Friday, January 26, 2018

Living Like a Cat

Last weekend winter finally arrived-- all at once-- with 16 inches of snow.

While my son and husband spent most of the day shoveling, I spent most of the day in bed.

Storms are never great on my joints, but there is an additional problem. My insurance company changed with the new year, which meant I needed to go through the entire pre-approval rigamarole again for a biologic I have been taking now for months. The time involved has put me a dose behind on the miracle drug that makes me just functional enough to move through my day.

Also, I had been fighting to keep going after overdoing it had thrown me into a flare. My body always tells me to go back to bed, so I often ignore it, but Saturday it gave me no choice. Since then I've been trying to take it easier.

Resting is not in my nature, but I have role models. My dear cats only get up to eat, drink, and use the litter box.

My cats are basically throw pillows, but lions and other wild cats sleep almost as long. They hunt, eat, sleep. So my trip to the grocery store counts as hunting. My trip to the aquarium, as tempting as some of those fishies look, does not.

I was scheduled to end the week with a return trip to the aviary, but the weather was looking dicy again. I was relieved that my friend suggested to cancel before I had to.
This same friend often says she can't imagine living like some of the aquarium animals that seem to do nothing. Imagination may be the issue. Does a fish know it isn't doing much? Is it capable of boredom, sadness or joy?

How about my kitties? I assume they dream; my dog does. What do they dream about?

I have a favorite poem, by Elizabeth Coatsworth, about cats and their imaginations that applies to the moggies we have loved, but not to our current aristocats.

On A Night of Snow

Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.
You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, do not go.
See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,
I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet -
stay with me, Cat. Outdoors the wild winds blow.

Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light,
on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar -
Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!

I want to be out in the wild winds, but my body insists on staying by the fire. I'll behave for a few more days and let my miracle drug kick in again. Maybe I can dream about being stronger.

Friday, January 19, 2018

In a Fowl Mood

Once again, I flew too close to the sun, which caused me to crash and burn. Someone needs to clip my wings before I do it again.

Let's try this in clearer language. I felt draggy last week, but Friday was my anniversary. When my sweet husband suggested dinner and a movie to top off the flowers (which still look great), I took a handful of pills and set off with a smile. It was fun, even if the new Star Wars movie isn't worth recommending.

Saturday we took advantage of nearly snow and ice-free conditions to lake a longer and harder walk than usual. (Sorry US East Coast, we get all the global warming this year.) I expected to be wiped out the next day, but Sunday was okay. I went to all three hours of church and got my steps in afterwards.

Consequences hit on Monday. I'm now recovering from a flare--sleeplessness, fever, pain, the works.

But since I apparently can't sleep this one away, I still get out and go. This week's adventure, on Wednesday, was to the Tracy Aviary at Liberty Park, downtown Salt Lake City. A good choice as the terrain is flat, paved, and cane-friendly.

 I hadn't visited since my kids were little. At the time, the aviary had just begun a big makeover. All of the habitats have been improved or replaced since then and renovations continue. My current favorite is a South American exhibit which has indoor and outdoor rooms for all of the birds, so they can choose whether it is warm enough to be outdoors.

There are many birds of prey, most impressively an Andean condor, and four eagles. These massive birds are at the aviary because they were injured in various ways and could not be returned to the wild.

I'm not sure if that is also the case with the vultures and owls . There is a large, beautiful Owl Woods, but not large enough for nighttime soaring. I have a membership now, so I'll be back to ask if they are part of conservation efforts.

The ducks reminded me about clipped wings. All of the ponds contain our native green-headed drakes and their speckled-brown mates, but they also have a lot more "exotic" ducks from around the world. The natives fly in and out at will, but careful watching reveals that the more official residents are missing some wing feathers. I assume that is also the case with the pelicans and flamingos. This doesn't hurt the birds, but it does keep them from flying away.

In fact, the feathers grow back every year.  In the eighties, one of the flamingos didn't get his wings clipped and started migrating with some (much smaller) wading birds that lived part of the year in the Great Salt Lake. Although the famous "Pink Floyd" raised a lot of publicity for both the aviary and our local water birds, I'm sure he also is a cautionary tale for bird keepers everywhere.

A careful look at the two sets of ducks in the aquarium reveals that they are missing flight feathers too, which makes sense. They have roomy ponds to live in and around, but it would be a danger to everyone if the ducks took it into their heads to soar around.

But there are free-flying birds in the South America section of the aquarium. There are two big enclosures for the toucans and some birds that are known to bite, but dozens of other birds, some as large as magpies, fly freely within the exhibit. Their freedom, limited though it may be, is probably what makes me enjoy that exhibit the most.

Near the birds is a new section for butterflies, all painted ladies so far. They add another example of the contradiction of flight within captivity.
And captivity is the theme for the week. I feel trapped by my failing mind and body. Yet I have incredible freedoms that most women in the world don't have and very few in history did.

I'm reading my fifth biography of Emily Dickinson as preparation for our podcast. She lived at a time and in a social class that restricted women to the domestic sphere. But it was a time of change. Women were publishing novels and poetry and pushing for political change. Emily was an avid reader of these pioneering writers.

The question all Dickinson biographers struggle to answer is why Emily chose not to seek publication and ultimately why she chose to pretty much disappear into her father's house, communicating mostly with letters and refusing to see any but a select few acquaintances.

Why did a poet who struggled against the loss of freedom required of a convert submitting to God and of a woman submitting to her husband, confine herself in this way?

Theories run the gamut--madness, agoraphobia, a broken heart, uninterrupted intellectual freedom. My current book, Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds, by Lyndall Gordon, makes a very good case for epilepsy, which was still highly misunderstood and stigmatized in the 1800s.

Secrecy is part of of Dickinson's appeal. No one knows how autobiographical her poems are. Not telling was part of her privacy and freedom.

In a somewhat related vein, I just finished reading a good novel my sister sent me for Christmas. To the Bright Edge of the World is about Arctic exploration, Native American folklore, trauma, tragedy, and love. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read. One of the main characters is a gutsy women one generation younger than Dickinson. She studies birds and learns how to use the very primitive cameras available in 1885 to become a pioneering wildlife photographer. The book goes into great detail about the patience and stillness required to capture beautiful images of wild birds. I thought of her often while trying to photograph captive birds. She could have accomplished miracles with the camera on my phone.

THE KNITTING can wait. I have designed a hat pattern to sell as a podcast fundraiser and I've started a hand spun sweater for a friend, but I don't have it in me to photograph them. My plan is to take a nap, then figure out how and where I can walk today.

Friday, January 12, 2018

This Old Dog is Trying to Learn New Tricks

For some time, I’ve been working toward launching a podcast about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I’ve read two biographies and a novel I expected to be a biography. I’ve pondered the poems I know and read many new ones. I’ve even written four episodes.

Now for the hard part—technology. There are so many things to do:

come up with a catchy title and pay for a URL  
design a logo that looks good in a thumbprint
record and edit the podcast
save that recording in the proper format 
find a server on which it will be hosted
follow many steps in formatting and writing descriptions in order to have the podcast listed on iTunes and other podcatchers
design a webpage about my podcast on which to list sources, provide additional information, and ask for donations
set up a business PayPal account if I want to accept donations.

It’s entirely overwhelming, but I need a challenge. So does my youngest son. So I’ve “hired” Youngest to be my editor and producer. If and when we make some money, I will use it to pay him.

Youngest is a digital native, but not a tech geek. He will have to learn everything from scratch too. We are starting to learn together.

The very successful History of Rome podcast, by Mike Duncan, was recorded on Garage Band, so that is where we are starting. We sit together at my computer and listen to lessons I found on the App Store. Most of them don’t apply. As cool as it sounds, I don’t need a good drum loop or impressive bass line. So we skip and try to learn the important skills.

So far I have recorded one reading of the first poem on my iPad and moved it to the main computer. I’ve also found music to cut up for intro/outro and transitions. Goals for next week are to actually create the first complete podcast and start the web page. 

Once we know what we are doing, Youngest will manage the webpage and do all the technical stuff to get the podcast on line and I can go back to focusing on research and writing. The goal is to have episodes ready to listen to by the end of February. 

The old dog in the pictures is my Bingo. He’s about 11. Bingo walks with me and makes sure we know that people are at the door. Despite several years of obedience training, sit and stay would be a new trick for him.

p.s. Today is my wedding anniversary--27 years. I don't know how it happened, but my sweet husband and I have now been married longer than we have been alive.


I finished the feet bag and made a feet hat. I’m happy with the bag, but the hat is a little big. Footprints are a little bigger than ideal for colorwork in knitting. I may try them as a vertical pattern instead of a horizontal one if I start feeling footsy again. It may happen. I’m planning a new trip to the museum next week. If you are interested, both the hat and bag are available in my shop.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Is it Better to Look Lazy?

In middle school orchestra I learned about an Italian composer so lazy he wrote music in bed. It was a lighthearted tidbit shared by a young teacher to young students. I remembered the story, but not the name, Vivaldi or Verdi, I was sure.

Actually the composer was Rossini, Gioachino Rossini. He wrote many operatic hits and a few flops, but is most known today for writing the theme music for the Lone Ranger (aka the William Tell Overture.)

In the anecdote I found online, Rossini composes in bed, and when a page of music falls to the floor, he starts over rather than picking it up. Lazy. Except he wrote 40 operas in 20 years, so what was really going on?

No one seems quite sure. The big question is not actually about writing in bed, but why a genius with fame and fortune would give up writing music at 38? Especially since Rossini stayed in the public eye and apparent good health until the age of 76.

Apparent may be the key word. Many of us appear to be fine even when we are suffering. There are reports that Rossini had deep depressive episodes. I have stayed in bed due to depression, but reported “flu symptoms” when I had to miss work. Likewise, Rossini may have been hiding under the covers when friends dropped by. Acting too cool to get out of bed would have seemed preferable to revealing a condition still often misconstrued as weakness.

Hiding our frailties seems instinctive, maybe it is. I’ve read that house cats don’t act sick unless they are deathly ill because they need to hide weakness from larger predators.

Though I walk more comfortably with a cane than without, I usually leave it home. There are logical reasons—it’s in the way when not in use, I can’t wrangle my dog and use a cane at the same time, etc,—but pride comes in as well. I don’t want to stand out as being unwell. 

Not me. I'll never be that cool.
I color my hair blue, so apparently I don’t mind standing out, but I want to stand out for being quirky, not for being gimpy.

I really dread my likely future need for a wheelchair. I remember having unkind thoughts about people who seemed too fat to walk. Now I realize I'm fat partially because I can't walk as much as I'd like to keep weight off. (We won't talk about baked-goods here.) My vanity goal is to lose weight before my joints give out so that when I need a wheelchair, others don't have such thoughts about me.

I started thinking about Rossini because I want/need to increase my writing production. The plan is to launch a poetry podcast this year. I would love to issue weekly editions, but sometimes it takes all I have to get this blog written. Maybe if I could write from bed - - -

So Santa brought me a keyboard for my iPad. I’ve written this from the living room sofa, from the kitchen table, from the laundry room, but not from bed.

Because morning is unfriendly to me. I go to bed planning to start reading research materials or typing the blog or podcast as soon as my husband’s alarm goes off at seven. But I usually can’t even roll over and turn on a podcast to listen to until nine. Guilt over neglected pets gets me dressed and feeding critters before 10, but my drugs and brain rarely work before 11. That’s a huge chunk out of my work day before I wash dishes, do laundry, exercise, etc. 

Rossini didn’t exercise. He only cooked for fun.  And I’m pretty sure he had servants in addition to wives and mistresses. I may have to delegate or ignore even more housework to become a more productive writer. 


I had two projects on needles when this week started. The plan was to be disciplined and finish them before starting more.

But I fell in love at the Museum of Natural History. The whole section on prehistoric people of Utah fascinates me. This high desert country is hard to live in. I can’t imagine the work that went into keeping a family fed, sheltered, and clothed. But people have been doing so for about 10,000 years. 

We only have stone tools for the earliest people, but the Fremont and Anasazi peoples lived in Utah during what was the Middle Ages in Europe. And the technology was similar. Farming, hunting, basket weaving, pottery. 

I love looking at the housewares and clothing of these people. What seems to survive best and touch me most, is the moccasins. They are crafted in much the same style as the Minnetonka moccasins I wear everywhere (without the rubber soles), but are so small. Here is a related article I found while looking for pictures. 

Part of that is I am a big person, with very big feet, but I also think a lot more child moccasins survive than adult ones. Kids outgrow things before they wear them out. Even with hand-me-downs, a few shoes will survive intact.

I needed to express my feelings in knitting, but I don’t generally knit socks. So I went with a feet theme. Bare feet on a sandy path are on what will be a bag. I also plan on putting smaller feet on a hat, but probably need to churn out two or three more Space Invaders hats first. I’ve sold two this past month and am down to the last one. You can snag it and other items at my shop.