. I heard the commandment to love my neighbors (i.e. everybody) and find ways to serve them.

As I said, I hear these messages in church all the time. But there is something about the change in setting and circumstance twice a year that helps me listen better.

Do you feel hopeless? Are there bad habits you need to change? Do you want to view people in a more positive way?

Sitting on the sofa in pajamas and watching Mormon leaders speak helps me reset my priorities. What helps you? Do you respond best to nature, novels.  poetry, music, TED talks?

Please share. The world is a troubled place and many of us are in need of inspiration.


I've had some rough patches of pain this week, so nothing is finished or beautifully photographed, but I have some works in progress to share.

This little shawl is mostly finished. I need to tuck in loose ends, wash it, and pin it into the right shape to dry. It has been in this condition for a week now. Luckily it is for a May birthday, so I have time. 

This is being made from three kits I'm subscribed to kind of following a pattern from another site, so I think it is enough mine to sell. Next week it should be in my shop. I'll give all the knitterly credits then as well as the information on this last work in project which I also have underway. Since I am having minor surgery to remove that lump I mentioned last week, I am being very optimistic about next week's knitting. (Maybe I'll knit better on good pain pills.)