Saturday, December 15, 2018

God Rest Ye Merry,



I've been dragging lately and falling further and further behind. It's time to take a good rest, except it's the holidays, so that's not likely to happen. I'm going to stop writing my blog and podcast until January and hope to return with a little more energy.

 I'll be on my sofa spending Solstice enjoying my nativity Christmas Tree.

May all of you enjoy any and all of this season's activities with people you love.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Paying the Flautist


Mercedes Smith in an even more remarkable gown than she performed in Friday night.
As the title might suggest, I am once again paying the piper. Though, since I am paying the price of going out on the town to see the symphony at the end of a busy week, and the symphony featured three flautists special performers, paying the flautist seems most appropriate. (I am also showing off what is left of my vocabulary by showing I know the word, "flautist.")

I am including the program and artists here so you can see what it consisted of.
PROGRAM
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
Boulez: Mémoriale
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Grieg: Selections from Peer Gynt



ARTISTS
Lisa Byrnes also teaches flute at the U of U
Thierry Fischerconductor
Baiba Skrideviolin
Mercedes Smith, flute 
Lisa Byrnesflute
Madeline Adkinsviolin

Thierry Fischer, our conductor, may have drunk too much caffeine before the performance. He introduced the first act by talking about how much joy one feels while listening to Bach. (I listen to Bach when I need inoffensive background music and must concentrate on what I am doing.) Then he showed that the joy of Bach comes from playing the Brandenburg concerto at superhuman speed. It was truly amazing and much less stodgy than the Bach I am used to. "Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt was also played much faster than I have ever heard it.
Alicia Kim played the Boulez. 
Between the Brandenburgs the orchestra played a very modern piece that was written in honor of the sudden death of a flautist. I thought it was etherial and amazing and was trying to decide which instrument could be played in my memory (certainly nothing etherial). But during intermission my mom commented that she thought it sounded like a cat trying to cough something up, which would truly be an appropriate memorial to me and my cat-hair-covered existence.

Which brings me to something that made this evening special. I was given the gift of four tickets, which enabled me to invite my mother, sister, and niece to come to the symphony with me. There is a special level of comfort I feel when with my family, even when we are trying to beat downtown traffic and navigate streets we don't travel every day. We speak the same language, often observe things the same way. I had forgotten to take one last dose of pain pills before setting off and still was able to enjoy the evening because I was so comfortable (and because my sister did most of the driving.)

To come back to the title, we had an interesting conversation on the way home about how the Symphony members are paid. We wondered if the percussionists, who didn't appear until the second half and then took turns sitting through whole numbers were paid the same amount as the string players who sawed away frantically the whole two hours. There was also a harpsichord player who only performed during the final part of the first half and three or four harpists who didn't appear at that concert at all.  Symphony math might be quite tricky. 

I know classical musicians are usually considered underpaid,
and symphonies have been known to go on strike, but I have no idea what the actual numbers are.

Most have many side gigs--teaching lessons, playing for commercials, musicals, and in small groups. Some of them probably also drive for Uber or Lift.

(My sister lives next door to the principal bassist, who has a lovely house, and whose wife is also a musician, but it isn't considered polite to interrogate a neighbor about salary. )

If you are a classical musician or do the bookkeeping for a symphony, I'd love to hear how salaries are calculated.

THE PODCAST is a poem about a gap in the curtains through which Emily Dickinson can always see the chimney, a steeple, and a hillside. There is also the bough of an apple tree which shows the change of seasons. I thought it was an interesting perspective for people who may be stuck with a very limited outlook.

THE KNITTING is primarily custom order made for someone who wanted a hat with the Atari logo and ET from the infamous Atari video game. We communicated quite a bit about the design. I hope he is happy with the final result. If you have a particular hat design in mind, contact me through my shop.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A Break in the Clouds


As I write, the sky is grey and there is snow on the ground, but my world is sunnier.

Husband's job issue has been resolved. He will be working for a different branch in the same company. Allowing him to make what seems like a simple internal transfer went clear to the VP level for approval and gave us two months of stress, but once again all is well.

We celebrated by ordering a lot of Christmas presents and buying a few more lights for the yard. It will take a while to feel secure again, which may be good. The fear we felt approaching unemployment has made us re-evaluate our finances. We should be in a much better position financially if this happens again.

Now my main goal is coziness. I want to add as much warmth and comfort as possible to nestle my little family through the winter. The house has been cleaned and Christmas decorations are up.

I'm trying to budget my limited energy around spending time with Husband and kids and baking treats for all of us.

For example, this blog will be short again because Husband has been craving chewy ginger cookies. (I call them ginger snaps, but they have the consistency of peanut butter cookies, so I know that isn't right.

We haven't been able to find the Lofthouse version of these cookies at the grocery store, so it's up to me to bake and they are relatively labor-intensive. It's weird what I have to classify as too hard.

 I wonder if I will ever get used to my limitations or if I will continue to wake up every morning disappointed by familiar pains.

But baking cookies, finding places to put up lights, blogging, and podcasting are all distractions from such feelings. The focus is on positivity and coziness. I'll try my best.

(A frustration with blogging for the last two months has been an inability to respond to comments. At first, answers I typed on my laptop disappeared when I pushed "publish,"but I could answer from my iPad. Now, that doesn't work either. I use Google Blogger. If you have run into this problem and have suggestions, let me know. I've let Google know, but that's basically yelling into the void. I really enjoy your comments, don't give up on hearing back from me.)

THE PODCAST was published on the last day of November and just before we had our first snow to stick around (only about an inch right now). The poem is a prayer for help in surviving winter, a prayer I have been repeating in my mind since I read it.

Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind--
Thy windy will to bear!

This applies to not just winter, but to any hardships that we just have to find a way to live with.
Emily Dickinson suggests a squirrel late to hibernate shares her sentiments. I hope the birds, squirrels, and deer that raid my feeder find a bit of comfort from the extra food. (Who knew deer ate sunflower seeds?)



THE KNITTING has been focused on future gifts and on coziness. I knit a fewpillow covers for the living room sofa

and a "plant" for the front porch.

I've also completed four scarves that will eventually be available in my shop.



I'm also crocheting a granny square Christmas blanket and designing an Atari ET hat as a commission piece. But now it's nap time for twenty minutes before time to cook dinner.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Thankful Just to be Moving


I've been off my game more than usual the last couple of weeks, so last week I put out a podcast, but no blog. this week it will be a blog, but no podcast.

Since being down is part of life with chronic illness, I know there doesn't need to be a reason. but I think there are a couple of contributing factors. First, we seem to be genuinely moving into winter. There is just enough snow outside to stick right now, but snow is forecast for most days of next week. We've had rain storms blowing in and out preceding this storm.  Unsettled weather always unsettles my joints.

Also, there is Youngest's work schedule. He's had a few very late nights each of the last few weeks. I often don't sleep until almost 3 AM anyway, but not sleeping in my bed is much more restful than not sleeping in my car. Now that the dreaded Black Friday has come and gone, his hours are down to far fewer and I only have one late one next week, so I should just have weather to blame a week from now.
Our Thanksgiving was lovely. My mother-in-law does a beautiful job with the traditional Thanksgiving dishes and insists on making all of them, so there was nothing to do but show up and enjoy the company.

Only one set of nieces were there this year. Since they didn't have cousins to talk to, they were at the adult table talking to us. These girls are getting to the fun age of late elementary and middle school, so we could talk about pets and wild animals and share pictures on our phones. Hopefully we'll catch the other set of nieces on their own soon too so we can make similar connections.

Since I apparently looked like I was falling apart (Accurate: I was in bad shape before we arrived.), Husband bundled me home before I could try to self-medicate with more than one piece of pie, so we even avoided gluttony. I remember  childhood with multiple servings of turkey and dressing, but can't even imagine that now. Finishing one plate full of a little of everything is quite enough.

Tonight my extended family has a pizza get-together so we can see each other and visit, but no one has to deal with another feast. I'm looking forward to the get-together, but am still not feeling terrific, so this week's blog will be short.



THE PODCAST last week was about imagining what would be different if you were queen, then preparing in case you suddenly were. It's a fanciful poem that I got a kick out of.


THE KNITTING is quite extensive, but I'm not up for taking pictures today. I need to nap before the party. I'll try to catch up for next week.

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.


THE PODCAST
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


/ˈwäspiSH/
adjective
  1. readily expressing anger or irritation.

    "he had a waspish tongue"


    synonyms:irritabletouchytestycrosssnappishcantankerousspleneticshort-temperedbad-temperedmoodyornerycrotchetycrabby;
    informalgrouchy
    "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.
Summer—Sister—Seraph!
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.