Three Pines Envy: Still Life by Louise Penny

I started reading this book the Sunday of Thanksgiving week, the same day that is the setting of the book. Hey, it’s a sign. As it turns out Thanksgiving in Canada is in October, but still it was an eerie coincidence. Obviously this book and I were meant for each other.

The first sentence: Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. The hairs went up on my arm, and I settled in for the afternoon.

Jane Neal is the retired schoolteacher of the small village of Three Pines located in Quebec. This village is so small that it doesn’t even appear on any maps. Amazingly, it is the home to a small community of complicated and richly conceived characters. There is a lumber mill, a bistro, a new and used book store, a B & B, and all the other small stores and businesses that you would expect. This is also an artistic village filled with introspective, clever and creative people. Some of the people are decidedly odd, but it all works somehow as people interact and support each other.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache arrives in this village, sets up a command post, and sets about solving the crime. He is stable, kind and gentle. Huh? This is a homicide investigator? Yep. He is the best kind: self-contained, insightful, patient, polite, and powerful. An excellent superior and mentor; he installs confidence and loyalty in those he leads. He listens well, observes even better, makes connections over distance and time, knows that old pains can lead to deaths years later, and is not afraid of decisions or confrontations. With him are Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir and Agent Yvette Nichol, and together they set about solving the murder. This is how it begins:

In all the years Jean Guy Beauvoir had worked with Gamache, through all the murders and mayhem, it never ceased to thrill him, hearing that simple sentence. ‘Tell me what you know.’ It signals the beginning of the hunt. He was the alpha dog. And Chief Inspector Gamache was Master of the Hunt.

The book is about the hunt. Gamache knows that murder is often personal, and this one may have been years in the making. He engages the community, unpacks their events, secrets and history, and eventually pieces together what happened, why, and by whom. Of course; this is a murder mystery.

I really enjoyed the book. It was well constructed and contained enough suspense to keep me flipping pages late at night. The conclusion was satisfying and believable. What I didn’t expect is how much I would love the writing of this book, appreciate the host of village people (and their amazingly snappy and snarky dialogue!), and long to be a member of this community myself. I so want to pack up my car with the spinning wheel, loom, my yarn stash, as many books as I can cram in and move there! I could get a dog and plant some roses and really, I would be happy…

Well, that isn’t going to happen. However, I was thrilled to discover that there are nine more books in the series for me to read. Hey, in a way I can move to Three Pines after all! Happy, happy, happy.


Knitting into the Future

Last month I gathered with the other members of my family to attend the memorial services for a beloved aunt, the last of her generation in our family. The celebration of her life focused on her service to the nation (she was a WAC in WWII), her commitment to her family, church, and community, and her many beautiful quilts. Several of these quilts were displayed in the church at her service, and I think that many of us in attendance had been given a quilt that she had made. Exquisite creations with names like “Texas Star” and “Storm at Sea”, they are her legacy to so many of us.

Detail of Shawl
This is one of the Holden shawls (designed by Mindy Wilkes)  I knitted for Christmas presents last year.

Well, it’s not like my little knitted pieces can compete with that, but I’ve been sending knitted items out for birthdays and Christmas for several years now. I was amazed to see two of my cousins and my sister all wearing shawls that I had given them. In fact, all the women in the family had something from me except… my cousin Jean.

Oops! Kind of a big fail. Time to get cracking on a custom ordered shawl. Jean likes jewel tones, so I dug in the stash to see if I had something that would work for a shawl.

Skein of Yarn
This is Interlacements Tokyo yarn (50/50 silk/merino) hand dyed by the late Judy Ditmore. Perfect!

I found a nice sport weight yarn that I bought a few years ago at the Estes Park Wool Market. It was an impulse buy that was hibernating in the stash waiting for its moment to come. Hello jewel tones.

I decided to use a simple pattern with mostly garter stitch since I learned that it displays handpainted yarns well. This pattern, 3S Shawl by Amy Meade, was perfect. Fast easy simple! I finished it in a week of knitting and mailed it off this morning.

Finished Shawl
Here’s the final shawl ready to head off to New York.

How fun is this? A little piece of me went to New York with the shawl, and with a little luck it will have a long, productive life. LIve long and prosper little guy. 🙂

Life is Uncertain, Knit Fast!!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A time to be thankful for the good things in life. I have always thankful for good health in the past. This year, for the first time, that wasn’t true.

There can be no doubt about it. Things hadn’t been quite right for a long time. My joints hurt. I had a rash on my face. I sometimes had trouble swallowing, and acid reflux was occurring on a regular basis. My hands were swollen and I had trouble moving my fingers. Fatigue was my constant companion. If my hands got cold my fingers turned white or purple, a condition called Reynaud’s. Sometimes it hurt to breathe. I kept thinking that if things got worse I would go to the doctor, but I never became so sick that I could justifying taking off work. As many people with chronic conditions do, I just made adjustments and kept going.

Then, without any warning, my digestive system rebelled in a big way over the course of one weekend in early May. Colitis? You have got to be kidding me! Feeling pretty uncomfortable I kept close to home and worked on landscaping projects outside, read books, and worried. After two weeks I contacted my doctor.

Tests were ordered. Everything was negative: there was no obvious infection. Relieved, I decided to just give things a little more time. There was one test result that did nag at me, however. My renal function was a little low.

Two weeks later, lying on the couch with aching legs and abdominal discomfort, it finally hit me. I have a rash on my face. My knees hurt. I have Reynaud’s disease. I have a low renal function test result. When tested in the past I had a positive ANA (anti-nuclear antibody) test. This sounded like one of those cases presented at the weekly seminars when I worked in a rheumatology research lab…

Alarms went off in my head. Lupus! I called the doctor’s office and scheduled an appointment for an exam to be evaluated for lupus.

Lab Tests
Good grief! This is how much blood was drawn to do my rheumatology testing!

“How is it possible that you haven’t already been diagnosed?” my doctor asked me.  How indeed? Oh yeah. That adjusting and just keep going thing. She ordered a huge battery of tests for a comprehensive rheumatology screening, and told me no more gluten in case it was celiac disease. I was horrified. Celiac disease! I wasn’t prepared for that! “Celiac disease would be good,” she said. “We can treat that.” Believe it or not, at that moment celiac disease seemed like the end of the world. I left her office in a sad condition and counted the number of tests ordered while heading down the stairs to the lab. Twenty-two lab tests. Yikes!

Over the next week the test results slowly trickled into the patient portal where I could see them.  Everything was coming back negative. Because of the rheumatology research lab job, I had some idea about which antibody test results were linked to lupus. The big lupus markers were all coming back negative. I began to convince myself that I was a big over-reacting baby. Then suddenly a note came from my doctor telling me that she was sending me to rheumatology for a consultation and three tests I hadn’t seen before appeared in my inbox on the patient portal. Positive results for auto-antibodies associated with scleroderma and Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Pills in case
Look at the great pill case that my sister sent me to help me keep track of all these meds!

At the end of August, 2014 I was diagnosed with both of these disorders and my new rheumatologist started me on medications meant to slow down the progress of the disease and to treat the symptoms that I already have. Eight prescriptions and three over the counter medications!! I have the type of scleroderma that is referred to as limited systemic sclerosis (CREST). This is not good news.  I already have significant skin tightening on my neck, face and hands, and my digestive system has been impacted, but my heart and lungs are doing OK. In a strange way,  however, I feel lucky. Very, very lucky and thankful.  This Thanksgiving I continue to be thankful for what I have. I have been diagnosed, I’m on medication, I am retired and have time to knit…

This is just part of the yarn stash...
This is just part of the yarn stash…

Well, isn’t that a bitch! Here I am in possession of a world-class yarn stash, and I have a rare medical condition that may leave me unable to knit. The skin is getting especially tight across my right hand…

Luckily I am a master of adaptation. That whole adjust and keep going thing has prepared me for an event just like this.

Time to knit fast. Knit very fast! Just cast on and don’t look back.

Enjoy your gluten. 🙂

Quidditch, Anyone?

As all readers of Harry Potter know, Quidditch is the quintessential sport of the Wizarding World. The game features a lot of technical details that I won’t attempt to go into here, but I would just like to share that it features serious technical flying, bludgeoning, and the movement of several flying balls. The most difficult ball to field, and therefore the most desirable for the typical Quidditch player, is the Golden Snitch.

My grandnephew Michael, the brother of Elly who received some purple owl mitts after her broken finger landed her in the hospital, is a great fan of all things Potter. His birthday is coming up and will be Harry Potter themed, so his mom requested a Golden Snitch.

She had already located the pattern that she wanted, which was one of several to be found on Ravelry.  This one, by Melissa Mall, was a crochet pattern. Not my comfort zone, but I was game. Off to the yarn stash I went.

Gold yarn
This is Lumina yarn by Berroco.

What do you know? I do have some gold sparkly yarn (this is a stash to be proud of, let me tell you!). It was a little thin, so I doubled it to make the ball. I found some DK weight Knit Picks Bare to use for the wings, and I was in business. In spite of my reservations I found the pattern to be simple, easy to understand and it produced a snitch lickity split.

Here's the finished snitch all ready for its flight west.
Here’s the finished snitch all ready for its flight west.

One Golden Snitch launched from Colorado on its way to California this afternoon. Happy Birthday, Michael!


Winter is Coming: Knit Mitts!

It started for me one blustery winter day about 5 years ago. I made a quick trip in the car without wearing gloves and arrived at my destination with one finger dead white and numb. How bizarre, I thought. I went into the building, rubbed my finger until the circulation returned, and idly thought that I should mention it to my doctor the next time I saw her. I knew that it was Reynaud’s disease.

Over the years the Reynaud’s progressed to all of the fingers of my hands, and last year my toes joined the party. Instead of white my fingers now turn purple within seconds when exposed to cold.  Pain is involved. As it turned out, Reynaud’s was the harbinger of things to come; three months ago I was diagnosed with scleroderma (systemic sclerosis), but that is another story. Today’s story is one of blue fingers, cold weather, and the world’s cutest mitt pattern.

I made this scarf using Dream in Color Smooshy with Cashmere. I had about three quarters of a skein left over. What better excure do I need for mitt knitting?

I made myself a sweet little scarf out of a cashmere blend sock yarn last winter. I had some yarn left over so I made a pair of lace mitts from it using the Sweet Pea Mitts pattern (by Lisa Swanson) in the book Lace One-Skein Wonders (edited by Judith Durant).

Lace Mitts
Mitts to match my scarf. Take that cold weather!

Yep, just as cute as the scarf. Since hand circulation is a problem for me I started the thumb lower on the mitt (starting at my wrist) so it wouldn’t pull across my hand. This mitt is nice because the I-cord bind-off keeps the stitches at the top of the mitt firmly in place across my knuckles. Because they are light in weight I can wear them indoors while reading, knitting, and working in the house. Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to have some more of these…?

Look at what I’ve been making from leftover sock yarn, 🙂

It was stunningly cold this November in Colorado. I went crazy with the mitt knitting. I now have three more pairs to match other shawls and tops in my wardrobe, and I am even sleeping in them. I wore them inside my mittens while shoveling snow, and they protect me from the cold steering wheel in the car.  I can even wear them on top of light gloves. Take that Reynaud’s!!

Oh yeah. Maybe some Christmas presents were also produced.


Coming Home by Jack McDevitt

I am a child of the 50’s. I had a happy childhood, loved school, and really, really liked science. My standout memories of my elementary years are these: we made a paper machè cow in 2nd grade, the sunset is red because that color light is bent by the Earth’s atmosphere more than the others, Russia launched Sputnik, John Glenn orbited the Earth, chocolate comes from cocoa beans, and the Golden Age of Greece was only 50 years. What a hodgepodge of memories! As a child I knew absolutely that America was the best nation on Earth, and that I was living in a new Golden Age. In my mind, always, the Golden Age was linked to spaceflight. I also knew that the Golden Age of America would probably end within my lifetime.

I have lived through amazing times. I watched the moon landing, abandoned my slide rule in favor of calculators, learned to write programs and use computers, watched the arrival of the Internet, and now own a cell phone that is actually a powerful computer beyond anything I dreamed of as a child. The world of biology has transformed in an equally powerful way as understandings about DNA and cells created an explosion of biotechnology that affects our food supply, medical options, and quality of life. Energy use and production has changed, human population has exploded, and diseases that I never heard of before have emerged. Polio is almost gone, Ebola is here. Climate change is upon us, and the geopolitical climate is transforming at the same time.

The Golden Age of Greece was only 50 years. What we have today will not continue forever.

This is one of the central premises of the book Coming Home by Jack McDevitt. In the book the society that we live in now eventually crashed, entered a Dark Time, and much was lost; the time when man first began to enter space is known in the future as the Golden Age. Thousands of years have gone by, humanity is spread over many distant planets, and the bits and pieces from our time are now worth money. Because of the intervening Dark Time, books, art and other artifacts from our era are rare. Just imagine: a drone, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, the lamp on President Obama’s desk, and James Watson’s Nobel Prize medal all for sale! The antiquities trade developed in the future is very lucrative for the right dealer, and objects from the time when people first left Earth and entered space are especially marketable. You know, a laptop that went to the moon, parts of the lunar orbiter, mission patches from the original astronauts, slices of moon rock, a coffee cup from the first mission beyond the asteroids. These things are now worth a bundle.

The story focuses on Alex Benedict, a successful antiquities dealer who is part detective, part celebrity, and his associate Chase Kolpath, interstellar pilot and Girl Friday.  When a client brings them an ancient electronic device found in a closet during a clean out, they quickly realize that they have found an important artifact from the Golden Age of Earth. The previous owner, the deceased Garnett Baylee, devoted his life to finding a mythical cache of rescued materials from ancient space museums. Did he succeed? Why the secrecy? Where are the rest of the materials? The hunt is on!

Alex and Chase backtrack Baylee’s movements and contact his old associates in an effort to solve the mystery, locate the cache, and recovery these important historical relics. At the same time they are involved in a race against the clock to devise a rescue plan that will save the 2,600 passengers (including Alex’s Uncle Gabe) of an interstellar transport, the Capella, trapped in a space/time warp when they return briefly to sidereal time in the near future. In both efforts there is a race against the clock, conflicting opinions about the best course of action, elements of personal danger, and complications that can cause a devastating outcome. Action, suspense, family, danger, enormous profit! Read on, me hearties!

Jack McDevitt Books
Here’s the whole series of books in order from left to right, and reading up from the bottom of the stack. I’m still working on knitting while I read.

I really liked Coming Home. It is a great balance of suspense, action, science and historical/social commentary all rolled into one reading extravaganza. This book is actually the latest in a series of seven books that follow the adventures of Alex and Chase, and concludes so well I’m wondering if this is the end of their story. I hope not. The dynamics between the two are great; kind of a little like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with some rogue planets, lost space expeditions, and artificial intelligences thrown into the mix. I mean, how can you have more fun than that, science geeks? This series invites meaningful speculation about some big questions: What does it mean to be human? Why do we seek extra-terrestrial life with the assumption that what we find will be a reflection of ourselves? Who does the past really belong to? If it was possible to create a digital interactive avatar of yourself, would you do that? How many flyers can one woman crash? Do rogue planets really exist? At what point do you conclude that your ship AI is “alive”?

Final question: If this is the Golden Age, what, if anything, should be changed about how we think about the future?

Golden Blackberries Cowl

I think I should just declare October the month of the cowl. I made a fun cowl early in the month that reminded me of autumn leaves, and then dug into the stash to make another cowl of the same pattern with a difficult yarn that had been placed into time out after behaving badly. While digging out the ill behaved Watercolor yarn I found another forgotten yarn that I had been saving for the right project. Hey, Christmas is coming. Cowls are fun and fast to knit. I already have a long cable needle put together: time to make another cowl!

Beginning of cowl
Look at this gorgeous yarn! I decided to cast on and see what I could get.

I cast on 180 stitches (size 8 needle) using the Moebius cast-on posted by Cat Bordhi (which meant that I actually had 360 stitches on the needle. Moebius knitting can mess with your head…), which I knew from my previous knitting efforts would give me a nice length. The yarn that I pulled out of the stash for this project was Malabrigo Silky Merino in the colorway Piedras. The yarn had a lot of plum mixed with golds, pinks and greens. When I bought this yarn years ago I had a plum colored coat that I loved to wear on winter days that weren’t too cold. I thought that I would make a scarf to match the coat, but never saw a pattern that appealed to me. The coat is long gone, but the yarn’s time had come.

I had learned from the previous Moebius cowls that garter stitch is a good way to present hand painted yarns, so that is how I started the scarf. After 6 rows I switched to the stitch that my mom called “popcorn stitch”, but I think also goes by Trinity stitch or raspberry stitch. (Since this scarf has plum colors in it, I choose to think of the little berries as blackberries) I continued on in this stitch until  the scarf was getting close to the width I wanted, switched back to garter stitch, and ended up with a picot cast off  (CO 2, BO 4).

Close up of the cowl
Finished cowl. The blackberries to the left are right side up, and the ones on the right are facing down. Since I was using kind of big needles the berries are a little lacy looking.

Here’s the fun thing about Moebius knitting: you start knitting in the middle of the scarf, and your knitting takes you around both edges of the scarf until you get back to the beginning.  What I kind of knew but didn’t understand was the knitting is reversed on the two halves of the scarf. One side of the scarf has the blackberries facing up, and the other side is looking at the bottom of the berries. Hey, that means the scarf is totally reversible.  I’m on board with that.

Finished cowl
Finished cowl is long enough to wear draped like an infinity scarf.

Ta-daa. Finished the cowl yesterday. It drapes really nicely and is long enough to double around my neck comfortably. I’m happy with the lacy look of the berries.

The weather forecast is for snow on Monday. Bring it on, I am ready!