Friday, August 25, 2017

Eclipse My Summer, Please

America is strange right now. What sort of dark place must we be in that we anticipate the sun being darkened as a positive, potentially unifying situation?

On the other hand, our response to the solar eclipse is a victory for science. Science, especially astronomy, is cool. Astronomical events have changed from omens that required human sacrifice to excuses for parties and vacations.

Since neither parties nor vacations are good for me, we passed on totality and observed the 95% eclipse available on the front lawn. There was no glasses-free moment or full horizon sunset, but we got chirping crickets,  weird shadows, and a drop in temperature.

We also got a reminder of the sun's power. The eclipse was never visible without glasses. Cell-phone pictures of the sun always showed it bright and round, even when the mid-day light looked more like sunset.

I've been avoiding the powerful sun this summer. We don't get along. Hot flashes have plagued me for over a decade now. I'm not sure how long peri-menopause is supposed to last or if this is a symptom of something else. Whatever the cause, I've been hiding in my very air-conditioned home.

This is a very short-term solution. Our air conditioner runs on electricity, electricity caused by burning not only hard-earned money, but coal. Burning coal creates carbon dioxide, which goes into the atmosphere. Heat doesn't escape; summers get increasingly hot.

As with most problems, I don't see an easy solution. But I did write a poem about it. (I encouraged my students to major in math and science--problem-solving fields--instead of writing poems like I do.)

The air conditioner hums
Christmas carols in July,
snows my brain into forgetting
the summer's record heat
and double power bill.

Two hundred years of progress 
burns a billion years of fossils.
Ghosts of prehistoric trees
guard the stratosphere 
trapping heat inside.

We are ants sizzling
under a magnifying glass 
of our own creation.

But my toes are frosty
the pillowcase so cool.

I have experienced heat exhaustion half-a-dozen times this summer. Like the metaphorical frog, I get into hot situations gradually and fail to get out before my brain starts boiling. I can't deny global warming when my own personal warming feels this dire. And I am one of the lucky few who can afford an artificially cool environment.


It's hard to imagine needing knitwear anytime soon, but that has never stopped me from knitting. This week I finished two scarves. A super soft alpaca, and a rather crunchy linen. I don't understand the appeal of linen. It's not bad to knit with, but apparently you have to wash it an awful lot before it becomes soft and comfortable to wear. That doesn't make any sense to me. Anyway, both scarves are now available in my shop.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Privileged and Paralyzed

Once again the world is on fire and I feel like all I can do is send "thoughts and prayers" towards the firefighters.

Like all people of good conscience, I am horrified by Nazi's marching and attacking counter-protesters. I am disgusted (though not surprised) by the president's response.

Several African American commentators say that this is a white person problem and while people need to solve it. I agree. It's on me to help fix things.

"White Privilege" is definitely a factor in my life. I have never known discrimination or  the feeling of standing out as a minority.

Even with chronic pain and depression, my life is comfortable.   I'm always aware that I could have all my health problems plus the challenges of not being accepted as a fully equal member of society. (There is sexism, of course, but I'm relatively lucky there, and that is a different blog.)

Because I grew up in Utah in the seventies and eighties, my world was very white. I initially learned about other races from Sesame Street. I remember one African American student in elementary school and one in high school. There were a few more hispanics and Asians, but not many. Since I went to BYU, college looked about the same.

Fortunately, Utah is getting more diverse all the time. I was able to see the changes, and meet so many interesting people by working in a public school.

My students taught me, and each other, about the challenges and beauty of our diverse country.

They shared stories immigration and of vacations visiting cousins in Mexico and grandparents in Iran or Tonga.

We worried together about relatives in Yemen, Iraq, and Venezuela.

Students of Asian descent expressed annoyance over constantly being asked where they were from. I publicly pointed out that their families had been American for more generations than mine.

One girl frequently shared her terror and anger over the possibility that ICE could come in and take her father away.

Adopted students struggled with identity as the sole Black or Indian, not only in their neighborhoods, but in their families.

A couple Polynesian girls wrote about being followed around stores by employees who were sure they were going to shoplift.

A new immigrant from Russia bonded with her friends in ESL so strongly that she learned Spanish almost as quickly as English.

I felt that by encouraging their voices, I was helping them as well as children like me (and my children) learn acceptance and understanding.

But now my world is  limited. Disability has robbed me of associating with the diverse kaleidoscope of students I am used to. I really have only my family, my church group, and a few friends. This is a very white, Utah, Mormon group of people--lovely people, to be sure, but all very much like me.

Not my family--an even more privileged group of white Mormons.
I didn't have time, physically to prepare for and attend the march against racism held in downtown Salt Lake this week.  Does marching help? It feels good, but I'm not sure.

What I have been able to do:

I had a conversation with Youngest,  who I kind of named after Robert E. Lee. He wondered why the statue of someone introduced to all elementary students as a Great American, is inappropriate and offensive. (We had both been taught, falsely, that Lee opposed slavery.)

Should I have named my son Erwin?
 My son is a history buff and a great fan of WWII German general Erwin Rommel, for whom there are no statues in either Germany or America. He told me Rommel wouldn't want a statue for fighting well on the wrong side of history and we agreed that Lee probably wouldn't either. We were happy to hear a historian confirm our speculation. General Lee thought monuments to the Confederacy would slow healing after the Civil War.

I also talked to an old friend about why the Confederate flags we see in the backs of pickup trucks in even this mostly Yankee western state, don't just show pride in heritage, but a also a disavowal of the equality that should exist in America. It was something we didn't even think about when cheering for the Dukes of Hazard back in the eighties.

I don't associate with anyone who wants to support racist ideas. But many of us, me included, have misconceptions based on inexperience or bad information. Maybe by reading and listening to diverse voices and having these conversations we are making a little more progress towards making America live up to our ideals.

I'd be happy to hear what more I can do.


Because I was ambitious and active last week, this week I haven't had much energy, but I have been able to knit. I finished the second commission piece.

I've started another mermaid tail as a Christmas present.

I've also started a small lace scarf. It is one of several planned "leftover" scarves from yarn I have left from larger projects.

If you want to see more of my work or add to my grocery budget, check out my shop.

Friday, August 11, 2017

I Broke Rule Number One. Don't Tell My Mom.

I've always enjoyed solitude. I grew up across the street from a huge natural area set aside as an equestrian park, a great area for walking. But I also grew up in the eighties, when there was a rapist waiting in the backseat of every car and behind every bush--at least according to the frequent rape prevention classes taught in every neighborhood.

My Mom is a good parent, and a cautious one, hence her rule for hiking: A woman shouldn't hike alone. She should go with a man or a big dog.

So I hiked with my family, with a school hiking club, with friends, eventually with dates. My parents aren't dog people, so that was never an option. Besides, our prettiest canyons are closed to dogs. The buddy system was the only way to go.

When my children were young, I stretched the rule by adding what I think of as the mall exception. If the hiking trail is as clogged with people as a shopping mall, it is safe enough for me to go alone (or as the only adult).

Sadly, I rarely hike anymore. Most of this summer has been spent in pain and self pity. But sometimes I just have to take all the drugs and go.

I set out today fully planning to follow the mall rule. The trail I wanted to hike, To Cecret Lake in Albion Basin, is one of the most popular routes in our area. Too popular, in fact. When I got to the road leading to the trail I was turned around because the lots were full.

Instead, I parked at the Alta ski resort and followed a path I found there.  My goal was to walk away from my car for half an hour, then turn around and come back. The trail ran gradually uphill through meadows of wild flowers and some pines.

 I never lost sight of the resort or sound of heavy equipment doing summer maintenance. But I did lose sight of myself. When I was alone on the trail, I no longer felt slow, awkward, fat, gimpy--all the negative adjectives my self-talk generates.

 I was able to enjoy the songs of birds, streams, and squirrels and the amazing quantity and variety of wild flowers. At one time I stood in the middle of an acre of lupine as high as my hips.

The funny thing is how quickly the negatives reappeared when I saw people--five of them. None of the three men menaced me in any way, of course. The two women followed the rule. One hiked with a man, the other with a large (official avalanche rescue) dog.

I have friends and family who will willingly walk with me and I will enjoy their company, but this isn't the last time I'll feel the freedom of losing myself in nature. (Sorry, Mom.)

Wildflowers seen: yarrow, lupine, ptolemy owlclover, fireweed, paintbrush, aster, monkshood, cow parsnip, Jacob's ladder, wild geranium, wild sunflower, cinquefoil, elderberry, currant, bluebell, meadow rue, penstemon, hare figwort, coneflower, skunk cabbage, flannel mullein, and more.


I've made slow progress and finished the second fish tail. Since these would be good little niece gifts, I will probably make several more, but only two before Christmas.

I've started the second commission piece and reached the point where I can start the border later today. Maybe by next week I will have had time to create something for my shop.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Cat Slippers: Ethically Sourced, Please

Coal, my cat, has an annoying habit. She will meow and claw at our clothes to get attention, but after a few seconds of petting, she sneezes all over everything. Gross!

So we have conditioned Coal to get most of her cuddles from our toes. That works well for me because nothing feels better on my poor crippled feet than cat fur and not every cat has appreciated my foot-petting attempts.

There are 33 joints in the human foot and ankle. For many years I taught, which required standing most of the time. Often my feet felt like every joint was disconnected.

I wanted to walk on pillows, but settled for lambskin slippers, which saved me for several years. A fresh pair is amazing, but not nearly as soft as a cat.

Our cats are often threatened with slipper-hood, especially when I'm cleaning up hairballs. But, sentimentality aside, tanning isn't really on my hobby wish list. I need a commercial option.

I once heard of mink-lined slippers. If those nasty weasels are as soft as cats and I can wear them in my house without offending people, I'm in.

However, such slippers don't seem to actually exist.

The closest I could find are from the Alaska Fur Exchange. They are $260. I wouldn't pay that much, but my sweetheart would indulge me.

However, they are mink-trimmed beaver fur. Minks can be farmed. Beavers, not so much. Besides I have watched touching nature programs about beaver families.

Worse is this disclaimer: "Our Slippers are lined with Synthetic Material.  Real fur is not used because your foot would not be able to breathe, and the fur on the inside would not dry out properly."

The lining is what matters. I don't care what the outside of the slippers look like. 

This sweet number from Gucci doesn't cut it either. They don't look remotely comfortable, cost almost $1000, and are actually lined with lambswool anyway. 

So I'm sending out a request to the creators of space-age synthetics. Fake fur is looking quite convincing. I need some that is soft, breathable and durable. Heating and a vibrate (purr) feature would also be lovely. I'll get some for myself and another pair  (or two) for Coal. 


It's finally finished! I hadn't realized how challenging this project would be when I accepted this commission. I had made it before, pre-fibromyalgia. But this time, with my scrambled brain, there were just too many times that I was too dumb to knit this.

The second throw is much simpler. The yarn is twice as thick and the pattern is a very repetitive diamond-shaped lace that should not require a pattern much longer.

I do have a couple of other things on needles, but right now I just want to savor the moment.