Friday, November 9, 2018

Shakespeare, Exotic Beasts, and a Big Knife: A Week of Distractions

Husband's job search is ongoing. An offer from another branch of his present company is on hold and awaiting judgement at the Vice President level over whether or not the company allows distant workers. Four paychecks until layoffs. Needless to say, our creeping panic-attack continues and I need multiple distractions to avoid my default position of sleeping until things get better.

Not the kids I saw performing, but age and attitude are good.
The Shakespearean distraction was bitter-sweet--the first time I could really say I missed teaching.

I left my job feeling bitter. I  gave 24 years of love, energy, and creativity to the school district, and they were unwilling to accommodate me when that energy was spent. We were mutually finished with each other.

Last night I watched my nephew perform scenes from Shakespeare with his middle school drama class. Despite years of work in speech therapy he has embraced drama full-heartedly. Nephew performed bravely and well.

 I often catch this nephew smirking at the same jokes I do. We share a sense of humor. Apparently part of his enjoyment of drama this year is that he get's Shakespeare's jokes and finds the passages they are performing hilarious. I do too.
Appropriately, Nephew performed the sonnet about stages of life from "As you Like  It."

Hilarious and heartwarming. What I liked best about teaching was watching adolescents grow. Seeing kids build courage and explore their talents was the privilege that made my job worthwhile. This wasn't my school. Except for my nephew, these weren't my kids, but I felt like they were.
The diversity made me homesick too. This school shares a similar population to mine, so families come from all over the world.

Even the very white families are quite, um, "diverse." The family behind us consisted of a heavy man with a beard and a top hat, a heavy woman with tattoos, a tank top, and a blonde buzz cut. Their children ran amok throughout the production. It reminded me of parent-teacher conferences.

In contrast, the exotic beasts are tamer than advertised because I am only dealing with their outer edges. I found two bags of alpaca hair in my cupboard. I am carding it in preparation for spinning and eventually dyeing.

I also ordered undyed cashmere yarn from Renaissance Yarns. I hand painted it, which means I soaked it in water and vinegar, placed in on a cookie sheet, dripped color all over it, then baked it for an hour. After rinsing and drying, it looks like this.

My first plan was to knit something lacy, but I quickly realized that without silk for strength or wool for stretch, cashmere is pretty fragile, so I am knitting a more solid scarf that is deliciously soft and will eventually end up in my shop.

The big knife was used to butcher a pumpkin. My second batch of pies are baking as we speak. Making pumpkin pie from scratch is a multiple day process for me because chopping up and baking a pumpkin is enough to kill me for one day . Running it all through the blender wipes out a second. Turning it into pies is the easy part after that. Especially since I use ready-made frozen pie crusts.

Whether the $16 I saved by using my own pumpkin is worth my labor was debatable back when my labor was worth something, but now that we are trying to save money, it probably is. My parents swear to the superiority of winter squash in pumpkin dishes, so I may well butcher one of those next week.

THE PODCAST is about reading. I had to skip over a couple of decent love poems because they are focused on an unknown, ideal person and annoy me. Love in the abstract isn't the real thing. But Emily knows about reading, especially reading old books, so I shared her poem called, "A precious—mouldering pleasure—’tis—." (Even though  she had not planned to publish, Dickinson could have made life better for future readers by creating titles.)

THE KNITTING has been quite productive. I've finished knitting two scarves, but still need to do the proper finishing work before taking good pictures and posting them in my shop.

Friday, November 2, 2018

No Spoilers, Please!

I hate reading cliffhangers. In fact, I prefer to buy a whole series at once to make sure I don't have to deal with cliffhangers.

That doesn't always work. Sometimes the hype is too great, and sometimes I get lured in, not knowing I will be waiting in suspense for a year while an author does his/her job.

One of my most tense experiences was with Phillip Pullman. I started reading The Golden Compass, because a student of mine was reading it and her weekly reading journal was so wacky, I had to find out if she really was understanding the book. (She was.) After that, I had to suffer waiting first for The Subtle Knife and then The Amber Spyglass.

I really appreciate J.K Rowling for ending each Harry Potter book with a sense of completion. The reader knows more trouble awaits, but nobody is in immediate peril at the end of a book.

Of course, suspense and  a feeling of longing to get back into the world of a book was not what I expected from a non-fiction series about politics before the Civil War.

I've recently read A Self Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel by Sidney Blumenthal. He is writing a series of books about the life of Abraham Lincoln and his development as a person and politician.

The books are compelling and complicated. Blumenthal's goal is to explain the entire political life of the nation in the fifty years leading up to the Civil War. The second book ended in the 1850s at the birth of the Republican Party and during a time when Lincoln is doing well as a lawyer and as a supporter of others' campaigns, but is frustrated in his own political ambitions.

I only have two issues with the book so far.

The first is probably my problem. I am really struggling to juggle all the names, so many names, so many old white men. (Not that my own politics are leaking into my reading.) I know my brain is absorbing less than half of what is available. Maybe a young adult version of the series will be written some day so I can read again and review.

The other criticism is more legitimate. There is a whole chapter about the Mormon War" in Illinois because both political parties (Democrat and Whig at the time) competed for the Mormon vote and all politicians had opinions about and positions on these strange people who were becoming a large chunk of the new state's population.

The Lincolns shared a love for attending the theater.
As he does with every other issue, Blumenthal gives a ton of background information, in this case about Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Unfortunately, I think he only used sources negative toward Joseph Smith. There were weird things going on back then,  polygamy chief among them. Our prophet was young, poor, and usually figuring things out as he went along. Some criticism is certainly warranted, but the negative and perhaps even angry tone that came through in that chapter seemed excessive to me. At very least, Joseph Smith should not be presented as a greater villain than John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis.

After this chapter, I will take the author's opinions with a little more salt than I would have previously, but I won't stop reading.

I am anxious to see how Lincoln moves from somewhat obscure political operative to the presidency.
Unfortunately, the next book won't be available until July.

Don't tell me how the story ends.

I fell down on the job last week and didn't get the blog written, so there are two podcasts to report. The first is on an early Dickinson poem "Through lane it lay—through bramble—" It talks about dangers in the world of children that adults cannot see. 

Then this week, as we've swung through a wild range of temperatures, I shared a poem about beautiful autumn days like today. It is called, "These are the days when Birds come back—".
The humming birds are long gone, but the birds who don't bother to leave are quickly emptying my feeders.`

THE KNITTING has been fairly productive and I've caught up with some of my backload. The items in the pictures are now available in my shop. 

Personally, we are still in a painful state of limbo in Husband's job search. That is not good for anyone's health.

On the positive side, Youngest is currently at his first day of work.
And I've adopted a new pet.

He came in with my geraniums and is eating away at them heartily. Any idea what he will grow up to be?

Friday, October 19, 2018

Feeling Waspish

  1. readily expressing anger or irritation.

    "he had a waspish tongue"

    "he's a waspish old geezer"

That's the Google definition. I love the sample sentences with male examples because that's the only time I know of that the adjective hasn't been applied to a woman.

I've  been grouchier than my usual self all year. My biologic may be slowly failing, or it may just be the stress of uselessness and Husband's job hunt.

I could also be described as a WASP--Almost. I'm a white, Anglo Saxon, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So I'm not in the club.

 I'd also be excluded money-wise. Apparently the real WASPS come from old money. I haven't even managed new money. More than 7/8 of my ancestry is definitely peasant. I'm good with that.

But there is that one line, on my mother's side, that goes back to both Jamestown and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are even barons on that line. We don't know why Benjamin Hume Sparks, genuine old-money WASP, took a train to wild-west era Utah, but I bet it would make a good novel.

During our first summer in this house, paper wasps built a nest outside our bedroom window. I was really anxious about my husband discovering it. Sensible people would call an exterminator or attack it with bug spray. My stomach tied in knots when my husband called, "Come look at this." from our bedroom. He pointed to the wasp nest and said, "Isn't that cool?" I fell in love all over again.

We also had mud wasp nests inside our front porch because the screen door was broken.  When we got the door replaced, the installation guy proudly told me he had cleaned out the wasp nests. I thanked him because I didn't know what else to say.

I was stung by a wasp on Thursday. My only previous stings came while working in the garden--insect territory, but this happened as I opened the door to a therapist's office. She got me just below the elbow, just below my rolled-up sleeves. (All hornets that sting, virtually all hornets you see flying around, are female.)

 I was actually indoors when I brushed her off my arm. So my first concern was not to have an angry hornet loose in the office. I got a paper cup from the water cooler and an old shopping list from my purse. I trapped her against the glass door, then turned her loose outside.

The bite burned for the first few hours and that was almost a good thing. I felt better--much the way breaking a toe can ease a headache. My general misery had a focus.

Unfortunately, by bedtime it turned into an itch, which inspires sympathetic itching everywhere. Also, I couldn't leave it alone and did some scratching, so the swelling is now huge.

Wasps are fascinating creatures. You can find a lot of basic facts about them online, though sadly, most of the sites are sponsored by exterminators. Most of my pictures come from a good National Geographic article. 

There are more than 3,000 kinds of wasp. They come from the same biological order as ants and bees. Many live like bees in colonies. Most hornets who sting do so to defend a colony. The majority live alone and don't sting. Almost all hornets eat other insects. Many also help with pollination.

I hold no grudge against the little wasp that stung me.

THE PODCAST is about the nature of the human soul. It's pretty intense. Emily Dickinson uses a blacksmith metaphor and asks, "Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?" I think if she asked me that in person, I would say, "No, thank you." and slowly back out of the room. 

THE KNITTING consists of two earth-toned projects, both out of yarn from Mountain Meadow Wool.  If you want to see some of my more colorful work and start your Christmas shopping, visit my shop.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Points of light

We're moving into the second week of colder, wetter weather. Each valley rain storm brings snow further down the mountains.

Because our ever-expanding suburbs are located in a desert and we essentially skipped winter last year, this is exactly the kind of weather good Utah members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints* pray for.
Peculiarly, since we don't care whether it comes as rain or snow, we pray for "moisture."

Selfishly, I don't.

Dark weather and heavy clouds depress me almost instantly. Add to that the extra ache that comes from cold and changing barometric pressure and I become slow, sad, and mostly housebound. That's a hard place to be optimistic from. As Husband is frantically job hunting and we're awaiting my disability ruling, it would be better if I could be a ray of sunshine instead of a miserable lump.

It is during these gloomy times that Daddy Bush's fairly dark vision of "a thousand points of light" actually appeals to me. There are always points of light available to help..

Monday night was filled with actual points of light.

 The first was my dad's bonfire. When tree trimmings build up and it's windy enough that burning is permitted, Dad will start a fire in the fire pit. He tends to sit there alone for a couple hours just watching. As my dark weather blues were inherited from Dad's side of the family, I don't know if that is a healthy habit or not.

Anyway, Husband and I didn't get out to walk until late. Drawn by the fire, we walked over to visit. But Dad's yard is a mix of orchard and forest that is challenging to navigate in daylight. In the dark, focused on the firelight,  I struggled to find my way. Just recovering from being stabbed in the ear by a branch, I caught my foot on a rope anchoring one of the fruit trees and landed on my face.

My face is fine. The lawn is soft. I do have a nice souvenir on my leg to remind me that my iPhone doesn't only have a step-counter, but also a flashlight.

After the fire died down and Dad went indoors, we crossed the street for three laps in the park. The clouds had temporarily rained themselves out, so the stars and planets were visible. Mars and Saturn look lonely now that Venus and Jupiter have moved out of view.

But there were shooting stars everywhere. We saw more than a dozen during our 45 minute walk. It was the peak of the Draconid Meteor shower. We had no idea beforehand--an unexpected gift of much needed light.
Sadly, not my picture, or my view. Must get to saguaro country sometime soon.
Another gift in the form of enlightenment came in my email. 7 Things to Do When You're Mostly Housebound Due to Illness by Toni BernhardI find her writing very helpful when my illness insists on being paid attention to. I will try to apply some of her wisdom to pull myself into a better spirit. 

Already she has me appreciating my large office window. I've rebooted the bird feeders for the season, and I'm considering some downstairs house plants. The geraniums on the front porch are now vulnerable to freezing, so Youngest may be doing some heavy lifting to bring them into my lair.

* This weekend, our prophet asked us to stop calling ourselves Mormons or LDS. He gave the very good reason that we are supposed to be focused on Jesus Christ. I am trying to cooperate, but it sure gets wordy.

THE PODCAST is a funeral poem for summer, so it didn't really help with my mood, other than it did get written this week, which helps. Writing and publishing still gives me a greater sense of accomplishment than dishes and laundry,

The first image in this week's poem is a gentian, which I've only seen once as a wildflower. For Emily it's clearly a sign of fall, but it's not very common around here. I'm not sure if Dickinson is referencing a wild or garden flower, so I've found pictures of both.

Look at the last stanza of the poem. I don't know what to think about it. Clearly cheeky, likely sacrilegious. Emily had the advantage as a writer of never planning to publish, so she didn't have to worry about offending anyone.

Here is the poem:

The Gentian weaves her fringes—
The Maple’s loom is red—
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness—
An hour to prepare,
And one below this morning
Is where the angels are—
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there—
An aged Bee addressed us—
And then we knelt in prayer—
We trust that she was willing—
We ask that we may be.
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the Bee—
And of the Butterfly—
And of the Breeze—Amen!

THE KNITTING is a second baby set, this time in cheap fluorescent yarn I found in the bottom of my cupboard.

There's a blanket too, which is almost finished, but not quite because knitting blankets gets boring.
The whole set will soon be in my shop.

I also finished a hat out of a blend of leftover yarns that include silk, alpaca, Morino, and linen. I like it and it's in my color, so I'm keeping it. Too bad there aren't enough leftovers in this color for matching mittens. Starlit walks are starting to get chilly.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Judgement Day

Though you may be disappointed that this blog is not about The Terminator franchise, you should be relieved and thankful that it has nothing to do with the Supreme Court.

This week I finally had my Social Security disability hearing, so I'm going to tell you about it.

After two years of stress, it was quite anticlimactic. The hearing room wasn't very much like a courtroom. There were four rectangular tables facing each other. The judge sat at one that was slightly elevated. The clerk sat on one to the side. My lawyer and I sat at the table facing the judge, and the fourth table was for the work specialist, who actually attended by phone.

The judge already had all my work and medical records, so it was mostly a chance for me to talk about life with RA and fibromyalgia.

Everything is based upon an official government catalog of jobs, hence the work specialist. As I described my symptoms and limitations, the judge or my lawyer would ask her if someone with my abilities could do particular jobs.

Everyone agreed I couldn't teach any more, but the Social Security department initially ruled that I should be able to be an office assistant or an addresser. As my limited energy and fine motor skills were added, my lawyer may have proved that I am absolutely good for nothing. I'll find out if the judge agrees in about a month.

That is what we are trying to prove, but it still isn't great for my self esteem. I keep having optimistic thoughts about things I could do, then I try to do something, anything, more complex and tiring than emptying the dryer and I can't.
A Saturday afternoon mountain stroll--first snow

The hearing, the rainy weather, the reminder of my uselessness, took me down this week. I've done a lot of sleeping, too much eating, and everything is running at least a day late.

Those of you who were disappointed that there weren't more "Terminator" references in a blog titled "Judgement Day" may be interested in a strange book I just read, A Truly Remarkable Thing  by Hank Green. It is about the appearance of large machines or sculptures of unknown origin and how our society reacts.  I'm still deciding what to think about it, which is a good sign because it made me think.

Because I really like what Hank and John Green do on-line and in charitable projects, I bought four copies, which will go to my siblings and parents. So after Christmas I will have people I can discuss it with.

THE PODCAST is written, but not recorded. Maybe skipping this week and recording two next week will give me one extra for a while until my next down week

This picture shows the colors most accurately.


I finished the baby blanket and had enough yarn left over to make a matching hat and socks. I'm very happy with them and would like to give it to my grandchild, but as I don't have one yet, the whole set will soon be available for $80 in my shop. I know that sounds very expensive, but it barely pays for the gorgeous, hand dyed, American raised merino wool. Mountain Meadow Wool

My next project is a similar set out of cheap, but still soft, and nicely machine-washable synthetic. I can probably charge half as much while still giving myself a little for labor.

The colors are a little wilder. I would happily wrap a child of either gender in either set.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Rocky Mountain High?

No, I’m not writing from marijuana-friendly Colorado, but from Utah, its neighbor to the west.

This November medical marijuana is on the ballot, but it won’t pass. My church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has put out a statement against it. The statement expresses concern about increased youth drug use. 

Having taught middle school, I know that young people who want drugs are already getting them. I’m voting in favor, a lot of us are, because we need a better alternative for pain control.

But if it passed and medical marijuana became legal, would I use it? I’m not sure. 

I am the perfect candidate. I have long joked, somewhat bitterly, that I have the only two doctors in America who do not over-prescribe opiates. I have nothing stronger than Tramadol. I can’t help but wonder if I could have worked longer if I was more heavily medicated. And I want to get back into the workplace.


Could I ask my rheumatologist, a neighbor, and former bishop in my church ward for a prescription for medical marijuana? Not likely. He’s a good doctor and I appreciate how he’s always believed me, but he is very religious and I don’t want to strain that relationship. 

  Since I don’t know my family doctor outside of his practice, I would be more comfortable asking him. 


I believe in the FDA, testing, regulation, controlled dosage. I wan’t to buy medicalized marijuana, in pill form, with a prescription from my doctor from my grocery store pharmacy. I know part of the appeal of marijuana is that it isn’t owned, or priced, by Big Pharma, but I’d like the governmental protections that are supposed to come with research and regulation. 

I understand the irony. Methotrexate and every biologic I’ve taken list sudden death among a list of horrible side effects. I’d just feel safer that way than asking the person behind the counter of a dispensary what is good. 

I might be able to grow my own, or like my fruits and vegetables, ask my dad to grow it for me, but that doesn’t make me feel safer. I don’t like the trial and error stage of taking my many prescription drugs, trial and error in the back yard makes me more nervous. Heat, moisture, and varying soil conditions effect the composition of all plants. A non-medical example is radishes, which are mild when grown in cool, moist climates, but strong when planted in our dry heat. 

 I grow a variety of herbs in my garden, some with reputed medical properties, but I’ve never tried to treat anything scarier than cold sores. (Lemon balm tea—I swear by it, but it will take over your yard.)

In the meantime, I can dream that medicalized marijuana, like universal health care and equal rights for all will come to pass in my lifetime. 

My mother’s mother is 98 and has been in chronic pain since her forties. (She has the good drugs.) So I may have plenty of time.

 In the meantime, I’ll vote accordingly and if I hurt enough to get brave, take vacations to the beautiful state to our east. (West works too, but who wants to visit Nevada?)

THE PODCAST this week is about death. Emily could really have used both medical and recreational marijuana. She was much too much of a lady to ever smoke, but was well known for her desserts, so she could have become financially independent baking edibles.

Actually, the poem is about the things we treasure because they once belonged to people who have died. I have knit and given so many things that it would be interesting to follow their fates through various owners and good will shops to see how long they outlive me.
Along those lines,

THE KNITTING has been almost exclusively done on the baby blanket, which is nearing completion, but also starting to look appealing as a shawl, maybe something one can wear until a baby looks cold? I don't know, but it will eventually go into my shop.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Out of Work/Out of Order

I love watching people work. If’s fascinating. 

When I go to pick up dinner, the choreography of the kitchen, stirs me and I envy the grace of servers hustling with trays of drinks or multiple plates on their arms.

I watch the receptionist at the therapist's office. She remembers names so well and manages to make all those phone calls and insurance claims while ordering lunch for the counselors and chatting with me about our kids. Does she need any certifications for the job, or just good mom organizational skills?

There are some very impressive crossing guards in my town, doing mostly volunteer work for $11.00 an hour, but taking charge of four lanes of impatient traffic and getting even middle schoolers to hustle across.

The people at the grocery store move seamlessly between checking, bagging, and the service desk and seem to be able to find safe, neutral topics of conversation. They can be friendly without seeming nosy and are always standing without showing exhaustion.

People mock McDonald’s workers, but the people who work at our local store are fast, efficient, polite, and almost never make mistakes with the orders. I don’t understand how anyone can take orders and payments from two rows of cars and get everything to the right person.

I see the work of people I never see. The landscapers at the aquarium, Zoo, and aviary are brilliant. Something is always blooming. There are cool places to rest and habitats for native animals as well as the ones we pay to see.

I could go on because I’m always watching other people work. That’s because I can’t work any more, at least not right now. Pain is denying my right to be useful. 

Until two years ago, I worked more than full time at a demanding job that promised never to be boring. I both loved and hated teaching because it was so difficult. For years I blamed my aches and pains on work.

But work is gone and I’m still hurting. Next week I’ll have my disability hearing. After the ruling, I can work with Social Security to gently get into some part-time work. 

If the ruling comes against me, I may need to find some part-time work to help feed myself.

Unfortunately, my body disagrees. 

I can get in a few fun hours a week. If I rest first, take all the drugs, and rest afterwards, I can enjoy two hours or so out and about, but not everyday, and not predictably.  

So I keep watching other people work, hoping to spot something I can do, maybe after the perfect biologic comes along, maybe sooner, if I can find a way to be useful.