The Saturday Update: Week 31

August. The eighth month of an unbelievably historic year. This has been the longest year imaginable, hasn’t it?! I have now reached the point where I check the phone before I get out of bed to see what happened overnight; I mean, what else is there? Alien invasion? An explosion of hurricanes? Horrific solar flare? I’m not sure that surreal is enough to describe current events anymore… I saw a tee shirt on Facebook that had a review of the year 2020 with only one star and the words: Very bad. Would not recommend.

Yeah. 2020, we still have 5 months to go. Behave yourself!!

Thank heavens I have Hannah to keep me anchored. You know how kittens are: feed me, play with me, pet me, party time!!

For me in my little world, however, things were pretty good. I’m still out of the flare and I’m getting lots done. The weather has remained cooler and there have been rain showers, so the garden continues to recover. Hannah is growing like a weed and is the best little companion. I’m pretty hopeful about this month. Please, August, be good!

Quilting

I’m cranking away on the new quilt and got another block done this week. May I present to you, bears!

This was a faster block to do then the one with the fisherman. This coming week I’m going to tackle a block with a moose walking through a forest.

This is an art quilt designed to hang on a wall. The name is Calling Me Home and the design (and kit) is from Pine Needles.

Knitting

All of a sudden I am getting projects done. Last week I finished my Breathe and Hope shawl by Casapinka, and this week I blocked it and did the finishing work.

It is blocked!

As it turns out this shawl is long and not deep at the point so it is challenging to photograph if the colors are subtle and the day is overcast. Please accept this indoor picture that kind of shows off the textures. I’m looking forward to using this as a serious layering piece in the fall and winter.

I also finished the Willow Cowl this week. You can see in this photo the picot hemmed edges and the alternating lace and stockinette sections; cleverly it also decreases as you knit up towards the neck.
The changing textures makes the cowl fall into nice layers when you put it on. My notes on Ravelry are here.

Are you loving my pandemic hair? I don’t know when I will ever get a nice hair cut again. 2020, you can start behaving yourself any time now.

Garden

The garden is recovering in the cooler weather and plants are growing like crazy (well, I did give everyone fertilizer…), but there is very little blooming going on. I can see buds on the plants, but there are some tiny beetles so I dosed the plants with soapy insecticide to protect the growing flower buds.  Maybe next week I’ll have something nice to show off…

Let me instead offer a picture of Hannah trolling for trouble among the orchids. Now that I’ve taken the ribbons off she isn’t using them for toys anymore, but she’s not above batting the roots and stems.
Books
The book picked by my book club this month.

I did finish off Mexican Gothic this week. I’m kind of conflicted about this book. There wasn’t too much about Mexico, but there sure was a lot of gothic in this book. You know, a plot where a young woman  travels to a strange, old and creepy house with silent servants and a graveyard for the backyard. That’s pretty gothic, wouldn’t you agree? The hosts are less than welcoming and the rules of the house are stifling. There is mold everywhere, the food is icky, and the cousin that our heroine has been sent to check on is strangely dysfunctional and hard to access. Along with the house there is also an old silver mine that has been the scene of numerous tragedies; many of the dead are in the convenient backyard graveyard. Did I mention that the family has a history of violent deaths? The sense of menace keeps building in the book until, unexpectedly, the book transforms into a full blown horror novel! Seriously, this was not what I expected, but the plot did hold together and I did finish the book. Not sure I’m recommending it unless you are a fan of the gross horror genre.

Have a great week, everyone!!

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Week 16

The pandemic goes on. My country continues to act in alarming and perplexing ways; not only is there zero chance that I’m ever going to be able to leave self-isolation, but I despair of getting a new kitten. My joints are very ill-behaved and I don’t think that I will be getting that injection of steroids into my hip anytime soon. I used Instacart to buy my groceries for myself this week and the shopper, who wasn’t wearing a mask, substituted my order for fried rice with steaks (?!).  I MISS MACKENZIE SOMETHING AWFUL!!! (sniff) Okay. Enough of that. On a scale of 1-10 I’m somewhere around a 2. I have food, yarn, books, and my garden. I have steak!

Knitting

I’ve been knitting like crazy all week, but I’ve been bouncing around between three projects. Check it out.

I finished the first Sweet & Tartan sock! The designer created 3 different sizes of this sock; each size has a slightly different pattern for the tartan mosaic knit. This sock is the Medium version, and you can find my Ravelry notes here. I added an I-cord topper in the bright pink to the top of the sock after I finished. What do you think: too much or the perfect balance?
This pile of knitted mess is my new V-Neck Boxy sweater. I am now below the arms and the V-neck and am knitting the body in the round. Next stop, many inches from now, will be the bottom ribbing and the bind off. This is the mindless (and boring) part of the sweater, but it is perfect knitting while listening to a book or binge watching Netflix.
As a little break I started knitting the Maya cat. The black mohair yarns will continue to cover up the purple as the halo develops. Right now I’m pretty happy with how it looks.
Garden

Are you tired of my Monster Orchid yet? It just keeps going and going; it has become the centerpiece of my living room and I feel a rush of happiness every time I glimpse it. Much smaller, and no where as showy, is this miniature orchid that I have stationed on the china hutch.

This plant also is really healthy looking and is churning out new air roots while it blooms.
Do you see the new growth emerging on the stem that holds the blooms of this orchid? Yay! I think that we are looking at the beginning of new stew offshoots that will produce more blooms. This plant is an overachiever!! Yay orchid!

There is lots of sunlight coming into my downstairs rooms now and I have moved miniature roses to collect that light. They are really putting out the new growth and are champing at the bit to be let outside. Not yet, roses, as it is still below freezing some nights, but your day is coming soon!

Books

I have to admit that I am in a mood right now. We are living in extreme times and I yearn for clear leadership and well articulated goals. Is it too much to expect long-range planning to deal with the current situation and the next several stages to come with the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic impacts? I’ve had a somewhat less than rosy outlook about what is actually happening because…

I read this book a few years ago and it totally freaked me out!

You are looking at the reason why I bulk buy everything. This book was just gripping in its presentation of the event of the 1918 Influenza pandemic and presented many lessons. Medicine needs to be science based. The suppression of information during a disease outbreak leads to deadly outcomes, and quarantining works. Community actions and public health measures can make enormous differences in outcomes. Pandemics come in waves. Viral mutations are evolutionary events; we can take actions to lower our risks, but biology is relentless, mutations do happen, and assigning blame is pointless. Pandemic planning is all. The identification of the infected and their isolation is an absolute necessity. Some politicians in the US are calling for the country to reopen right now; their logic is that some people need to die in order to maintain our way of life. I wish I could zap this book at them right over the airways to be directly transferred into their brains…

So what am I reading while the news is filled with conflicting and overwhelming news reports?

I’m reading about another time of extreme threat and supreme leadership.
and this novel about extreme political machinations in an environment of unhinged leadership.

Both books are well written, very compelling, and validate my sense of how things should be right now in our time.

Well, that’s all for the week.

Please, please, everyone, be safe!

Remember to read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Week 14

It’s been a scary, sad week, hasn’t it? I’m still home in lockdown, sewing masks and missing MacKenzie something awful. The number of Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing in the US, especially in New York. I find myself fighting tears at least once a day now. There’s nothing for it but to keep checking in on loved ones and to stay busy. Luckily I have lots to do, and I have been busy. Before I show off the week let’s just start out with something happy.

The Monster Orchid now has 13 blooms and everyone of them is still going strong. The plant responded to having its blooms staked up by turning them for maximum visual impact. Beautiful plant!! I think that it likes the light in the front room.
Knitting

I completed the knitting of the Pebble Tunic! It fits and feels wonderful. It is also not finished or blocked. Still, you can now see the sweater!

This is a wonderful, long tunic that will be a fabulous light weight and warm layering piece in the fall. I need to sew the pockets into place and to weave in the ends. I think that I will steam block it in the end.
I hate to sew pocket liners into place. They intimidate me and I struggle with the outer edges. 
I’m thinking of sewing a button into the corners to cover the inevitable mess that will be at each pocket edge as I do the finishing. I think that it will look kind of cute with the floppy pocket. What do you think about this button?

I have to be honest, though. Now that I am at the finishing part of the sweater I am in a rush to get started on my next sweater. I want to wind that yarn and cast on immediately. I have three little projects (socks and mitts) that should be finished, but last night I dug through the stash and found the yarn to cast on ANOTHER pair of socks. I don’t want to sew pockets… I want to knit, knit, knit!! Today I packed up the Pebble Tunic to hibernate for a few days while I get the yarn wound for my next project, another V-Neck Boxy.  Eventually I’ll get it done. Besides, I need feedback from all of you about those buttons!

Garden

You already saw the orchid. Seriously, the orchid is the star of the indoor gardening at the moment, but I have been attending to some of the other plants.

For reasons that I don’t understand this jade plant has been growing like a weed, much faster than the other jade plants that I have. They are all clones from one single original plant, so I really don’t quite know what is going on here. The top growth has gotten so heavy that the two largest stems have flopped over. I staked and tied one, and I’m now considering cutting most of the downed section off. I should probably repot this hot jade plant mess, don’t you think? In the meantime I’ve moved the plant under a flood (grow) light by the window to see what happens in better light.

Tomorrow I think that I’ll dig around in the garage to find a nice clay pot for this guy. Since the plant is a super grower I’m considering starting a new plant with the downed stem to see if it will grow really fast, too.

Talking about rapid growth… do you see what this weeping fig has been up to? 

My weeping fig that I have growing in in the light of the front window really put out a lot of growth over the last year. When I repotted the plant a few weeks ago I discovered that the root system was pretty small and I worried that I had damaged the plant when I pulled it out of the old pot. Nope. The plant didn’t drop any leaves and is still putting out new ones so I fertilized it this week,  pruned off a lot of lower growth, and then staked and tied up branches to encourage the two plants to take on a more tree like shape. Here’s hoping it all works out. It’s another experiment!

Books

Maybe I’ve been messing with the plants this week because of the spring sunshine. Or maybe I’ve been looking at the plants with new eyes because I read this book this week.

I read another book about science and plants this week.

I loved this book. One of the things that I learned in the few years I worked in a research lab is that science people, really memorable people who do science, are originals. They think out of the box, they have wicked senses of humor, they listen to a singular internal muse as they work, and they have a casual relationship with rules and conventional schedules. I learned to write well while working in the lab. I learned to never take anything for granted in that lab, became endlessly creative as we designed original experiments, built our equipment, and collected the data. Science follows a timetable of its own sometimes… if the data arrived at 10pm I was in the lab ready to get it. I did some crazy stuff, and some of the best, most intense relationships of my life were developed in that time. This book captures the science behind plants and Hope Jehren’s work, the craziness of securing funding, the work of building a lab, and the unique and enduring relationships that are formed in collaborative research teams. A friend recommended this book to me, and I am so glad that I read it.

Jade plant, prepare to become an experiment!

Quilting

Look! A new category. Early in the winter on impulse I bought a huge roll of batting to make quilts. I have several quilt tops all pieced together waiting for the final quilting, and I have more quilt kits that need to be sewn. Now that I am trapped in the house I have this work to keep me busy. Behold. The first quilt got done this week.

Here’s the whole quilt.
and a close-up of the cats in the focus panel.

Next up: a green quilt with roses on it.

Well, that’s all for the week.

Please, please, everyone, be safe!

Remember to read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Week 13

Wow. Week thirteen already. That is a quarter of the year. Things are going by quickly, or incredibly slowly, depending on how you look at it. I do hope that everyone is doing well.

Knitting

I showed off the Pebble Tunic a few days ago in my last post, so I won’t subject you to another picture now. Truthfully, it only has had a couple of pocket linings added to it at this point. It will be much more interesting to show off once there is some sleeve action, right? Stay tuned for further updates on the pink tunic wonderfulness…

The tunic got so little action because I finished up the cat I was knitting.

Do you remember my son’s kitten Jonesy? I’ve been knitting a doppelganger of Jonesy for a few weeks now. It was a real challenge to get yarn combinations that would mimic his coloration realistically, and I even had to dye some yarn to get the stripes right. 

Today I finished sewing the knitted cat together and began to excitedly take pictures of him to send to my son who is staying-in-place in a city north of me.

What do you think?
Those stripes are exactly the way that I wanted them to turn out!! I couldn’t be happier with how this cat looks.
Now MacKnitzie has a friend to hang out with until I can get the cat to my son.

This pattern is Cat by Claire Garland. My project notes on the Jonesy version of the pattern are here.

Garden

Are you sick of looking at my monster orchid yet? Sorry. That is all that I’ve got right now. The big boy had two more blooms open this week and I finally had to stake one of the bloom stems up to keep the plant upright. This plant makes me happy every time I see it, and it certainly is making the living room a cheerful place to read in under my weighted blanket.

There, doesn’t he look really nice with that stake in place?
Remember when I was over-the-moon excited about the rose gold orchid blooming? I have a miniature orchid in the pot with it right now. I know that you don’t get the whole scale of the monster orchid which is now over 2 feet tall with its blooms in a single shot, so I took a photo of the orchids together. See. He’s a monster!!!

Off to the far left in the group orchid shot above is the weeping fig tree. I keep looking at it as I consider what chunks to cut off when I prune it next week. Poor tree. It doesn’t know what’s coming…

Books

Staying home alone, day after day, my mind skitters around jumping from association to association. Right now one of the drugs that I am on is in the news as it might have some efficacy in treating Covid-19 patients. The drug is a derivative of quinine, the malaria drug, and is called hydroxychloroquine.  Hearing about this, my brain immediately took off: How does this drug hydroxychloroquine actually work? How are the protists that cause malaria like the mobile white blood cells that are invading my lungs? Suddenly I was back in the lab I once worked in counting activated white blood cells in my microscope view field. Then I associated that scene with one in the book Lab Girl that I am listening to while knitting (and sewing a cat) in the evenings. The scientist in Lab Girl does a lot of outdoor work with soils… I spent a year teaching about soils and weather to students when I first transferred to teaching in the high school. Weather. I took a summer course at NOAA to learn about weather where we graphed tons of data on maps. Weather is crazy hard to study and teach. So much chaos, so much data, so hard to find the patterns in the data that streams in from a multitude of sources…

I just finished the book Weather: A Novel (by Jenny Offill) before I started Lab Girl. What an amazing experience. I am utterly in awe of how the author captures the brain skitterings and inner voice of our heroine Lizzie as she moves through her life and offers elusive connections that create images and patterns out of the chaos. Just like weather itself, there is a lot of data occurring as single events that create larger patterns and trends through time. The story is created in small text snippets of amazing imagery and tongue in cheek humor that carry us along. Lizzie is a failed psychologist and a librarian; she uses her observations of people around her and her endless access to knowledge in the library to navigate through her world. We follow Lizzie along as her life evolves over a few years while she grapples with her life, her connections and responsibilities to others, and the answers to really big questions that she needs to answer as part of a part-time job. The questions are exhausting and take a tole on her: what is important in a world rolling in possible extreme outcomes? Scary outcomes. Outcomes like climate change, war, and pandemics… What is one little life when all the rest of this is on the horizon?

Maybe this isn’t the best book to read at this moment, but I think that I will remember it for a long time.

The Saturday Update: Week 12

This was quite the week, wasn’t it? I’m home in self-isolation as are many other people who read my blog. Fun times, huh! I have lots of practice with this and have been reflecting on how to share some of my insights and coping strategies in an upcoming blog. Along with all of the news and stress of the week, we also had a major snowstorm a couple of days ago.

This was kind of ridiculous! It was windy, part of my back fence is sagging, and my front porch was buried in a foot of snow.
I went out to shovel the snow the next day after things had warmed up, but after only a few minutes my most wonderful neighbor in the world came out to do it for me. I tried to stay out to shovel with him, but he wasn’t having any of that! Directed to go back indoors since I was limping and panting a little, I finally bowed to the voice of reason and went back inside. I’m making his family cookies later today!!

Here’s what else happened this week:

Knitting

I’m going to admit that I started out the week stressed and a little sad. Times are bad, my doctors have cancelled all of my medical procedures, and I was told to self-isolate like my life depended on it. Since I wasn’t quite up to tricky knitting I retreated from knitting the cat to working on the soothing and mostly mindless stockinette knitting of my new Pebble Tunic. It is growing, people!

I’m about 14″ below the armholes and a couple of inches below the openings for the pockets. The fabric is soft and yummy, and just a comforting piece of knitting in stressful times.

The colors are hard to get in a picture, but this sweater is mostly soft pink with little flashes of grey appearing through the mohair halo. So soft. So huggable. Just what I need right now as I binge watch shows on Netflix.

Garden
My monster orchid now has 9 blooms and is hanging out in the living room.

While everyone around me was loading their carts with toilet paper and spam last week I was filling mine with cheese, Bai drinks and potting soil. You know, essential items! I repotted a small weeping fig tree that I have growing in my front window and then went after the monster orchid; the blooms had made it so top heavy that the plant kept falling over and one of the leaves broke. Fine. I will repot you now even through I wanted to wait until you were done blooming. It’s kind of a risky move, but you’ve given me little choice, monster orchid!

Monster orchid: Thank you, I feel much better now.

So far the orchid and the weeping fig seem to have survived their repotting experiences. I plan to prune the fig in a few weeks if it continues to do okay. Right now it is pretty bushy looking and I am trying to produce an indoor tree.

Books

I spent the whole week reading this entertaining and mindless science fiction book. You have to absolutely suspend all scientific knowledge to make this book work, but it was still engaging enough to keep me going. I became annoyed by the libertarian theme running in the background of the story (rugged individualists escape an over-controlling socialist government and all taxation and regulation to flourish on the moon in scrappy anarchist colonies…) as the week’s events here in the United States made it apparent how central control by governmental agencies is necessary in extreme circumstances like… say… an unfolding pandemic and global economic collapse. Just saying.

But if you want to read about highly intelligent dogs in space suits, deep water ships that can fly to the moon, and racing around in tunnels on motorcycles, this book is for you.

There is another book in the series waiting for me to read it, but I think that I’m ready to shift to a couple of books that are more intellectually engaging. Waiting for me to read them are American Dirt (by Jeanine Cummins), Weather: A Novel (by Jenny Offill), and Lab Girl (by Hope Jahren).

Well, that’s all for the week.

Please, please, everyone, be safe!

Remember to read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

And make something yummy to eat while you are at it!

The Saturday Update: Week 11

Life is suddenly getting a little intense, isn’t it? I hope that everyone is safe and that you have your plans (and food) in place to prepare for days and weeks at home. I feel that I’m about as well prepared as I can be: months of prescriptions on hand, a yarn and craft stash that can keep me occupied for months, if not years, and all the consumable goods for several weeks at home. I already am a bulk buyer who keeps a well stocked pantry, so the last minute shopping that I had to do was pretty minor. I bought some potting soil, canned goods, some meats to freeze, and the most important item on my list:

While everyone else was grabbing toilet paper and Spam, this is what went into to my cart!!

I’m not hoarding. This is essential for life! I also need coffee, but I bought a huge bag a few weeks ago, so I am set!

Knitting

I am still running around to medical facilities for testing, and even fit in a dentist appointment and a phone appointment with one of my doctors. The knitting is suffering in consequence, but the sweater, a Pebble Tunic (Joji Locatelli) is slowing growing and I am a few inches away from the pockets. Most of the knitting went into the knitted copy of my son’s kitten Jonesy. I finished the back feet this week and am ready to start the front paws.

Those back feet look just ridiculous, don’t they! Once they are sewn up and fitted into the body of the cat they will look much better.
What do you think of the color match?

I hope to get this done in the next week. I can’t wait to get the eyes in and the ears onto this cat’s head!

Garden

This week all the birds came back and we had rain after months of snow; Spring is right around the corner. My indoor miniature roses are getting tired of the indoor life and long for stronger sun, but I am suddenly getting more blooms on them.

At least the mildew that was a problem in the early winter has gone. Hang on little bushes; in a few more weeks you will be headed outside again for the summer.
The orchids continue to wow as more blooms appear. I seriously am in love with the monster orchid. I put it out on display in the living room for most of the week and then it returns to its floodlight for a few days of quality rays. So far this is working and the plant continues to bloom and look healthy.
Books

Today I finished (at long last) The Overstory by Richard Power. This is an amazing book and totally worth reading, but I want to make some caveats:

    • There are a lot of characters with intertwining stories. Their names change from time to time. The author jumps back and forth between the characters as he synchronizes the story line elements to build a complex, but compelling, conclusion. This is not a good book to read slowly over a few weeks.
    • I listened to a lot of this book while knitting, which was another mistake. It made things too slow. The jumps between characters, which is obvious in the text formatting, was confusing in the audible version. I couldn’t keep track of the names and shifting imagery the way I should of.
    • You kind of have to love nature, appreciate art, and value a complex multi-layered story to enjoy this book.
    • I am a geek, a biologist, and an outdoor educator for my state. I think that visiting a fish hatchery is a fabulous outing. I long to have a bee hive. I tend to let spiders and shrubs just do their thing with a little gentle intervention… and I also struggle with my neighbors to leave my front lawn alone; they will trim shrubs, spray for weeds, and edge the grass if I don’t keep an eye on them. These men are trying to help, and I appreciate them immensely, but that perfectly trimmed shrub just had all of its flowers clipped off…  why do men think that shrubs need to be perfect cubes? I mulch under my rose bushes and they helpfully clear out my flower beds. They also take cuttings from my plants and admire my roses. I do manage to keep the back yard the way I want: the leaves don’t get raked in the fall, and the dandelions flourish back there in the spring for the bees. By midsummer my back lawn looks great, I have bees swarming my other flowering plants, and the neighbors comment from time to time about how nice it looks. Somehow the front yard doesn’t do as well… because of all this I appreciated some of the messages in the book.

I’m glad that I read The Overstory, and the name is really meaningful once you have finished the book, but I do think that it isn’t for everyone. Me, I will never look at a tree the same way again.

Have a great week everyone!! Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it!

The Scleroderma Chronicles: The Blue-Lipped Zebra gets some MRIs

I feel like I am in a race now. I absolutely, positively need some answers to all of my little medical issues, but I have to hurry, hurry, hurry because the Covid-19 virus is already in my state and I think that in just a matter of days or weeks the health care machine is going to be devoted to critical care and the pandemic response. I hope none of my doctors get sick. I really like the nurses in their offices. Gee, this is starting to get to be really stressful…

Let’s take a little break to smell the roses… umm… the orchids. Look at how nice my rose gold orchid is doing in the living room these days.

So, this is the situation as I got into the car and drove to medical clinics FOUR different times last week. By Saturday, when I needed to drive to a facility an hour away for MRIs of my right hip and left foot I was starting to feel like I was pushing my luck. The BLZ totally wanted to stay in bed. I was worried about having to go through an urgent care waiting area full of sick people because the last time I did that I came down with… THE FLU. Ugh. The place is sure to be crowded with weekend warriors and sick people who were afraid to take off work on a week day…

When I got there the parking lot was almost empty. What?! What is going on? I checked on my phone to make sure I was at the right facility, and then went inside to see if I could find someone. The place was deserted!! The only person in sight was the security guard in her glassed-in station. I checked in with her to discover that the entire facility was closed except for… wait for it…medical imaging!! Woohoo!! I clomped down to the basement for my 90 minutes in a MRI machine feeling pretty good about my chances of avoiding this new virus that I’m now sure is gunning for me. All went well, I headed home, fixed myself a little dinner, popped a couple of gummi bears into my mouth while I was cooking, and BROKE A TOOTH!!

How about another little orchid break? You can see how big the monster is compared to my other orchids.

Sigh. Now I have another two medical appointments because the tooth is sure to need a crown. Plus I have two more testing appointments next week which will really be starting to push the safety margin.  The BLZ is not happy.

Today I saw my wonderful dentist who let me know that gummi bears are notorious for hurting teeth. Who knew? He fixed my tooth and gave a computer print-out for a type of safe gummi bear, and before I left the office I saw that the MRI test reports were ready. That means my rheumatologist already released them. I read the reports in the car in the parking lot on my phone before heading home. (Although I wanted to go get my gummi bears!!)

Background: I have been struggling with painful and swollen joints for at least three years now. My last rheumatologist tested me for inflammation markers (C-Reactive Protein, to be exact), and since my level is normal, she concluded that my joints were fine, that I was a whiner, and the symptoms that I reported were exaggerated. (!!) I wrote about the last awful appointment I had with her in this post. After I had recovered my mojo and began to take action to improve my situation I wrote about my old rheumatologist and my swollen joints here. My new rheumatologist, who I saw last week, ordered these MRIs to check some lumps on my foot and my bad-boy hip. She wondered out loud why no one had followed up on my first appointment to the hip specialist. I think I’m going to be much more happy with this rheumatologist.

Oh, my. My hip joint is really bad. The word severe was used. There is edema in the bone! There is fluid around the joint that is pushing out into a bursa towards the front inside part of the hip joint. (The very bursa that I asked about before when I saw the orthopedic specialist. It couldn’t be involved, he assured me, because that would be very uncommon. The BLZ is braying “I told you so!”) A tendon on the outside of the joint is partially torn. The synovial lining around the joint is inflamed. Even joints in my ankle (that don’t bother me) are inflamed and have fluid in them. Stunned, but feeling absolutely vindicated, I began to drive home. Before I had even gotten to the freeway the new rheumatologist was on the phone to me. She is sending me back to the hip specialist and I need some steroids into that hip joint as soon as possible. And maybe surgery. And I should go back to physical therapy. The BLZ decided we should mention my knees later on… Oh. I almost forgot. I also have two benign tumors on the bottom of my foot that will require another specialist. Did you hear that thud? That was the BLZ flopping over backwards in dismay.

After a little knitting this evening the BLZ is feeling more the thing again. Look at how far I’ve gotten on the knitted kitten!

Tomorrow I head back to the clinic in the north to get a pulmonary function test and to pick up the equipment for overnight oxygen level monitoring. I won’t touch anything, BLZ. It will be okay. We are brave! We are on a roll now and we are getting some answers!

Be safe everyone!

The Scleroderma: The Blue-Lipped Zebra Report!

I’m thinking of myself as the “Blue-Lipped Zebra” these days. Let’s just call me the BLZ for short. You know, a rare breed of difficult patient who is ornery, persistent, and stubbornly insistent on getting straight answers. I’m trying to not use that zebra voice, but if pushed I may whip it out. I’m going after all my doctors to get to some explanations about my panting, blue-lipped, exhausted current state of being. I made myself promise to keep my internal dialogue under control and to not get pulled off topic. Sounds like a good plan, right?

Whew. It is only Wednesday and I’m pooped! I have talked with or met with three different doctors and scheduled 5 different tests. I also made repeat appointments to get back to these doctors after the testing is done. I went into this determined to do a better job coordinating with my doctors and to shift the conductor role to my new rheumatologist. I’m reflecting on what’s happened so far and what my next steps are, and I’ve decided to share with all of you.

Before I tell you about my medical adventures this week I want to show off the monster orchid. It now has 5 blooms open and it looks great!! Isn’t that an amazing color?

Prologue: I have been struggling with shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and feeling dizzy/faint. My lips frequently look blue. The itching is insane, and what is up with these rashes? I have more recently developed abdominal pain in the area of my spleen. After initial testing my internist has diagnosed secondary polycythemia.

Act 1: The Internist

This was my first phone appointment. My internist is the doctor who diagnosed me with secondary polycythemia, which is a condition with too many red blood cells. The high cell count, in my case, is now presumed to be due to an underlying problem involving my lungs or heart; since lung and heart damage is common with systemic sclerosis that makes a lot of sense. We talked about my gene test results (I do not have the genetic mutation that would have caused the more serious form of polycythemia, which is good!) and planned my call with the pulmonologist. That’s right: I got some coaching from my internist! I agreed to send her an email about what happened with the pulmonologist and rheumatologist after I met with them, and she assured me that she would order any testing that the other two doctors did not. That’s right – I asked her what testing I should ask for. I love this doctor!!

Act 2: The Pulmonologist

Well, this didn’t go the way I thought this would… good thing I got some coaching. It started out with this doctor saying that she didn’t know what I expected her to do over the phone when she hadn’t seen me in her office for over a year. (She fussed at me last time for coming earlier than a year. I tried to make an appointment, but the nurse insisted it would be better for me to make a phone appointment before I saw the rheumatologist… ugh!!) I explained the situation to her, and she immediately said that she didn’t agree with the diagnosis, and that she didn’t think that my rbc count was all that high. <The BLZ was pretty disgusted by this and wanted to blurt out that the diagnosis wasn’t open for debate, but I throttled it into silence…> After redirecting the conversation to my symptoms (you know, ending up on the floor panting for air after a little vacuuming…) she did agree that there was probably an underlying problem driving the elevated rbc count and it would be good to order up some tests before I came to see her in her office.

Sigh. Why is this so hard?! I wondered if we had just been talking at cross purposes about the same thing. <The BLZ wondered why I had to keep battling for routine testing when my diagnoses required it. Whatever.> The tests were ordered and I agreed to make an appointment to see her in her office a few days after the testing was completed.

Act 3: The Rheumatologist

Finally, finally I have landed in the rheumatologist office that the BLZ has longed for. This doctor felt that the lung testing was absolutely warranted, and that if nothing came up she would go right for a cardiologist referral and heart testing, and a hematology referral also if needed. She kind of thinks that this is my heart, but it is good to get the lung testing done first. <The BFZ is now bucking around… happy for action, but a little scared, too.> She reassured me that the tests that were already ordered were exactly the ones that she would have ordered, but they were just the opening round. She mentioned a test that the pulmonologist has refused to order, saying that it is the only way to get accurate information. Yay! Then she did the exam and reviewed the notes on my orthopedic referral since I still can’t walk and I’ve developed more tendon issues in my foot. “Why hasn’t there been a follow-up on this?” she asked. She ordered two MRIs to look at my hip and foot, and gave me the paperwork to get a handicapped parking pass. She also ordered blood work, told me to call her after the testing was done, and that I should be in her office again in 8 weeks. <The BFZ was stunned. Usually I’m told to come back in 6 months.> I have the scleroderma director that I’ve been looking for, people!!

Epilogue

I spent 5 hours over the last two days making phone calls, appointments, reading all of the medical notes attached this week’s appointments, and writing emails. Whew. Through the constraints of scheduling calendars I will be talking about my test results with the rheumatologist before I interact again with my slightly hostile pulmonologist. When I read the pulmonologist’s notes on our phone appointment it kind of smelled of “cover your ass” and the BLZ’s nostrils crinkled in disgust. After begging for inhaled steroids for a couple years, when I saw her last time she offered me a few months worth. Yay! I said. I wanted to check with the rheumatologist before starting them because I’m already pretty immunosuppressed, which I did, and the inhaled steroids were prescribed soon after by my internist and I’m using them right now. In the notes she wrote that she had recommended these steroids and I that I had refused. <The BLZ immediately noticed the nasty trickery with the verbs there…she offered and I deferred!> She also described my landing on the floor while vacuuming as “needing to rest while doing moderate tasks”. The BFZ is beyond disgusted at that. <Get a new pulmonologist, the BFZ barks!>

In between all of this I also got my newest pair of Snowshoe socks done! How cute are these? I knit them holding a wildly bright variegated yarn with a dark, inky blue single ply yarn. My yarn information is on my project page.

So, it was a pretty darn good start of the week. Tomorrow I head off to get an echocardiogram of my heart, and over the next week or so the rest of the testing will happen.

Coronavirus, be good and stay away from me!! I’m going to be in a lot of medical facilities for the next few days.

You all be safe out there!

Knitting Jonesy: Yarns and Swatching

This is Jonesy.

Jonesy is my son’s kitten; in this photo he is 5 months old.

Once again I am organizing the yarns to knit up a cat using the pattern by Claire Garland. Jonesy is interesting with his white chin, cream paws and tail tip, and of course, all of those stripes. Okay, I may have something of a cat knitting problem, but I’m not defensive or anything. I’m kind of compelled by the creative and technical challenge of making the mixtures of yarns create a believable, if not exact, copy of the cat. Also, I’m having fun!

So I collected these yarns with the conviction that they were a good start to make knitted Jonesy.

I planned to use the fingering yarn for the base throughout the cat and the stripes and different shades would be created by the mohair blends. When I knit MacKnitzie I used black mohair to create the stripes; when the cat was done the black was greatly toned down by the mohair and it was kind of grey. I figured that the same effect would tone down that dark cedar colored mohair at the top of the picture when I knit it in for stripes.

I learned my lesson a couple of cats ago. Always knit swatches with different combinations of yarn to use in planning the cat.

I kind of feel like that dark cedar is a little too dark. Wow. Those stripes really will stand out and are much darker then they appear in the photo. I kind of want something more like dark caramel to use. I looked everywhere online and in local stores hunting for the shade I had in my mind.

Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I had this color in my mind and nothing else was going to satisfy me. All right then; I have acid dyes and I have skills. I decided to try to create the color in my dye crockpot!!

I played around with some dyes on white wool I had lurking in the garage, and after those results I settled on this combination of caramel with some shots of orange.

I re-skeined a ball of mohair/silk yarn using my trusty niddy-noddy and then added it to a warmed crockpot with a glug white vinegar. I sprinkled the dry dye powder onto the top of the yarn, put the lid back onto the crockpot, and then walked away for an hour. (By the way, this crockpot is used only for dyeing! I keep everything that I use for dyeing in isolation in the garage so it can’t get mixed in with cooking utensils and pots.)

Ta-daa!! The dye exhausted faster then I expected; after an hour on high heat it was over.

The yarn after the first dye operation was really close to what I wanted, but when I got it out of the pot I found that there were several chunks of white yarn underneath. Nope! Time to over-dye. I dissolved about 1/8 teaspoon of caramel dye to the water in the pot, added another glug of vinegar and put the yarn back in. After another hour of high heat in the crockpot the dye had struck and I was done.

This is what I ended up with.

I was happy with this yarn… doesn’t it look like it will produce stripes more like Jonesy? More swatching!!

I now have more options to use in the cat. The very top combination really looks like Jonesy’s stripes! I don’t want to cast on until I see Jonesy again as he is changing quickly while he grows (a dark stripe just appeared down his tail!), but I really feel like I have the yarns I need to knit him up.
Planning the face is going to be interesting… how will I get in those freckles?! I used 5 different combinations of yarns on MacKnitzie’s face and chin, which really helped create the illusion of a real cat.

Whew. Time to put the Jonesy project aside and to go back to my sweater knitting. I also have a second sock to cast on and get going. Did I mention that it is snowing outside again? Oh yeah, something else happened today…

The monster orchid has opened a bloom!!

The Saturday Update: Week 8

Knitting

Have I mentioned that it has been snowing a lot here in Colorado? I have several projects on the needles at the moment, but my feet were cold Sunday night and I needed more bed socks of the cashmere persuasion right away! I hit the stash, found a nice cashmere blend yarn from Western Sky Knits, and hunted around for the pattern I used for a previous pair. Oh, yeah. The pattern is in a book that is full of wonderful socks: Socktopus by Alice Yu, and the pattern is Om Shanti Bed Socks. Once I had the pattern, book and needles located I cast on and got to business; two days later I had my socks!

How cute are these? The socks are knit toe up with an unusual treatment that allows the perfect shaping in garter stitch that is repeated in the heel. I like the lace even though it messed with my head while I was doing it, and I added the garter to the top of the sock to make things look even. My project notes are here.

Do you like the slight haziness of the picture? That’s because I had a big, fat fingerprint across the lens of the camera on my phone. Sigh. Anyway, you can almost imagine how comfy they are on my feet just looking at them, right? The lace makes the sock hug my foot and they are just perfect to keep them warm while I try to fall asleep. These socks are knit on a larger gauge then you would usually use for a sock, so they aren’t tough, but they are comfy!! I couldn’t help but drool over all of the nice patterns in the Socktopus book and I’m thinking that I will be making some more socks from the book before it goes back on the shelf.

MacKenzie really likes the mohair and sock yarn mix that is making the fabric of the sweater.

MacKenzie and I continued to work on the Pebble Tunic and made some good progress on that too this week. The construction is top down in an interesting fashion; the back is completed to the bottom of the armhole, then the front is knit to match. I’m now on the front knitting down to the point where the two sides will be attached to knit in the round. MacKenzie is not impressed… he just wants the sweater to be a blankie for him while he naps.

Garden

This must be starting to become a little old for all of you… I have some orchids blooming. I’m really kind of childish about them; every morning I rush to the craft room to see if I have a new bloom. Anyway, the miniature orchid opened its first bloom this week and the monster orchid has buds forming that are just… well… they are monstrous! I can’t wait for one of them to open… any day now!

Here are the four bloomers. 
Here is the new bloomer. It is my smallest plant and the magenta bloom is a perfect addition to the garden. I’m not sure, but there appear to be two more stems emerging from the main stem holding the buds below this flower. Yay! Blooms all spring!!

As soon as the monster orchid blooms I will post the picture!

Books

I finished The Water Dancer last night and I’m still thinking about the book. Sometimes I’m not sure I liked it all that much, but at other moments I am sure that it may be one of the most impactful books I’ve read in a while. It is a book about slavery, freedom, the eternal harm of broken families, and the power of purpose and mission. There is cruelty and loss. There is magic. There is the peace of freedom and reunions. There is an enduring question: what is a good life? When I got to the end I thought: this is the end?! Later on I decided that the ending was actually pretty darn good. This book will stay with me for quite some time.

This is Black History Month here in the US, which contributed to my choice to read this book right now.

The plantation in this book is set in Virginia on the eastern coast of the United States. The plantation in this book is dying as the soil is exhausted and the crops are no longer productive enough to maintain operations; owners are going west to the state of Tennessee, and slaves are sold or relocated as operations ship to the new state. Tennessee. My dad’s family was from Tennessee, and I know that my dad was born and raised on a farm. There was that story about the runt piglet that he made a house pet out of, and the time the cow came down with rabies… Out of idle curiosity I googled my maiden name and the word “plantation” to see if I would get a hit.

Suddenly Black History Month took on a whole new meaning for me. There was a return on the search that told me that there was, indeed, a plantation that carried my maiden last name. It is located in North Carolina just below the border with Virginia, the location of this book. There are testimonials from slaves with my last name in the National Archives. There is a town that has my last name, and it is located in an area of North Carolina with a lot of Dutch influence, which matches my maiden last name’s history. I know that my father’s family relocated to Tennessee from an eastern seaboard state. The history of America that is in this book is part of my history, too.

Suddenly the book had a lot more meaning for me. I am crushed. I am full of sorrow. I am only responsible for the actions of my own life, but I am burdened now by the thought that the pain, struggle, need for autonomy, and recognition of personhood that these slaves lived is also part of my history. I was raised in another part of the United States, California, and live and worked in integrated communities, but my roots on my father’s side go back to this.

I mentioned The Water Dancer last month to another member of my book club as one we might want to read. “Oh,” she said dismissively, looking at the book, “I think we should only read books by authors whose names we can pronounce.” Seriously? Ta-Nehisi Coates is not a big deal. Just sound it out!! You should have a last name like mine, or a chronic disease that no one can pronounce (scleroderma). Whatever. I took her comment to be racist or xenophobic.

I let it go. I wish now I had not. I’m glad I read the book, I’m not happy that I did that google search, but now I’m on the hunt for the story of my family in America. Ancestry.com, here I come.