31 March 2014

The Serendipitous Hat

The hat that had measured out so felicitously evenly? The hat I was planning so that I would have a project to do during 40+ hours of air transit, starting in a week?

It came out beautifully, start to finish (Ian bet I wouldn't be able to leave it alone until our trip. Embarrassing how much he understands). The first two photos were taken by my long-suffering husband, and the next two shots I did of myself, one accidentally.

Pinwheel vent to let out steam

Overall design

"Why are you not snapping when I push the buttonAW dang."

THIS is the picture I was going for. 

30 March 2014

More Close-ups From my Garden

We take off for Parts Tropical and Islandy in about 10 days, and so I've been cramming in Seattle Spring close-ups. We spent some time working in the yard today, which was pretty chilly and a little breezy. It became breezier when I pulled out my camera and macro lens and very much wanted things to be still, but I captured some pretty awesome images anyway, which you can see in online album here. Who knew plants had all this detail?

24 March 2014

Orcas Equinox Vacay

Spring is Springing!
 Oregon grape in one of our hedgerows

Ian and I flew up to Orcas Friday on Kenmore Air, in one of their Dehavilland Beaver seaplanes, with discount tickets purchased last September. We left from South Lake Union (10-minute taxi from our house) and arrived one hour later at West Sound Marina (10 minute walk to our land). 

We really had a vacation on Orcas this last weekend. We couldn't bring our usual ton of tools, giant cooler, or nonagenarian dog, so it was a pretty easy-going time. Burke the Builder loaned us an '89 Toyota Land Cruiser with 265,000 miles on it (4 of his 5 children learned to drive in this vehicle), which was the perfect island car. He left it parked at the West Sound Marina with the keys dangling on the wiper switch. 1989 was the last year for the old-style, truly utilitarian Land Cruiser, which turned into a luxury SUV in 1990. This old blue automatic model was still happy to be out and about, starting forward or backward, whichever we asked, up hill or down, the moment we let off on the brake. We hadn't planned on having wheels, which would've made our visit very different. As it was, we took a 6-mile hike on Turtleback Mountain; ate restaurant food instead of emergency ramen stocked in the Dacha; and even made it out to the Doe Bay Resort Cafe for the first time ever, which is about as far as you can get on Orcas from our place, for breakfast on Sunday. 

In all, we had an utterly delightful time, and great weather for our flights. The one problem with a one-hour commute instead of a 4-hour one is that the buffer between country idyll and urban jungle is way too small. Arriving back in Seattle was a shock to the system, and not a totally pleasant one. 

I've posted many more pictures from our weekend away here.

Happy Spring!
Flowering plum

22 March 2014

Dacha Breakfast

Roses' Fig Fennel Bread, honey chevre, poor man's mocha (coffee with a hot chocolate packet). Yum!

one-fingered on my phone

20 March 2014

Close-ups From My Garden

I would never have purchased my Canon Rebel camera--I loved the idea of taking pictures, but I wouldn't have allowed myself the luxury of such a purchase, considering that I habitually let Ian be the main photographer. If I wasn't taking a lot of photos, did I need to spend a big wad of money on a tool to take photos? I couldn't justify it. Fortunately for me, Ian recognized that a real camera wouldn't, in fact, be wasted cash, and he was right. I loved the idea of taking pictures, and I am loving the manifestation of it, too.

In honor of the first day of spring, here are some pictures of what's up on the outside at Taylor Wallingford.

This is our ceanothus, California lilac, or simply "The Blue Bush," as we call it, preparing to burst into a billion blue blooms. It's quite the spectacular spectacle. Spackle likes to dig cool, damp, dirty dog beds under it. 
(Hitherto unknown fact about the Blue Bush: it inspires alliteration)

Blooms on our Japanese Maple. These are smaller than my pinky fingernail. 

Here is a wider view of our maple leafing out. 

Leaves on the Japanese Snowbell. There are three of these trees to the west of us down 39th, across Wallingford, and they are huge and happy and covered in blooms later in the year. Our own snowbell, on the other hand, has not grown smaller for the past few years (as it was wont to do early in our stewardship of it); and is still alive; and is making positive, hopeful steps toward a continued existence. 

This is a bud on the dogwood that my childhood friend S gave me as a wedding shower gift, 13 years ago. It's a distractingly beautiful coral-flowered tree. And I am fascinated by the elegant, matte-gray reserve in which it attires itself while it prepares for its big debut. 

I do love me a flowering quince. 

Some Recent Photos

Lichens on a tree in Woodland Park

Camellia on Queen Anne, during a recent tramp.

Sunset from our Queen Anne tramp

More sunset from Queen Anne

The non-dog beach at Golden Gardens

Hailstorm rushing south. I love how I've featured the garbage cans in this otherwise unremarkable landscape shot. 

14 March 2014

Then and Now

Inspired by this hilarious and heart-warming collection of photos, Ian and I decided to reproduce an early photo of our sweet Spackle. As you can see, no one's changed much at all in the last 12 1/2 years.

11 March 2014

The Thing About Our Future Orcas Island Home That I Am Most Excited About Right Now

This may end up being a somewhat serial post, as there are a billion Things about our future Orcas Island Home, and a billion moments until we've moved in; and whimsy and circumstance mix together to create different yearnings at different times. But right now, what I am most excited about is the Mud Room. 

I've been weeding in the Seattle yard this afternoon (it's a gloriously sunny and springy day today), and when I weed, I tend to wallow (long before I learned to weed, in fact, I would wallow in garden dirt; often just after ripping off my clothes. We'll see if Orcas offers enough privacy for a return to that behavior.). I have a pair of Swedish Blåkläder pants that come with insertable knee pads, but even with the pads the knees get tired, and then I just flip over and sit on my bum. We've been getting a lot of rain recently, and the soil is rich and dark and wet and sticky. By the time I've finished the job (or my interest has waned, which I'm learning to listen to), my knees and my bum are covered with damp clods of earth. 

Our current home has 3 entry doors: one leading into my office, one leading into the kitchen, and one leading almost directly onto our Persian carpet. I generally choose the kitchen door, but the moment I bend to take off my shoes and my fancy pants, clods of dirt leap off my bum and fly around the kitchen, ready to get tracked through and ground into the floors of the house. 

On Orcas, two of our three main floor entrances--the front door and the kitchen door--have air locks. And at the kitchen door, that airlock is a dedicated mud room where we can strip off all the filth and leave it behind, without tracking dirt all over and blurring the line between indoors and out. I'm already planning out a box for slippers, and a hook for the lounge pants I'll change into as I reenter civilization. 

Mud Room!

10 March 2014

Sometimes It All Just Comes Together

Since many of my recent verbal posts have dealt with various things not going my way, I thought it would be a good idea to share a day where things, large and small, have been going my way. These stories vary in length, but the first has the longest back story.

I cooked my latest Amelia yesterday, which meant--because my method uses 180-proof grain alcohol as a solvent, and then I distill the oil by boiling off the alcohol--that, even though I exclusively perform these tasks outside, and it was a warm, breezy day, I was "relaxed" much of yesterday, from about 12:30 pm on. I licked a couple things clean as I was tidying up in the evening, and I seem to have made a potent medicine. In the light and relative clarity of this morning, I decided I needed to redo the final step, distilling the drug a bit more, using a metal measuring cup and an old mug warmer in the kitchen. Not too long after that, I realized that my morning clarity was fading into the air along with the rest of the grain alcohol.

To finish the long story, I was not at all sure that I would be well-served to drive to Gyrotonic this evening where I was scheduled for an expensive private session, but I turned on the kitchen fan and decided I would have a large lunch and then take a nap, and make my final choice in the late afternoon. Before I could even think about what to eat, though, Jeffrey the Instructor called in sick! I mean, I'm sorry for Jeffrey, but my dilemma was solved.

Then I got an email from Eragem saying that a ring I'd consigned late last summer, and largely forgotten about, has been sold!

Spackle has had some runny poops of late (my brand-new Nexus 5 cell phone has been reading more about poop than it would like, I'm sure), as well as The Farts of the Dead, and today he really seems to be on the mend! Feeling safe to walk (if not drive), I went by foot up to the QFC to buy more pumpkin and chicken thighs, to be served with rice to block the dog (I've actually been eating roughly the same diet, with roughly the same effect, which has not stood me in as good a stead as it has the dog). Of the four stoplights between here and there, 75% of them were completely in my favor, and 25% were not seriously out of my favor. B+, Stoplights!

At the QFC, my chicken thighs, pumpkin, and Hostess Cherry Pie came to exactly $20.00. "That never happens!" exclaimed the clerk.

Last is the knitting project I've just begun. It's been at least a year since I've knitted a hat of Fair Isle, or stranded knitting. I have had two failures since my last success, which put me off the whole practice for awhile. The first failure was meant to be birds flying in a deep sunset sky, using yarns I had on hand. It would've been pretty, perhaps, but I was unable to get my head around (or, ha ha, under), the math necessary to alter the pattern to fit me. In an attempt to salvage something, I began a hat using the same yarns, but the the pattern on the other half of the printed sheet showing the birds. The problem here was not only that I didn't search out the perfect pattern that I actually wanted to do, I chose to knit the design in a way that used all four colors in a single row. True Fair Isle only ever uses two colors on a single row, because it is way too difficult to keep track of anything more complicated than that, and the garments get bulky and rigid. My cold-season threads have been mostly sewn this year.

My last story seems to be a nice long bookend to my first, after all. Starting this new project yesterday evening (but stopping when Amelia got vigorously involved), I began responsibly by knitting a gauge swatch. While knitting, I determined how I would use my four colors--which twos I would choose--when I began the actual hat. Afterwards, I measured my swatch and determined that my pattern of 14 stitches would fit around my head if I knitted it 9 times, equaling 126 stitches, which is exactly the right number for my head. I then went looking through my pattern books for something to go with it, decided on one I liked which was 6 stitches, and calculated how much alteration I would need to make between patterns. It turns out none alteration--because both 14 and 6 (at 21 times) go evenly into 126, as will the 3-stitch ribbing at the bottom! This never happens, and it's a particular nerdy delight because one of the foundational primes is a seven.

And, Ian gets home tonight!

08 March 2014

What Amelia Wanted for Bedtime Snack

Three ingredients: dill pickle, chunky and salted peanut butter, Red Hot Blues tortilla chips. 

Salty/tangy, nutty/fatty, crispy/zesty. Delicious!

06 March 2014

Spring Close-ups

This is a pumpkin that, until a couple days ago, had been sitting on our kitchen counter since last fall. Clearly, the composting process has begun. We're going to bury it in our pumpkin berm, and see what happens. 

This is my Honorary Hoover Dogwood, which is just beginning to come out of hibernation. 

Daffodil from our street-side bed. Fourteen years ago I moved into this house, and daffodils from the yard were my first floral decorations.  

I think we purchased this thinking it was a Christmas Cactus, but clearly it's closer to an Easter Cactus. 

New buds on a plant given to me as a shower gift 13 years ago. I'm so fascinated by the translucence, and the tiny, sticky-looking hairs. 

05 March 2014

"Treat" is a Complicated Word

I had an infusion this morning, and while the whole process, from leaving the house at 7:00 to arriving back home just before 11:00, was relatively benign (as much as chemotherapy can be benign); several small disturbances came up against my personal, situational autism. I have a super hard time these days, after fifteen years of the process, in keeping my cool when even the tiniest detail of a cancer-related procedure is different from what I'm expecting. When things go my way in the cancer world, I'm all smiles and lively conversation. But when things don't go my way, I can barely keep my shit together.

This morning my latte from Essential was lukewarm (a chemo-day treat is getting breakfast out), and they didn't have any savory pastries at the bakery, which I'd wanted instead of a too-large breakfast sandwich, which was my only other savory choice. I arrived at the clinic at 7:30 sharp for my 7:30 appointment (which is a couple minutes late, but it takes time to cook a sandwich), and there was a line of 15 people in front of me checking in. It's true that several of those people were there assisting patients and not checking in themselves, but several of the patients were checking in for 8:00 appointments, three or four others had to answer Medicare questions, one was brand new and had to fill out orientation forms, and another's appointment had been canceled with the Infusion Room but not with her and it took several minutes to work out what to do about that. I spent a lot of time shifting from foot to foot, wishing I could sneak back into the infusion room and put my coffee in the patient microwave and heat it up so I would enjoy drinking it; and thinking that this whole thing, starting with why I was there in the first place, really sucked. It felt very much like the check-in line at the airport during an aviation crisis, except for the glaring inequality that there was no fun destination at the end of it.

I finally got my pager and my wrist tag at 7:45, and I did get a bed a few minutes later with no trouble (and I popped my coffee into the microwave and made it better), but I had a new nurse I'd never worked with before and so things between us were rather reserved. It's hard, with a 15-year history, to explain anything useful, in two-and-a-half minutes, about who I am and where I stand in my treatment. To make matters worse, my favorite nurse, who I almost always work with and who I actually saw for coffee, as a friend, during my long chemo hiatus, was right next door, and I could hear her cheerfully going about making her patient comfortable. I wanted someone cheerfully making me comfortable!

I did have a nice chat with the parking lot attendant as I left to come home--we've also become friends over the last many years--but that was not enough to make up for the bleak frustration of being there at that clinic, for an infusion, again. 

I realize, intellectually, that none of the tiny surprises of the morning amounted to anything in the scheme of things, and yet this is no longer a situation wherein my intelligence can help me.

Back at home, I half-heartedly did some normal things like baking shortbread and taking some macro pictures of spring arriving, but I was just depressed. I haven't been spending a lot of time with my oracles of late, and so I made some tea, lit some candles, and sat down in the living room with my I Ching and my journals and my Child Tarot cards.

I scratched in my journal "I seem to have only two choices. To have chemotherapy, or to die. Black and White. WHERE IS MY GRAY???"

For the first hexagram I threw, the I Ching said "OBSTRUCTION," and "you are caught between a rock and a hard place."

Well, DUH!

It then went on to tell me to practice "calm acceptance," and let the Sage help me determine what to do next. The related hexagram was "DEVELOPMENT", and informed my that the only lasting progress was gradual progress.

"HOW GRADUAL?!?" I demanded in my journal. I mean, am I really going to be doing this every three weeks for the rest of my life? For--because I am equally optimistic and pessimistic--forty more years?!?

"Sometimes," the I Ching went on in a soothing tone, "the only true comfort is the knowledge that we are steadfastly developing ourselves into superior people."

"What if I want to scream and cry and flail my arms about and have a major tantrum?" I wrote. That bromide from the I Ching is about as motivational to me at this point in the game, as was the idea that I might make more money on my home sale in a year, if I took on the awful job of painting cabinets. One main difference is that I am, in fact, done with the cabinets, and they look great.

I see--again, still--no end in sight for the chemotherapy job, however, and I AM SICK OF IT. I feel like I'm being bullied, for years on end, and no one is coming to my rescue.

It was clear to me that my inner child is a bruised, battered, smarting, bewildered, miserable thing, and so I moved on to the Inner Child Tarot.

And, it helped.

It helped me switch, ever-so-slightly, but ever-so-profoundly, my thinking about my situation. I have not wanted to "battle" my cancer. Never, not since the beginning. I am a linguist; language means a lot to me. And I know that "fighting" in the context of "healing" are incompatible concepts. And yet, where has my underlying focus been, for these last 15 years? It's been on killing the cancer. That's a battle.

One of my tarot cards said "Be unconventional; walk into the unknown." That scared me to my core.

"Unconventional means, to me," I wrote, "stepping away--completely from cancer chemotherapy."

The crossed out word in the previous sentence, copied faithfully from my journal as it appeared there, is the linchpin of my new understanding. I had started to write "cancer treatment," then stopped, crossed out "cancer", and wrote chemotherapy instead.

Treats are special. We give treats to people we love. Spa "treatments" are lovely things, too.

So, have I been treating my cancer? It was a shocking revelation. One doesn't give treats to things one despises or hates. One give treats to things one loves.

Incontestably, the treatments my cancer has been receiving are not like a day at the spa. Nevertheless, my focus has been on the cancer: on killing it. On eradicating it. On wiping it from the face of the earth. I have been, in fact, utterly xenophobic about cancer. That's not battle; that's all-out war.



02 March 2014

All's Well That Ends Well

One of my plans with this project--with many projects upon which I embark--was to take before shots as well as after shots. That I did not remember to do this was the first of my myriad frustrations with myself and the project, and yet, I had to ruefully accept that this is who I am. This failure of photography was only the first of my grade school ducks to waddle out of line.

I assumed that I would be able to dig up some pictures of the cabinets from earlier in our ownership of this house, and I did find one which includes an example of the bland ugliness of the doors, but it was only one, and only from long, long ago. I'm not sure I made this clear, but I have never liked those cabinets, and the lack of photographic proof of them certainly corroborates me. Here is the one photo I found:

This photo is actually quite good, because in addition to a glimpse of the ugly cabinets, it shows the original (all "originals" are only original to me) faux marble vinyl floor tiles, the original cheap-o fridge, the original stove, none of Ian's customizations (this photo was taken exactly five months pre-Ian), a BPA-full original Nalgene, and a wall color from three paints ago. Also documented here is the light switch for the porch light, in the wood frame right next to the door--the light switch which had been installed on the knob-and-tube wiring without a metal box around it, and behind which the knob-and-tube had been slowly smoldering away over the years (we discovered this in the nick of time in 2012 when we had electricians update the house wiring). I also see a flash of lime green on the counter on the right which is my tape measure (thanks, Mom!), and it's still mine, and I still have it, because Ian and I went through the whose-tools-are-whose conversation years ago, before my tape measure got lost in the chaos of his shed. But I digress. 

Above is the current view. Note the hood over the stove, the almost invisible, narrow fridge (which we're taking with us when we go), the black and white floor, the now-aged maple island/cutting board, and various other changes and improvements, not least of which are the newly painted cabinets. Nice, eh?

In addition to some of the problems I previously related, I discovered (mildly ironically, in the event), that most of my best painting supplies were on Orcas. At the very end of the project, on Friday afternoon (only one week longer than I thought I'd go) I found that the quart of enamel paint that I was going to use on the trim closest to the sink and the dishwasher was also on Orcas. The (mild) irony here is two-fold: I have been doing this work here in preparation of moving there; and we had never intended to own two homes at once. This frustrating duality of storage locations confirms for us that we are on the right track.

Following are some photos of the project in process, and various things I did INSTEAD of working in the kitchen.

OMG. Utter chaos. I have to go somewhere else. 

These pants I've been meaning to hem for Ian? Now is the perfect time! Why are there dog toys looking over/resting on the sewing table? I have no idea. 

Wow, those beds under the cherry trees are weedy! Better go tidy those up!

KenKen! My current avoidance obsession. These sheets are all printed (and filled out) on both sides. I found that the detail-orientation needed to successfully complete the KenKens was the same as the detail-orientation needed to successfully complete the painting projects. Which meant, yes, that I only had the brain power to successfully do one or the other on any given day. I did not always choose wisely. 

SIGH. Back to work. I would like to point out the shelf that I hit my head on numerous times, right there at the top of this photo, hanging just a little bit too low over the work table.*

In progress. Note the complete lack of plastic sheeting (although I did take the time to mask). 

HUGE SIGH OF RELIEF. This ended up looking A.W.E.S.O.M.E. 

Really, the whole kitchen looks different. The whole upstairs looks different!

Even Spackle looks different! 

It's amazing to me how quickly I've adjusted to the new look, in fact. When I walk into the kitchen now, there's no underlying sigh about the ugliness anymore. 

Everything looks just like it should!

*Ian just suggested to me that, in hindsight, couldn't I have moved the work table out from under the shelf? I replied that hindsight was not at all useful at this point. He laughed.