Friday, September 14, 2018

Audience and Purpose

I am passionate about history. I find it comforting to compare today’s world, which often seems chaotic and terrible, to troubled periods humanity has already survived. It is also invigorating, in my invalid state, to vicariously experience great moments of discovery or progress.

This week my history is coming in a variety of flavors, which makes me look at each in a very English teacher way. For years I taught budding writers to consider who their audience will be and what purpose they want their writing to achieve.

Ancient People’s of the Southwest is sold in National Park gift shops and purports to be written for a non-academic audience. But it reads like a textbook, designed solely to inform the audience. This book is heavy with facts and often credits sources—two things I appreciate, but the author’s voice is absent.

 He doesn’t sound like a living person until the epilogue, in which he expresses admiration for Native Americans who found a way to survive the challenging Southwest environment, then to preserve their cultures despite war and disease under the Spanish, then land lost and the reservation system imposed by the United States. If more of this passion had crept into explanations of dendrochronology and irrigation, I would have enjoyed the reading more and focused better. 

Another history book I recently started listening to is Saints, a new history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints. Again it’s purpose is to give information, but the book is also expected to inspire and persuade. 

Audience is tricky. No one book can be accurately targeted at a worldwide audience of millions of all ages and levels of education. As a result, this one is designed to be accessible. Older elementary students could read it without trouble. 

I’m a tough audience for this particular book because I’ve heard it all before many times. I’m listening for new insights, but also for potential problems skimmed over. Nothing new so far, but problems are dealt with fairly. The book openly talks about people in that time and place believing in magic and doesn’t omit a fraud charge against Joseph Smith after he was hired to help someone hunt for treasure. 

One thing I really enjoyed was the first chapter. It told about the eruption of Mt. Tambora, in 1816, that destroyed not only the island of the volcano, but villages and crops affected by following tsunamis. Ash spewed into the atmosphere created chaos with the weather world-wide, resulting in what was called in Europe and America, “the year without a summer.” Many died worldwide from famine after  summer crops were lost.

Many people believed the end of the world had come and turned to religion for guidance and comfort. 

Then the world wide view narrows to the Smith family in Vermont, barely scratching a living from a rocky farm. Summer without a crop was the final straw. They decided to move to New York and start again. This Smith family Joseph Smith’s family. He was ten years old at the time.

I thought it was a great idea to take a recent-ish natural disaster, which plays a part in the history of most countries, to make this very American origin story more accessible to a world-wide audience.

But mine is not the only interpretation. I started talking about the book to a couple of DUP friends who expressed joy in the “miracle” of God making the volcano explode so the Smith family would be in the right place in the right time. In order to maintain any faith at all, I’ve had to accept that God is less troubled by death than I am, but I still can’t accept the idea that He would kill millions to move nine people a few hundred miles. 

My final dose of history will come in the form of historical fiction. I’ve become a bit of a snob, so I usually buy non fiction. Luckily, my family knows better and has a book rotation system. Soon I'll be starting Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker. 

I'm familiar with the basic story because I heard a podcast about the work done by Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who rose to be America's top dressmaker. (Unfortunately I can't find that podcast.) 

This may be bad for me while I am trying not to buy more dresses until we're on sure footing income-wise, but I'm looking forward to reading a book written to entertain as well as inform. 

I crawled out of bed this week to write a podcast about pain. Emily Dickinson writes about pain a lot, but is private enough that no one really knows the source. 

I'm not nearly as mysterious--RA, fibromyalgia, and a pinched nerve. I tell about my pain in reference to her poem.


I made a whole scarf and wrapped it up before taking pictures because I went nuts and did my Christmas "shopping" and wrapping this week. I like to spread Christmas out because it is so much work and can be so expensive. This bout of shopping was already paid for because I took items from my shop. Heads up to friends and family. Hats for everyone this year.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Can I Be a Good Immigrant?

Most countries ask the same things of their immigrants:

Work hard
Learn the language
Act like us.

My father's family did this when they came to America from Germany in 1949. Both of my grandparents worked low-level jobs until they could afford to own their own small business--a common goal for immigrant families.

All of the family learned English. The children forgot how to speak German.

American-born children were given American names. Grandpa and the boys played softball instead of soccer.

The family was quickly accepted by the community. We grandchildren are as "American" as anyone could be.

Immigration worked differently for my mother's side of the family. The earliest group came over on the Mayflower. They came not to join a community, but to form their own. They also came with prejudices against the people who already lived in America. Puritans thought of the natives as "savage" and "pagan."

Because the Pilgrims had no desire to fit in with Native American communities, misunderstandings and offense happened quickly and violence followed.

Generations later, ancestors of the Puritans joined a much larger group of new immigrants from every corner of the British Isles to cross the plains and establish a new, Mormon community in Utah.

Church leaders advised kindness towards the Native Americans. Tribal leaders worked toward peace as well.

But it didn't last. There is only so much fertile land and water in Utah. Settlers built on lands that were traditionally used in the Natives' annual cycle of hunting and gathering. The cultures differed in language, religion, and beliefs about land ownership.

Mormon communities grew and tensions increased. Both sides committed massacres, often as revenge for previous killings that could have been prevented.

When Utah became a territory, the army moved in to push tribes onto reservations. In the end, Utah's native populations were left no better off than other tribes in the United States.

If I had lived at the time, I couldn't have done any better than my pioneer ancestors. But what can I do now?

Learning is about all I can do. My goal is to start reading about the history of Native Americans in and around Utah. I also want to know more about how they are living now, so I can be aware of when my voice and my vote can be of use.

I'll keep you updated as I learn interesting things. In the meantime, I need to read the final chapter about the ancestral Puebloans. Much of the book is about irrigation. My dad, and Brigham Young, would approve.

THE PODCAST is about two Emily Dickinson love poems. They could be about divine love, or romantic love, or one of each. You'll have to listen and decide for yourself.

THE KNITTING has been mostly on the baby blanket, with occasional work on Christmas Ornaments for future years--stars this time. I also just got an inquiry for a custom order from my shop. It's for a remake of a shawl I've made once before. It was hard, so I'm trying to decide how much or how little to charge. Minimum wage is out of the question--more than anyone will pay, but how much is enough? It's always a hard call.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Down and Out

It's hard to accomplish much while sleeping at least 14 hours a day.

The laundry and dishes are caught up, but I feel like I've barely even been here.

I think the stress of the upcoming insurance change, my disability hearing, and my husband's layoff is getting to me.

Most times it doesn't seem too bad because my conscious mind can't hold a thought for more than a few minutes, but underneath I know it is all coming and it's making me tired.

So I haven't read anything interesting. I haven't done anything interesting. I haven't thought about what to write.

I'm really only logging in here this week to report myself among the living. I'll work hard to do better next week. RD Blog Week is coming up and I want to participate fully, but will need to find some of the energy I've lost.

THE PODCAST didn't happen. It is half written about two poems I quite like, I just have to find the strength to finish and record. Ideally I will finish and record two episodes this week, so I can have a spare available for future crashes

THE KNITTING I did finish knitting my "Christmas Cards" for this year. I should have plenty of sheep for friends and family and I've started stars for next year.

The stars will need embroidery or cute buttons, I think.

I've also started what may end up as a baby blanket. I don't currently know any babies, or any expecting mothers, but it's what the yarn is saying it wants to be. It will end up in my shop until it finds a home.

Friday, August 24, 2018

When We have this Dance, it Rains

Photos this week are from Hovenweep National Monument 

I am continuing to push myself  through Ancient Peoples of the Southwest by Stephen Plog. His focus is mostly south of places we visited, which makes it harder to picture, but gives me a few more locations for future plans.

I've reached the point in history when the places we think of as ruins were left behind and people moved to the pueblos that are still occupied today. Archaeologists look for signs of drought and conflict. The descendants of these people say it was simply time for them to move on.

I was touched by a quote from Don Talayesva, a Hopi Sun Chief, about how new clans were integrated into villages:

              Other peoples began to arrive. Whenever a new clan came, a member of the party would
              go to the chief and ask for permission to settle in the village. The Chief usually inquired
              whether they were able to produce rain. If they had any means of doing this, they would
              say, "yes, this and this we have, and when we assemble for this ceremony or when we
              have this dance, it rains. With this we have been traveling and taking care of our children."
              The Chief would then admit them to the village.

It made me think about what I bring to my village. I cannot produce rain. I'm not great at pottery or baskets either, but I can knit.

(This might be problematic in a Hopi village where spinning and weaving is man's work.)

I can also write and tell stories. I spoke briefly at my church two weeks ago. I write this blog and share my podcast.

I don't think this contribution would get me admitted. Maybe my ability to do laundry almost every day of every week and to load the dishwasher daily would be valued more.

I cannot produce rain, but someone near us can. It started as hail, then melted into a downpour that flooded my in-law's basement and threatened mine.

My husband and sons dug a trench next to the sidewalk to channel the water in a safer direction. Meanwhile, the dog and I stood by stupidly as if communal wetness was a contribution to the labor.

Once we were safe, my sweetheart and Oldest took the shop vac to Grandma's to help with the mess there while Youngest checked the sky and the trench every ten minutes to make sure our home remained safe.

We cannot produce rain, but we have managed to teach our children to take care of their parents.

THE PODCAST Is about a famous Dickinson poem, "A Bird Came Down the Walk." It is a cute description of nature, but I had a hard time getting into it until I found "’Tis not that Dying hurts us so—’Tis Living—hurts us more—." I'm feeling that this week. This cheerful little number goes on to compare death to migration, so there is a bird tie-in.

THE KNITTING is a bit better. I finished my goat sweater. There was one day that my eyes started itching and I was afraid my mohair allergy was acting up, but it may have been due to sunflower pollen because I haven't had a problem since. It is currently drying and looking quite nice. If I try to wear it and just can't because the fuzziness makes me crazy, I guess I'll put it up for sale, but with lots of warnings.

I've also started knitting my "Christmas cards." The plan is to give knit ornaments to anyone I would give cards to. The sheep are from other people's patterns, available on Because they are not my design, it would be wrong to sell them in my shop. If you want one, you may have to bring me cookies.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Time Travel, Truth, and a Tens Machine

Wupatki National Monument Near Flagstaff, Arizona

Not eager for the future (health insurance, disability hearing, unemployment for my sweetheart), I've tried diving into the past. Two time periods are in my sights--June's wonderful vacation and the 1000-1300 AD time period when the Archaic Pueblo sites we visited were thriving towns. I'm trying to reach both by reading Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest by Stephen Plog. 

So far, it is a struggle. Although not technically academic writing, this book sure feels that way to my addled and idled brain. I feel like I'm getting lots of information on climate patterns and dating techniques. These are important to understanding how and when people where able to thrive in this difficult area, but I''m wanting to know more of what archaeology has a hard time telling--what was daily life like for people? I want to know what they wore and ate, how they spent their time, what their religion was like. 

The book is only beginning to describe the time periods of sites we visited, so there is a lot yet to learn. I will need to seek out newer books as well. This one is from 1997. I keep forgetting that the nineties were a long time ago, back when my now-adult babies were born.

I've found a source for very current archaeological topics through the Archaeology Podcast Network. The shows are intelligent and there is one focused on Native American perspectives, so I can hope they will eventually cover topics I want to learn about.

For future travels, I probably need to investigate Hopi tribal information to seek web pages and museums sponsored by the living descendants of these people who may be qualified to speculate. 

The Museum of Northern Arizona, which we hope to spend lots of time visiting in the future, may be able to link me up with some good sources of information as well. They do a better job than the federal parks themselves at describing both the history and the geology of the region. They also seem to be working with Native Americans to obtain information on the past and the present.

One issue from the past that may require a time machine to resolve is the purpose of the ball pits at some of the Southwestern sites.

Sadly not the germ-ridden ball-pits I let my kids drool in, these are actually ball courts similar to ones found as far north as the Colorado Plateau and as far south as Maya areas in Central America. Since so many pueblos had them, Archaeologists think the game had to have deeper meaning than just a game. Maybe there was a religious, status, or trade element to the ball games.


I'm a Mormon. Most of our church buildings in the US, and many world wide have basketball courts inside. The courts fill one purpose of a large multipurpose room we call the "cultural hall." This room is used for wedding receptions, talent shows, scout meetings--anything that requires a big room. It also serves as overflow space for our chapels. 

As back-row worshippers, my family has been praying under a basketball hoop for years. I would love to travel to the future and see what archeologists guess about the religious or community status purpose of basketball may be .

Though I keep trying to make things up, I have yet to find the relationship. 

If there is anything sacred about basketball, BYU is sinful in its emphasis on football. 

While reading, I have been playing with my brand new tens-machine to see if it can do anything to help my locked-up shoulder muscles. Throughout my first three 80 minute sessions, I wasn't sure anything was happening at all. I didn't feel anything resembling a massage, but thought maybe the electricity was doing something. Finally I dropped the machine. accidentally changing the setting, and actually felt something. 

I can now program in 8o minutes of pounding and vibrations. It is at least distracting from pain while the program runs, but I'm not sure it is any more effective than stretching. 

THE PODCAST this week is on a poem called, "Before I got my eye put out." It is about how cautious the speaker is now about the vision that remains.

THE KNITTING consists of a sweater made from most of the rest of the recycled yarn from my Shakespeare adventure. 

I'll need to work up a Christmas inventory soon, but will probably start the fuzzy goat sweater first .

I also need to get a lot of stuff listed in my shop.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Hope is a Non-native, Invasive Species

In her famous poem, Emily Dickinson paints hope as a positive, necessary life force. But I've found hope can also be dangerous. For me, hope can easily grow into wishful, even magical thinking.
Supposedly, a Shakespeare fan imported starlings.

We married young and poor and made money mistakes that made things worse. My contribution to those mistakes was mostly hoping that a check would come in the mail, maybe even a winning sweepstakes check. I entered all the sweepstakes, surely a small win was inevitable. We don't have enough money to buy this right now, but surely a check is on the way.

To save our budget and our marriage, I had to pull that sort of hope out by the roots. I now consider it a nuisance, something unwanted and out of place, like starlings, raccoons or kudzu.

Butter-and-eggs, pretty wildflower supposedly out of place.
Magical-thinking hope troubles everyone living with health problems or caring for someone with such problems. Everyone hopes for a miracle cure.

Each new biologic I try might be the one that doesn't only allow me to function a couple hours a day with a lot of pain meds, but really turns my life around, a miracle.

But miracles are miraculous precisely because they almost never happen.

I'm on this topic because something unusual happened at my latest rheumatologist visit. As usual, I gave a run-down of my aches and pains. The definition of both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia is that everything hurts and always will, so I wasn't expecting anything new.

But after I described the shooting pain I'm having in both shoulders and arms, my doctor said that wasn't caused directly by either of my issues. Knowing we are facing employment/insurance changes, he booked me for the soonest possible MRI appointment.
My sweetheart said "no" to the goat. Maybe a cane toad?

Apparently I'm not horribly claustrophobic because the MRI wasn't bad. Lying still with my head and legs slightly elevated is one of my favorite hobbies. The room was pleasantly cool in contrast to the cozy heated blanket that covered my feet.

It was noisy, and not the whirring sorts of noise I expected, but a lot of irregular pounding, like someone was using a sledge hammer to test the acoustic properties of different parts of the machine. But I taught middle school for 25 years. Noise is fine if I don't have to control it.
Dyer's woad makes pretty blue dye, but takes over range land. 

The next step was to wait and try to stomp down sprouts of unrealistic hope. My worst fear is the most likely answer. I have one more painful situation that there isn't a cure for, but hey, aspirin helps some people.

My first extreme hope was the MRI would reveal something so weird and obvious that the imaging tech would say something, but he was a total pro.

Magical thinking hope was that something could be done to allow me to sleep without having to choose which pulsing shoulder to lie on. Ideally something that won't involve surgery on or near my spine.

I've always wished someone would discover a rare deficiency that causes all of my problems and if I simply took some supplement all would be well. (It happened on House all the time.)

Possums: okay in Australia, invasive in New Zealand.
But continual hope comes with repeated disappointment. I do best with acceptance. Acceptance and a gentler type of hope.

I can safely hope to feel a bit better after a nap. I can hope to have a good day after a bad day. I can hope there will always be one more biologic that will slow my disease and prevent the extreme crippling that once happened to people with RA.

Actual results are worse than my worst fear--no  answer. My spine is fine but there is some narrowing of the nerve corridor at C5. After I answered the nurse with a hesitant, "Okay?" She clarified that if pain continues I should see a spine specialist and they will forward the MRI data to him. (I assume they think I know that doesn't mean chiropractor.)

There isn't time on the current insurance to see a specialist. As pain continues, I'll figure out how to navigate the new insurance.

In the meantime, I've ordered a tens machine. My sister recommended some exercises that helped her for tennis elbow and I followed them to exercises that should help with rotator cup issues. I'll try to help myself for a while.
Ballerinas were once non-native. I'll let you judge whether or not they are invasive

THE PODCAST is, surprisingly, about joy, which Emily Dickinson portrays by seeing herself as a ballerina. I've taught enough ballerinas (in my English class) to know how hard they work to look light and effortless, so if I was to imagine myself joyous, I'd probably be a golden retriever chasing a ball.

A much sweeter non-native invasive than I am

THE KNITTING consists mainly of secret presents, and my arms haven't allowed much progress otherwise, so I don't have much to show you, but I did finish spinning my goaty yarn, I should just have enough for a short sleeved sweater. It will be fuzzy and very warm. Dare I hope for winter this year?

Friday, August 3, 2018

My World's on Fire; How 'bout Yours?

All fire photos available at KSL News

Goose Creek fire in Utah
The American West is burning. Strangely, this is to some degree normal. Range fires and forest fires, usually started by lightning, burned large dry patches of the west every summer before Europeans arrived, maybe even before people arrived.

But it's getting worse.

Human negligence has long contributed to the problem through untended campfires, dropped cigarettes, fireworks, and heat and sparks from machinery.

But a more collective form of human negligence is increasing the problem--global warming is becoming a big factor. Cold places like the Arctic and Antarctic are getting warmer. Wet places like Ireland are experiencing unusual dry spells.

Millard County
Part of our fire problem is heat; summer is longer and hotter now. But the biggest factor is drought. Much of this country has always been a desert to begin with, but the dryer the vegetation is, and the sooner the landscape turns from green to brown, the more susceptible to fire everything is.

We had almost no snow and until March last winter. Little rain has fallen since. The reservoir  above our neighborhood is the lowest I've seen it in forty years.

California fires dominate the news every summer but we have them throughout the Rockies too. On dry years like this, they start before July and burn constantly well into the fall.

Remains of a fire at a wild bird refuge (wetland!) near the Great Salt Lake
I haven't personally seen any of this-year's fires. Though the mountains above me and the equestrian park next door often burn, we have been lucky so far.

We did have family camping plans cancelled because the area where our reservations were caught fire.

I'm happy to say that most of my neighbors observed the fireworks restrictions this year. I didn't see anything lit up near my home on the 4th or the 24th. The fact that a nearby home was severely damaged last year may have helped people realize that the restrictions are necessary.

Though we haven't seen fire, we are breathing the smoke. Every day for the past two weeks the haze has increased. The Salt Lake Valley is a huge bowl that seems to suck in and store pollution, especially when the air is relatively still in summer and winter. What weather we get comes through California and brings more smoke.

Today (Thursday) is overcast and there are predictions of scattered showers, which are good, and thunderstorms, which are bad. So far the clouds are high and pale, so I'm not counting on either, but the lower temperatures are appreciated.

There is an odd silver (or golden) lining to the smoke. Sunsets are more colorful.

Unfortunately this is not where I worship--Pinterest picture
THE PODCAST is about two perfect summer days. It is also about worshipping in nature instead of formally in church. As a church goer, I can see the appeal of Emily's argument. Unfortunately for Dickinson, neither worshipping in church nor in her own garden eased her anxiety about the afterlife.


There may be a solution, or at least a diagnosis coming for my arm and shoulder pain. My rheumatologist signed me up for an MRI this coming Monday night.

I was surprised because I assumed almost all pain fit into either the RA or fibromyalgia slots, for which I am already taking whatever drugs are recommended. I'm not sure what can be done about pinched nerves,  or alien parasites, or whatever else may be causing the pain, but it is nice to be taken seriously.

Due to the arm pain and the blues they cause, I've been working on fiber prep and have four colors of yarn blended and ready to spin.

I also have two scarves finished, the first made on the loom during Shakespeare when I couldn't handle not knitting. I'll probably keep it because the ends are too raggedy to put up for sale and because it''s very neutral. I'm working on a sweater for myself from the remaining recycled yarn--using knitting needles.

The second,  I feel like I've been working on forever, though I started it on the way home from my vacation. I was getting totally sick of knitting it, but now it is finished, I'm falling back in love. The yarn was spun from a blend of wool, silk, and flax. The color is great. I had initially planned to put it up for sale, but I'm thinking of keeping it now.