Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Normally, I wouldn't side...

...with Michele Bachmann if I was offered anything in the world. In the galaxy, even.

And I don't agree with her goons roughing up reporters. That's just not cool.

However, the other thing that's not cool is to make a big deal out of this migraine story. You see, I've got migraines. I'm in my 50s and I have had them since my 20s. I've gone through every therapy (aside from surgery and Botox) that has been available, including some pretty heavy-duty narcotics.

Properly treated, migraines can have very little impact on your life. It sounds as if she's got the proper treatment. Heck, her health care is probably head-and-shoulders above most normal humans, so I'm sure she's got top doctors looking at her meds and what she needs to do.

That being said, stories telling of her missing work and missing votes are stories I can truly relate to. I've called my boss a couple of times (not many, thank God, because my migraines are about 90% controlled), and said, "I'm leaving now, while I can still see. I have a migraine."

And she gets it. Here's a picture of my migraines. Often, I'm awakened at 3 a.m. It starts with a "feeling" that something is "off." And it gets worse. All of a sudden, I get a stabbing pain over my right temple. Think Sweeney Todd with an ice-pick and having a VERY bad day. Then, it begins to affect the vision in my right eye. Often, that vision turns into a tunnel, and I literally can't open my eyelid.

If I have one that starts during the day, it starts with an aura. I wear glasses and have done so since 3rd grade; during the beginning of a migraine, my vision becomes hyper-acute. Like, I can see in super-3-D and everything is sort of leaping AT me. This is called "migraine with aura" and it's got the grand distinction of carrying a significantly higher stroke risk.

Then I become (in either the early a.m. headache or during the day headache) hyper-sensitive to sound. I want EVERYONE to just shut up. I want no birds tweeting, no leaves rustling, no footfalls anywhere within 100 yards of wherever I am.

It's so bad that when I'm lying on the couch, the kids come in, take one look, and say, "Oh-oh - migraine!" --- softly, though. Because they know I'll hurt them if they disturb me. Or at least open my left eye, the right one being perma-fused shut, and glare at them.

I want lots of ice - around my neck and around my head. I want lots of darkness. I want nobody to touch me. At. All. At some point, if I can manage it, I crawl onto the floor and lay face-up while my husband uses a massage technique that literally stretches my neck; the traction seems to help, and I don't know why. I'm only grateful that it does.

Then the nausea starts. It comes in rolls. If I manage to throw up, frankly, I feel  better, but often I can't because I can't eat or drink. Picture yourself on the worst roller coaster of your life... up and down and up and down and up and down. That's what my stomach is doing, and often I end up with dry heaves. Not fun.

I take a daily medication to keep them quiet, but occasionally, I do have break-through headaches. They can occur because of triggers: strong scents; stress; certain foods; weather; hormones; lack of sleep (and hey, I'm in my early 50s - guess what my sleep is like??). They can last from 2 hours to 3 days. Three. Days.

It took me a decade to get a doctor who understood and who could prescribe me something that wouldn't knock me out for days or hours. Particularly after I had kids, I really couldn't have a 3-day headache - I needed to function. I have honestly had doctors who said, with straight faces, "This is all in your head." I've been accused of malingering. Trying to avoid work. Being a baby. Believe me, when the bells of Notre Dame and the National Cathedral are going off in your head? You're not trying to avoid anything. Except the stuff going on in your head.

But you can't shut it off. You have to endure it, and I use "endure" deliberately. It's an endurance test to make it through a migraine. I'm blessed if it only lasts a couple of hours. I have often said to people, "You know, I'd just love a 'take 2 aspirin headache' one of these days." I don't get those. I get migraines.

I have a medication that I take at the first sign of the headaches, but I can't take it unless I'm home because it knocks me out. My friend has a similar one, and it doesn't affect her that way. I'm not so lucky. If I don't take this at the right time, however, the migraine goes on to its own conclusion and there is nothing that will stop it. And one of the odd side effects of this medication is that after I take it, I get seriously cold and my blood pressure tanks. Yeah, that's something to keep in mind, because I bet that's never happened to anyone who's popped a couple of aspirins for a "regular" headache. Migraine is a very complicated ailment, and it's something that the medical community is only now taking seriously.

I've heard that people say they want to kill themselves. I know what that feels like because I've often felt, "Hey, the best thing that could happen is that this kills me. Just so it's over."

Migraine treatment has come a long way. Bachmann's staffers have said that they've often closed doors and shut lights off. I can feel for her. I don't agree with anything she says, other than her remarks on migraines. Properly treated, they don't have to take over your life, but often you have no control over what a migraine does. If you want more information about migraines, check out this website: or this one, for another viewpoint: -- you can educate yourself on how bad these headaches really are, how many people suffer from them, and what's being done in medicine to help those who suffer from this condition.

This story is a minor distraction. She'll have to disclose her medical records as the process goes forward. We need to be paying attention to the weird stuff she is saying; the contradictions with "get rid of government programs" versus "my husband's therapy practice takes Medicare patients;" the contradiction of the farm subsidies she disclosed on paper but denies on tape.

Get past the headaches she has and look at the headaches she could cause if she's elected.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Birthing of a Prayer Shawl...

I'm sad to report that my friend's son died last week. It's been a horrible week, with 2 wakes, 2 funerals and then finding out that a friend of mine - my LYS owner(!) has a spot on her lung and a 3 cm. tumor in her brain. She's a smoker -- or shall I say "former smoker" since the doctor in the ICU slapped a nicotine patch on her and said, "Your puffing days are over!"

So. I finished the prayer shawl, and I figured I'd set out a little "life cycle" on this one since it did take me the entire 18 months of Mark's illness to get this done.

Cascade Pima Cotton, garnet color
Here are the statistics: 1,100 yards of yarn. Cascade Pima Cotton, voted "yarn of the year" on a bunch of websites and in a flock of knitting magazines. Here's what it looked like pre-balling and pre-knitting. This has turned out to be the most popular yarn in my LYS. The shawl is actually my second project in this fiber, and it won't be my last. This yarn washes beautifully, holds color, stitches pop like crazy, and it drapes like a dream.

Shawl Version #1
So I started this and my initial idea was to do lace. I've always wanted to do lace; the baby car seat blanket was a simple lace, and I found what I thought was the perfect pattern. And I started. Here's the first go-round. It was a take on a "Little Arrowhead" pattern with a border of knit stitch to give it some stability.

Well. That didn't work out. I tried. Seriously tried. But I kept screwing it up and getting more and more frustrated. So I know that doing a prayer shawl is supposed to be a "meditative" experience, and it's hard to meditate when you are pitching a hissy fit because, for the 6th time, you missed a yarnover, or you have 3 extra stitches on your needle, and your written pattern says "...end with K1." This was about April, 2010. I remember blogging about how excited I was because as you can see with this yarn, the lace would have been fantastic.

Shawl Version #2
I frogged. Then I came up with this version, in June 2010... You can see that I took the border off. I rejiggered the pattern and I got this lovely rippled edge, and I was swimming along nicely.

But then, it screwed up again. Or actually, I  screwed up because when I went to the LYS to knit, all I needed to do was move my eyes off the directions or the knitting just once and it was toast.

I even had my LYS owner help me when I got so totally messed up that I was considering chucking the whole thing and not doing the project. Which I felt would've been a real let-down.

Pipes pattern. The other 2 were done in Stockinette Stitch. The first
I frogged. So I did more research on patterns. I looked at non-lace patterns, and I wanted stuff that I could do kind of robotically so that I could finally reach Knitting Zen and do this pattern for my friend.

Organ Pipes w/Stockinette Intervals
This is what I came up with. It's off a "Knit Stitch A Day" calendar, and it's called "Organ Pipes" which is appropriate since my friend is an organist.

I decided to alternate the pattern. This shawl took 5 balls of yarn, and I did 3 of them in the Organ StSt part went quickly, but the last one seemed. To. Take. For.....e....ver....

The Organ Pipes sections were 70 rows each, and the StSt parts were roughly the same - about a ball's worth of that stitch.

Organ Pipes close-up
This close-up was about June, 2011. I washed the complete shawl in my front-loading Maytag, on "delicate," in Ivory Snow baby wash, rinsed it and blocked it. Here's my blocking board - actually "playroom floor tiles" set on my office floor, with the door closed so Tippi didn't have access.

Blocked Shawl Overview
I have seen blocking board sets in catalogs that were hugely expensive. I know it's all in what you can afford, but to me, going to Menards or Home Depot to get these multi-colored tiles made more sense. They're interlocking, they're rubber, the colors don't run, and they're pretty much the same thing as the $80 ones I can buy. I can tailor these to the size I need, too, which is helpful. For the baby car seat blanket, I only needed 4. As you can see for this, I needed more!

Blocking Pins
You can see where I added the new balls; I need to work on how I do these transitions in a more effective way. Here's a close-up of how I pinned it. I went through 3 boxes of pins! I had a knitted edge on the StSt part, to keep it from rolling, so I needed to make sure that knitted edge was nice and straight. If you double-click on the picture, you can see the transition and the pins I used.

It was easy to lay out and gently tug into place. It took 3 days to dry, even though I did use the spin cycle on the Maytag. I tossed a clean bath towel (not a new one) in there, too. Both to grab the inevitable dog hair that all my projects collect, and to give the shawl something to bounce off. I didn't use a new one because I didn't want terry cloth fuzzies on the shawl! Enough that the dog hair was there!

Finished shawl
Here's the finished shawl, with the shawl pin I got. My friend is a very simple person. She likes straightforward speech, appreciates quality, but prefers plain styles with her clothes or jewelry. I think this fits the bill nicely. Again, double-click on the picture to see it in a larger size.

The Yarn Harlot says, in her book Knitting Rules, that knitters should keep notebooks or journals. Well, I've combined a notebook with a journal, and I have several going, depending on the projects I have. I will literally re-write the instructions to a pattern, and use the journal/notebook to make notes on how many rows it took me to get to "X" inches, any pattern changes, any techniques I acquired while doing the project. All that stuff that comes in handy when you do these kinds of projects. Because I agree with her: I'll never remember this stuff!! So when I knit my second sweater, I'll drag out the notebook I used, and check the notes I made, because I know what I would do differently now that I've done one sweater already. And the green t-shirt I'm knitting will get the same treatment. I'll know that I kind of "fudged" the first 3" before the waist decreases, and I have to do the same on the right side, since the left is slightly more than 3"... you can bet that I will NOT remember that.

My notes
So here's a shot of my current notebook... Kind of a peek inside my knitterly mind; notes on what I did and the date the shawl was finished. The date the shawl was finished was about 2 days after Mark died.

You can see my scribbles and see that at first, I was only going to do 2 panels of the Organ Pipes pattern. I'm glad I didn't; all that Stockinette would've driven me round the bend. Mindless knitting to be sure, but good vibes don't come from mindless, dull, boring stretches of knitting!

I still haven't given it to her; we haven't caught up with each other yet. I have several copies of the DVD of the Mass that my Hubby did for her. She had elderly relatives who couldn't be at the service, and since we've done this before, it was no great shakes, though Hubby really did want to join us in the funeral choir.

Finishing this shawl is kind of bittersweet. My LYS owner will not see it, since she's still in the hospital and I'm hoping to get it to my friend sooner rather than later. But I can print up a nice picture of it. I'm thinking now of what else I'd like to do with that yarn. I can see another quick summer tank top or maybe a 3/4 sleeve plain top with a nice bottom band. I know my Knit Pattern A Day calendar will have plenty of ideas for me for the bottom band of a sweater. Just have to finish a few more WIPs and then on to something new.

I would love to hear from people who've received prayer shawls. What did you like? What would you have liked on them? (Ability to tie it; ability to button; a pocket??) I don't have any other shawls planned yet. But you never know.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

We Survived 4th of July...

...and considering our idiot neighbor a block over who thought shooting off M-80s and M-120s was a good idea.... well, let's just say it's rough pulling your dogs off the ceiling when you're busy ducking because your large picture window is visibly wobbling. Luckily, a neighbor yet another block farther away was able to give the local police a decent location, and the cops started to increase their presence so that by the actual 4th of July, it was not as horrible.

My back door neighbor is a Navy veteran and when he says it sounds "like a combat zone" then I have to take that more seriously than I would otherwise.

Prayer Shawl in Pima Cotton
So, this long weekend saw several things accomplished. I'm 30 rows away from finishing the prayer shawl; which is good because unfortunately, it'll be needed soon.

I've been plugging away on it in earnest for several weeks now, and while there are speedier knitters, I'm not one of them. I am moving along as fast as I can, and remembering the premise: speed, in this case, is not the objective.

Mindfulness is the objective. Sounds like my last post? Well, in this case, doing a prayer shawl is a meditation on the person for whom it is intended. It's the one time that I really don't want to be a "product" knitter - interested in pushing out a product just to take it off my "WIP" list (work-in-progress).

While I can appreciate those who have a "stash" of prayer shawls, that's just not me. I make them for specific individuals. For example, the church ladies in my parish have a stack of "prayer blankets" and I think that's a fine ministry. That's the way they want to do it. I choose to make them differently, and that's ok.

Another addition to my knitting arsenal is the yarn pot Kid #2 did. Actually, I bought the clay and asked him to help me, but since clay is one of his hobbies, he just did it. Mainly because I bugged him...but that's a mom's right, right?

Yarn pot
Lid closed
Here's what he came up with. The clay is self-drying, so he just used some of my ornament paint, plus he rolled a clear glaze around the inside. He did a nice job; it's rustic, and while the top isn't a perfect fit, I don't care. It keeps the dog hair out! Another view shows it closed; I know he wants to do another version and I told him I'd be happy to be his "test market." Frankly, while I appreciate the lovely pots I see on Etsy, I'm tickled to know that all this one cost me was a box of clay and some sculpting tools. We also found out that the silicon mat I bought was useless. Wax paper seems to work well.

4th of July bandanas
River decked out
The next thing that got done (almost all done) were bandanas for the dogs. Since I take Tippi to do therapy work, I figured maybe I could deck her out to make her seem more approachable. We went to the Local Retirement Home on July 5, and she had to have something to wear, right? So I had purchased some fat quarters at the new JoAnn Fabric location and cut the bandanas to size. With a giant-sized snap on it, they fit her and River. Quinn, they're a little big on, but that's ok. Here are some pictures of the end product. The last bandana has to wait till I fix the tension on my sewing machine...and rip out the grosgrain ribbon that's on there... (sigh). I'm going to take the chunks of the fat quarters that are left, and (gulp!) "quilt" them together, making a "crazy bandana" for them to wear. I have fat quarters in various girly prints, since Tippi is often considered a boy dog at the Local Retirement Home.

Quinn's bandana
As you can see, we can literally tie Quinn's on her. I wanted to make them to be able to be used on all the dogs, so since River and Tippi are the largest, we went from there. I am anxious to work with the rest of the fabric, and I hope I'll have a nice selection for the coming months.

I heard on my elkhound list that there's some breed-specific fabric out there. It's holiday themed, so I'll be ordering at least a fat quarter for each breed! We do have some holiday scarves for the girls, and they'll tolerate them, so why not?

The final project that got done was the reupholstery of my chair. Now here's the story on that. We bought a La-Z-Boy couch and chair. The couch is lovely, except my feet don't reach the floor. Everyone else fits in that thing but me! So we figured we'd buy a chair to go along with it; and we found a lovely sort-of-Queen-Anne chair that I liked. Perfect reading and knitting chair. Except that the fabric didn't last 2 years, and it ripped right where the back of your knees hit. Now I could see if it ripped on the arm or where you might have something in your pocket, but I don't generally store things at the back of my knees!

Mechanically, the chair was sound. So I went to the local designer store and they assured me they could do the work on the chair. What they didn't tell me was that I'd have a coronary in the process. The chair originally cost me about $500.

My Chair
This is what it ended up looking like, with fabric that has been "wear tested" for 30,000 repetitions. So we can get into and out of the chair 30,000 times before it shows wear, so they tell me.

The first fabric I picked was my absolute favorite. But the gal made a mistake and miscalcuated. The original fabric I wanted would've cost me $800+ to have done. That's $300 more than the chair was worth new. And it's not like this is a family heirloom.

So we re-worked it and came up with this fabric. Well. It still cost me way more than the chair is worth, but it was closer to $700 than the other one. I'm not particularly happy for a couple of reasons: I liked the other fabric, in spite of its coronary-inducing cost and I was upset that she got the price so far wrong. And I didn't expect an upholstery project to cost this much just in general. This fabric is lovely; it's a little more stiff than I like, but maybe that's where the 30,000 "sits" come in! It's also a little more formal than I wanted for our very casual household.

Would I do this again? Well, not for a chair at that price. If the chair had been leather or had been a family piece, yeah, probably. But now, I wish I'd have gone with what Hubby said: Give the chair to Kid #1 when he moves out (with a makeshift cover on the bottom cushion) and buy a new one. The only thing I objected to with that was that I resented having a La-Z-Boy (who're big on advertising quality) that fell apart like that after only a few years. What if we'd bought the identical chair and 2 years after that, it did the same thing? No value there. If this fabric does last the way the designer said, then maybe this is worth the investment. In spite of the sticker shock.

On the plus side, it does match River, and she likes to sit next to it. Sometimes partially under it. So I guess I did make the right choice. Now we'll see if we can keep the elkhounds off it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Are You Mindful? I'm Not...But I Should Be

As always, I cover about 4 things at once in each post.

First, as an anniversary gift, Hubby got me a Kindle. It's the WiFi one, and knowing him, it probably does about 6 other things that'll take me a year to figure out.

So I loaded about 9 or 10 books on it, including some freebies (I'm good with freebies). I've finished 3 books, which isn't unusual because I read like others breathe, and this is just a good way to take the books with me. I'm probably going to be doing more travel in the next few years; I'm president of our local Zonta Club (go here to look at what Zonta does: and I'm also involved on a multi-state level, so it'll be easier to haul the Kindle than it will the books I travel with.

When I first contemplated the Kindle, I said, "I'd get it and load all my reference books on it, making another shelf or two in my office for 'real' books." Well, I find that my much-thumbed reference books are just fine on their own. I can find stuff in my Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) quicker than I can even find it in THEIR online edition! I have the 16th edition, just haven't tabbed it yet.

So I'm reading a new book now, The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk. My yoga teacher has read us several of his books. We do a yin practice, which means we hold poses for a long time; in our class, it's only 5 minutes, but in some practices, it can be 10 or more minutes. Well, you need to concentrate on your breath while you're doing that, but our teacher also uses readings to center us on our mats. That way, while in Dragon (a lunge I particularly dislike) or Saddle (also one of my "not very favorite" poses), you glom onto her words, and these words usually remind you why you're there in the first place!

Anyway, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this particular book - but it's mainly a long letter. And while the whole book talks about "mindfulness," I found some of it particularly interesting especially in our multi-tasking society.

If you're not doing 8 things at once, apparently, you're really not "living in the moment" - or so says popular wisdom. Thich Nhat Hanh turns that idea inside out, and I rather like what he's saying.

Here's a quote: "When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you're drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you're using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life."

OK, stop giggling and think about it for a minute. Seriously. How many times a day do you have one thing going on on the computer screen, a cell phone vibrating, a colleague at your door, a report open on your desk, and what're you thinking about? "What will I do for dinner? What are the things the kids need when I get home? What about that meeting for next week?"

It's not that we are being told to not plan ahead. In our society, we really need to plan our work, etc. But this passage really took hold for me after a conversation with my mother. She said she wanted us kids to "spontaneously come visit" ... and I said to her, "The only 'spontaneous' thing that happens in my house are bathroom calls..." and sadly, that's true. My life, even now with grown kids, is circumscribed, and there's very little spontaneity in my schedule.

That's sad, isn't it?

Taking what Thich Nhat Hanh said, then, we sort of come full circle. I'm feeling like I'm having ADD over everything. When I'm reading, I need to check e-mails. When I'm knitting, I feel like I have to have the television on. When I'm talking to Hubby, I need to have a magazine in my hand.

The book says: "Each act must be carried out in mindfulness. Each act is a rite, a ceremony." Of course, he's talking of monks in a monastery, but how can we translate that to our own lives?

Personally, I can stop having seven things going on at once. When I knit, I should knit. When I'm eating, it should be at a table and not in front of the television set (which will also do my diet a world of good!!). When I'm checking e-mails, do I have to respond in Pavlovian fashion each time the computer dings? Probably not. In fact, definitely not!

My yoga teacher is always talking to us about mindfulness. We had a class on that. We took 3 raisins. Held them in our hand. And then put ONE RAISIN in our mouth. And then just let it sit there. Feeling the "raisin-ness" of it. Yeah, go ahead, think that's maybe a little out there, but consider this: It's like those diets that tell you to chew your food 25 times.

Have you ever tried to chew ONE RAISIN 25 times? The point of this exercise was to make us think about food, instead of shoving it mindlessly into our mouths because the clock said it was lunchtime. Or because we were bored. Or because the craving we had for "food" was actually "thirst" and water would've sufficed.

I think "thirst" is a good word here, too. We "thirst" for time. We "thirst" to manage everything in our lives and we've been seduced into thinking that by doing 6 things at once, we are doing that. But we're not. I find now that I have less time to do the things I need to get done. And then I wonder: Do I "need" to do this stuff, or is it my own attempt at managing everything?

I don't advocate a monastic existence. It's not where I'm at right now. And it may never be.

But this book has given me something to think about. It's a little volume, so if you're in the bookstore or you have an e-reader, download it and just read through it. It'll certainly give you something to contemplate, and that may not be a bad thing. Particularly if you turn everything else off and devote a little quiet time to what he's saying.

Take a moment, especially since it's summer, to lay on the grass and look up at the clouds. And breathe. In. Out. Repeat.

It can only do you good.