Monday, August 31, 2009

Sock Report

Gary reports, alas, that his new socks are a tad too big, but he did successfully hike in them.

I've ordered yarn to make him a new, smaller pair.

I'm just gonna keep on doing this until I get it right!

Audience Gap

Dear Readers:

I often post here the homilies I give in my Episcopal parish, because other people often enjoy reading them. In my Episcopal parish, my audience is other Episcopalians. My blog audience is much wider. Readers who know me know that in speaking to other Episcopalians, I'm not insulting or leaving out anyone else, but people who don't know me read the blog, too.

If I say, for instance, "Christians are called to serve other people," that doesn't mean that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Unitarian Universalists, and atheists aren't also called to serve. Reading the statement otherwise commits a basic logical fallacy in which "A" automatically implies "not B." If I said, for instance, "Apples taste good," it doesn't follow as a logical corollary that bananas don't also taste good, and it would be inappropriate of the Banana Council of America to take offense.

But, of course, this isn't a purely logical issue. Many people have been damaged by centuries of oppressive behavior by other people who called themselves Christians, which means that Christians bear the burden of being especially sensitive to when their comments may be taken as exclusionary, even when they weren't intended that way. And if Christians grow weary of having to apologize for being Christian, and of being criticized for talking about their own faith in their own church, well, karma's a bitch, ain't it? The sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the children.

In posting my latest homily, I perhaps should have added a headnote stating that I know that all people, including Christians, are called to compassionate service. I neglected to do that. I hope I remember next time. If not, please be generous readers.

Blessings to you all,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gary's Hefty Hiking Socks!

Here they are: just a teensy bit large -- Gary's hoping they'll shrink in warm water, although I doubt it, since the wool's superwash -- but probably wearable even at their current size. Of course I made some mistakes, but I still think this is an entirely credible pair of socks. We won't have a final verdict until Gary's tried them out on the trail, of course.

Gary chose the yarn, and he's really pleased by the weight and thickness of the socks, which will certainly provide a lot of cushioning on hikes. Wool's the fiber of choice for hiking socks, especially in cold weather, because it stays warm even when it's wet. He wanted fairly high socks to protect his legs from dust and burrs.

I was pleased with how the heels on these came out. They were simple to knit and fit Gary well. I'm still trying to decide which increase method I prefer -- knit front & back, or raised increase -- but I'll settle on a formula eventually. In the meantime, I'm having fun trying different techniques, and look forward to many happy months of sock knitting.

Universal Precautions

Here's this morning's homily, which was received especially warmly by a woman in our congregation who's a former ER manager. The readings are James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

Postscript: Please see this post for clarification of audience issues.


As a hospital volunteer, I spend a lot of time washing my hands. Everyone in the hospital is supposed to wash their hands before and after contact with a patient. After eating or using the restroom, hands should be washed with soap and warm water for twenty seconds -- or as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song -- and then dried with two sets of towels, which should also be used both to turn off the faucet and to turn the bathroom doorknob.

On other occasions, it’s acceptable to use the dispensers of hand cleanser placed outside every patient room. The cleanser comes in two varieties: a pungent goop reeking of rubbing alcohol, and a foam that looks like a cross between whipped cream and hair gel. I prefer the foam, although I often manage to squirt it not only into my palm, but onto my shirt and the floor.

Whatever method one uses, the goal is to cleanse every surface from fingertip to wrist, not neglecting the underside of the fingernails, which should extend no more than a quarter inch past the end of the finger. Nail polish is forbidden, as it might hide dirt.

Meanwhile, restrooms and elevators are festooned with signs advertising the benefits of washing your hands. Handwashing, often called “the universal precaution,” is the #1 method endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control to cut down the transmission of illness. But the signs display the somewhat grim statistic that although 92% of people claim that they always wash their hands when they should, observation has revealed that only 77% of us actually do.

A few years ago, new signs went up in the Emergency Room, where I volunteer. These signs proclaimed that ER staff weren’t washing their hands often enough, and would be monitored until they improved. Several weeks later, those signs were replaced by others saying we were all doing much better. Big Brother was watching.

This hypervigilance about handwashing is a direct consequence of the germ theory of disease. There’s a scientific reason why handwashing reduces the spread of illness. And indeed, since I began volunteering at the hospital -– where it’s not at all unusual for me to wash my hands twenty times an hour -– I’ve been sick much less often than I was before.

What, then, are we to make of Jesus in today’s Gospel? When the Pharisees complain that his disciples haven’t washed their hands before eating, he doesn’t scold his followers and send them to the nearest bar of soap. Instead, he scolds the Pharisees, telling them that they’re hypocrites. Dirty hands don’t defile people, he tells the Pharisees. Dirty hearts do.

This horrifies those of us brought up on germ theory. Jesus! we want to say. Do you want your disciples to get colds or the flu? What about smallpox, chickenpox, or pinkeye? Jesus, please: we love you, but you don’t live in the most sanitary of surroundings. Sure, we know you can heal people, but wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t get sick in the first place? You’re great about washing people’s feet, but their hands are important too!

This is where historical context comes in. Jesus and the Pharisees lived centuries before the discovery of germs. While the Jewish purity laws undoubtedly helped prevent illness, that’s not why the Pharisees are upset in this Gospel. They believe that those who don’t clean their hands also haven’t cleaned their hearts, that outward impurity renders people unfit to approach God. To them, this is a moral issue; they’re judging Jesus’ disciples for improper behavior. Such thinking is common even today. People shocked by activities of which they disapprove –- drug use, unconventional sex, criminal behavior, even fashion choices –- sometimes decide that those whose outsides they are judging must be inwardly contaminated too, unfit for God’s love and undeserving of human help or compassion.

Jesus counters this thinking with the claim that dirty hands aren’t important. The heart, he says, is what matters, because the heart is the source of true evil, of the sins that arise from lack of love for God, self, and neighbor. Greed, dishonesty, hatred and selfishness are what make us truly unclean, and no amount of hand-scrubbing will rid us of them.

Here is a modern-day example. Several years ago, a homeless man was brought into the ER during my shift. The staff knew him well. He was a frequent flyer who’d been there countless times before and had run up a huge, unpayable bill. His skin and clothing were filthy, and he smelled horrible. But as bad as he looked, I was far more disturbed by his nurse. This was someone, usually a consummate professional, who had treated this patient many times before, but –- having worked without a break for hours that day -– simply snapped. I watched, disbelieving, as the nurse began screaming at the ambulance stretcher, “Why don’t you just die? You’re a worthless human being. You deserve to die!”

Which of these two people is more unclean?

That scene remains the single most upsetting thing I’ve witnessed at the hospital. But there are other, subtler symptoms of burnout and cynicism. I’ve never seen a sign that says, “Don’t scream at the sick people.” Such warnings shouldn’t be, and usually aren’t, necessary. Most of the staff are warm and professional. They didn’t go into healthcare to be mean. All of them start out wanting to help people, but some get ground down, tired, embittered by the gap between what they expect their patients to be like and who actually walks through the door.

Christians are God’s emergency-room staff. Like the medical professionals in the ER, we’ve made promises to serve everyone, regardless of background. Like medical staff, though, we often get burned out when the people we help aren’t well-groomed, polite, or sufficiently grateful. We get fed up when they keep coming back. We keep records of what they owe us, debts we know they can’t pay. We start listing reasons why other people deserve our time more, despite those pesky promises we've made.

ER personnel are required by law to serve everyone who shows up. Episcopalians are required by their baptismal vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons.” Both groups know that the universal precaution against flu and the common cold is to wash our hands. Is there a universal precaution against unclean hearts, against unloving thoughts and behavior?

This morning’s Epistle says, in part, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God . . . is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” In this context, I think being unstained by the world means freeing ourselves from the love of power and prestige. Orphans and widows, and others who’ve been abandoned, aren’t powerful or famous. But helping them, even when they’re smelly and ungrateful, is the key to a clean heart. Helping the powerless of the world means rolling up our sleeves and being willing to get our hands dirty, even if –- properly cautious of germs –- we scrub them with soap later.

I don’t know what the universal precaution against lack of love might be. I’d like to hear all of your ideas on the subject. But here’s a start. The next time we see someone we don’t want to help, someone we consider unclean, let’s look at this person until we can see Christ. To do that, we may need to remember that the woman in front of us is someone’s daughter, or ask ourselves what we’d want if the man on the ambulance stretcher were our son. Once we see Christ, let’s focus on that vision for as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song or our favorite hymn, or maybe to say the Lord’s Prayer.

And then let’s reach out both of our hands in help, love, and kinship.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Narrative Medicine in Action

I subscribe to a medicine-and-humanities e-zine called Pulse. Today I got this story in my in-box.

Last week, my freshman-comp students and I were talking about the differences between doctors who listen to their patients and those who don't. I'm going to give the students this story to read; it's as powerful an example as any I've seen.

I hope all of you appreciate it, too.

Skype Rules!

Today my sister and mother and I talked via video on Skype. It was great to see them, especially Mom, who really enjoyed the experience. I carried my netbook around the house and used the webcam to show her things: cats, the huge pinecones produced by the tree in our yard (which was a wee sapling when we moved in twelve years ago), socks I'm knitting.

All in all, much better than the phone! We're going to try to Skype at least once a week from now on.

Speaking of socks, I've started a pair in a simple lace pattern for my friend Marin. They're a lot of fun. This afternoon I called my local yarn store to try to track down copies of two knitting books I want; the shop didn't have them, but Gary said, "What were those books? Someone told me you have a birthday coming up."

Indeed I do, on September 7. This year, my birthday and our wedding anniversary are both federal holidays. Cool!

So I have a feeling I'll have some new knitting books soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If You Want God to Laugh . . . .

. . . tell people how much your sock-knitting skills are improving. Then happily turn a heel, only to find that somehow you've produced a lopsided heel, a Quasimodo heel. Rip it. Start the turn over. Get into enough trouble that you have a blankety-blank gusset hole where none should be, although you've at least managed to progress to the ankle. The gusset hole can be fixed: still, it's a set-back, and this sock is much less lovely than the first.


Gary, bless him, isn't bothered by this: they're utilitarian hiking socks anyhow.

In happier news, this morning I gave a presentation on Narrative Medicine to an over-50 adult education group in town. I've spoken to them before, and they're a lovely audience. This class went especially well because I asked the students to do a writing exercise, and three of them came up to the mike to share what they'd written. We were all blown away by what they read. These were very personal, very brave pieces -- incredibly moving and well-written -- and I felt really good about having helped facilitate their creation. That's awkwardly phrased, but I think you know what I mean! Anyhow, it was a great experience.

After teaching that class and two others today, though, I'm tuckered out! And so to bed!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oh, And . . .

. . . The new license came in the mail today. The photo's indeed horrible, even worse than those things usually are (even worse than the unlovely, misshapen scarf -- and no, I'm not going to post the pic!).

They made me take my glasses off -- this must be new, since I was wearing them in my last license photo -- so I'm peering nearsightedly into the camera, wearing the blank, shocked look of someone who's just been summoned to pick up her father's ashes.

That is, if the person summoned to pick up her father's ashes were a deranged criminal having a mugshot taken after, um, felony nearsighted squinting.


Knitting Ethics

A few days ago, I started experimenting with a technique called double knitting, which produces a double-thick fabric, stockinette stitch on both sides, with the pattern on each side the reverse image of the other.

Here's the other side of the project above. See how the colors are reversed?

So it's a fun little technique, and I'm really enjoying it, although I'm not very good at it yet. I cast on this project with junk acrylic yarn, just to practice, and kept telling myself I'd only work a few rows. But now I'm a few inches into what's starting to look like a scarf, and I don't want to rip it. I want to keep going.

The problem is that the thing's a mess: the gauge is too loose and there are a lot of mistakes. And I won't wear it. I have too many scarves as it is. So here are my options:

1. Be tough, frog the project, and start a real one with better yarn and a tighter gauge.

2. Finish it as practice, and then find a home for it even though it's misshapen and unlovely.

The first choice would be better for my soul, but the second is the one I like. I was thinking of donating the scarf to one of those "warm things for the homeless" drives, but that brings up the ethical issue: is it okay to donate a misshapen, unlovely object to charity just because the recipient can't afford anything better? That's better than the yarn going to waste, I suppose, but would the recipient feel insulted, even though this thing's going to be warmer than heck?

What would Jesus do?

Yeah, I know: Jesus would knit a real one with better yarn and a tighter gauge and give that to the homeless.

What would you do? What should I do? (Does anybody out there want an unlovely, misshapen acrylic scarf in odd shades of blue and purple? Send me your address! It's yours for the asking!)

While you're pondering this dilemma, other bits of news: First, the first day of classes went fine. And my sister and I had a Skype conversation today; we showed each other earrings, craft projects and cats -- the cats were none too fond of the process, however -- and at some point we're going to coax Mom to sit in front of the camera. Yay, Skype! I can't believe this program is free.

Oh, and I'm mid-heel on Gary's second sock, and happily planning more socks. They're becoming less ugly and misshapen all the time, although I'm still learning.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cool Stuff/Warm Stuff

My friend Inez and I just chatted via video -- a first for both of us -- on Skype. It was great fun, and seems like a great way to stay in touch with people. I have to badger my sister into getting a webcam. (And Lee, do you have a webcam?)

In other news, yesterday I gave a brief presentation at the medical school and saw a friend who has a friend who's going into a surgery residency, and who did a fourth-year anatomy elective (which is, I believe, what Dad's body was used for). In addition to reviewing anatomy, the students prepare slides of delicate structures like nerves for study by the first-year class. So Dad may be immortalized in medical slides. I told my friend to try to find out, and if possible, to get pictures of his slides for me.

Inez groaned when I told her this. "Omigod! Susan's showing her slides again!"

"Look: Dad's ganglia! Isn't this thrilling?" We laughed, and I said, "Worse than vacation photos!"

As you can tell, we have similarly warped senses of humor.

And speaking of warped, I finished Gary's first sock, which is -- alas! -- a bit too loose. I was so scared that the sock would be too tight that I overcompensated. I've just started the second one, and when the pair's done, we'll try shrinking them in warm water, although since the yarn's superwash wool, it probably won't work. I'm sad, but resigned. This is a learning process, and the next pair will be better.

And now back to class prep.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Three Birds in Silhouette

Two doves and a finch were perched on our deck railing this morning. I thought they made a nice picture, even in silhouette.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Counting Down

A year ago today, we learned that Dad and Fran had the apartment in Reno. At least this year I'm not running around making moving arrangements and comparison shopping cellphones suitable for the elderly.

And that's a good thing, since I'm quite busy prepping for classes, which begin -- eeep! -- Monday. The med school's started already; I've taught two classes for them (one an hour, one two hours), and I'll be giving a brief presentation up there tomorrow. In the meantime, today I proofread and photocopied the syllabus and handouts for my fiction workshop. Tomorrow I need to finish my freshman-comp syllabus. I try not to be one of those panicky people who photocopies reams of material ten minutes before the first class begins, especially since the photocopier can smell fear and inevitably chooses such moments to break. My stress level's high enough as it is!

I haven't been writing, but really really really want, and intend, to get back to it.

I have been knitting, though. I know: it takes time away from writing, but feels almost as necessary as breathing in through here. Steadies the nerves wonderfully, knitting does. And as addictions go, things could be a lot worse. Yarn's expensive, but at least I get wonderful handmade goodies out of it, and as far as I know, my knitting habit isn't damaging any internal organs.

Gary's first super-hefty hiking sock is almost done. He thought it looked too long, but last night I slipped it off the DPNs onto circulars so he could try it on, and it fits perfectly. I was quite thrilled. This will be one fine pair of socks, if I say so myself.

I'll post photos when I'm done. I'm already planning other socks; I have a bunch of patterns, but it's more fun to browse through my stitch-a-day calendar and figure out my own designs. They're incredibly simple, but they're mine.

The only problem with socks is that you can't spontaneously knit them for gifts, because making them requires measurements: shoe size or (preferably) length of foot, plus circumference of the largest part of the foot, and maybe ankle and calf circumferences too. And I haven't yet figured out a sneaky way to measure the feet of friends and family . . . although my mother, when I told her I was making socks, said, "We don't need socks for Christmas. Socks are a useless gift, unless you're really into socks." C'mon: who doesn't need socks? Especially comfy handknit ones? But I don't have time to knit Christmas gifts this year, so it's a moot point. Plus, my sister's crocheting socks now, so I'm sure she'll take care of the Philly family.

Speaking of Mom and knitting, I made a point of telling her how much more I value her knitting skills now that I knit myself. She made astonishingly skilled and beautiful things for me when I was a kid, and I never properly appreciated them. I wanted her to know that I do now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good News

Here's the e-mail I sent the Anatomical Donations Coordinator on Monday:
I just picked up my father's cremains from Mountain View Mortuary. My sister and I were wondering what use the medical school made of his body. Given the timing, he obviously wasn't used as a medical-school cadaver -- after my phone conversation with you last March, I know that was doubtful anyway -- but was he indeed used to help train flight surgeons, as you had said he might be?

Any information you can give us would be most appreciated. We miss our father very much, and it would be healing for us to know how his donation was used, so we can more precisely picture how he will help others after his death.
And here's the response I got today:
Thank you for your e-mail. Your father's remains were utilized during a summer session by 4th year medical students who will be going into surgery. Please know that his unselfish gift will indeed further medical education in a most significant manner.

Our annual memorial service will be in the spring 2010 and I will be sending out invitations in late March with the details. I encourage you and your sister to attend as it is a lovely event that helps family members with closure in the death of their loved one.
This is a huge relief to me. Dad did some good even after his death, which would have pleased him, and I'll get to go to the med school memorial service. I hope Liz will be able to make it out too, but since she teaches until late June, that's probably not possible.

I'd had a horrible vision of their not being able to use Dad at all, of his body just going to waste. I'm so glad that didn't happen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Picking Up Dad

I ran a bunch of errands today: went to the eye doctor, dashed by the yarn store for a sock book and a new tape measure (Bali ate about three inches of the old one), got a haircut, swam, and went to the DMV to get my license renewed, since I needed a new photo this time. I had to wait about forty-five minutes -- not too unpleasant, since I had knitting with me -- and had just gotten up to a window when my phone rang.

It was the mortuary, telling me that Dad's cremains were ready.

I almost started crying right there in the DMV. We hadn't expected the remains back for months. The timing means that Dad definitely wasn't used as a medical-school cadaver, which had been what I'd wanted. (He wouldn't care; he just didn't want me and my sister to have to pay funeral expenses.) The mortuary couldn't tell me how he'd been used, although they know the med school did something with him. Maybe training flight surgeons to put in chest tubes, which was the original plan?

Anyway, I was in semi-shock, and babbled at the DMV clerk a bit. She was quite young and evidently didn't know what to make of this; she was pleasant enough, but didn't offer any kind of sympathy.

Right afterwards, I had to get my photo taken for the new license. I haven't seen it yet -- the license will arrive in the mail in about a week -- and I suspect it's even more dreadful than most such photos, given the circumstances.

From the DMV, I drove straight to the funeral home, crying as I drove. When I got there, the funeral director waved hello and said, "You didn't have to rush right down here!"

"I wanted to," I said shakily.

No sympathy from him or his assistant, either, although they were perfectly pleasant too. To them, this is just business. The assistant brought out Dad in a box, and nodded when I exclaimed at how small it was, and then they gave me copies of various permits which will, for instance, allow me to transport Dad across state lines or take him on an airplane.

The box is white cardboard. Inside, there's a brown plastic box, and inside that, I'm told there's a plastic bag containing the ashes. I haven't opened it yet. The entire package measures 9" long by 7" deep by 5" high, and weighs eight pounds.

When I left the mortuary I called my sister, who sounded even more shocked and upset than I'd been. "But what happened? Weren't the medical students going to work on him?"

"The body might not have been in good enough shape for that. They almost didn't accept it at all. Listen, I'll call the anatomical donation coordinator when I get home and get some information."

But it's the end of the day, and the anatomical donation coordinator wasn't in. I left a voicemail message, and I'll follow up with an e-mail. Liz and I now have to figure out what to do about memorial arrangements. If this had happened a few weeks earlier, we could have flown down to the Gulf this summer to scatter the ashes, but now there's no time before school starts. So it will probably be next summer.

In the meantime, Dad's resting on the red bookcase he built, which is now in our upstairs hallway. He's surrounded by things he had with him when he was alive. Someone gave him a Santa doll one Christmas, and though he wasn't big on holidays, he always kept gifts like that (he also kept a stuffed animal I gave him, which is now on my study sofa), so the Santa stayed with him to the end. There's another Christmas gift: a green vase with some decorative branches in it and a stuffed cat wrapped around the vase. Dad's friend Kathy gave him that. The branches have now been mostly gnawed and snapped off by our own cats, so I'll have to replace them at some point.

On top of the box are the sunglasses Gary and I got for Dad when he was in the San Francisco VA last November, in that gloriously sunny room overlooking Ocean Beach. In a lot of ways, that was the high point of his five months here in the West: he was still hopeful that he could get medical help, he had a gorgeous view, he was feeling quite well (largely because he was at sea level) and Gary and I got to wander around one of the loveliest sections of one of our favorite cities. At the time, having him there seemed like a crisis, but now I'm nostalgic for that week.

At least now I don't need to wonder when he'll be coming home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Better Socks!

I finished the pink socks this morning. They're far from perfect, but they're better than the blue ones! My next challenge is to do some increases on the top of the foot and put ribbing there so the sock will have more give but still fit. There's probably a pattern for that someplace, but probably not for yarn this thick, so I'm experimenting as I go.

This morning I used some junk yarn to experiment with knitting a sock on two circulars. This has practical advantages: you can't lose needles, it's easier to try the sock on as you're knitting, and airlines allow circs onboard but may not allow DPNs. But while I didn't find the technique difficult, it's a pain in the neck, because you have to keep sliding the knitting onto the needle to work the stitches and off the needle, onto the cable, when you're ready to work the second circular. DPNs are much more straightforward, so I'll stick with them and just won't knit socks on planes.

Kitty in the Bookcase

Saturday, August 15, 2009


From this angle he still looks like a kitten, doesn't he?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lazy Friday

I didn't write today. My bad.

I did hand in my summer grades: late, to my mortification, since I'd misread the instruction sheet, but Admissions & Records accepted them anyway. Thank goodness, since otherwise I'd have had to fill out seventeen change-of-grade forms.

Then I swam for forty-five minutes.

Then I met my friend Marin for coffee. Naturally I'd brought knitting, and she admired the finished pink sock so much that I offered to make her some socks. We'll go yarn shopping when I've finished the pink pair and Gary's hiking socks. She's allergic to wool, so I'll probably wind up working in a cotton blend. A new fiber! Goody!

After coffee, Gary and I went to Trader Joe's, where Marin was also shopping. Great minds think alike! We came home, unloaded groceries, and went out for pizza (with soy cheese for me) to celebrate the end of the summer course. Then we watched the end of Battlestar Galactica. No more Galactica! What will we do?

We'll watch season three of Dexter, and season two of Heroes, and season three of Big Love, and season eight of Scrubs, and season nine of ER, and the Torchwood miniseries, and by the time we get through all of that, there will be an entirely new set of things to watch, and I'll have knitted many socks.

We'll miss Galactica, though, just as we still miss Buffy. We own both shows, either in their entirety or in huge chunks, and Gary's been working his way through Buffy again, but there's just something about knowing that there won't be any new episodes. (Although I hear a full-length BSG movie is in the works.)

Sigh. The road goes ever on and on.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

So Soft!

Moving Right Along

My Tolkien grading's done.

The first Wendy-Johnson sock is done, and the toe of the second started.

Tomorrow, maybe I'll be able to get back to TSWP.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Look, Ma, No Holes!

This, my friend, is a sock heel with no holes, thanks to Wendy Johnson, the Goddess of Socks. I don't have the book -- yet -- but somebody at Ravelry pointed me towards her heel-turning technique, and it works! Hallelujah!

Now I just hope the sock will fit!

In other happy news, tomorrow I give my Tolkien final. Of course, the semester starts a week from Monday and I'm already ridiculously behind, thanks to sock-knitting, but, as I always tell myself, Everything Will Get Done Somehow. And in the meantime, I won't be falling out of my socks.

Oh, note to Lee: on the previous pair, the good bind-off is actually the one on the right, not the left. The left looks neater, but that's because it's a tight weave, which means that getting the sock on your foot is difficult and uncomfortable. On the right-hand sock, I used a much stretchier bind-off, so the sock goes on and off without any trouble. Not as pretty, but much more comfy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Socks Only Their Mother Could Love

Well, here's the first pair of socks I've made for myself. They have more mistakes than you can shake a DPN at, and I won't be wearing them anywhere except in the house, with slippers, but they sure are comfy. Among other things, I've learned that suspended cast-off is definitely the way to go! (This is why the top edge of one sock looks different from the other.)

I tried to take these against a Bali background, but he was very alarmed and ran away. Harley only looks disapproving. Cats always add interest to photos, yes?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yet Another Time Sink

A few days ago, I got yet another invitation to join Facebook. Gary caved in a while ago, but I've stayed away, because I was afraid that if I got sucked in, I'd spend hours there and would get even less done than I get done anyway. In fact, although I'm very fond of various dear friends who've invited me there, I was feeling rather self-righteous about the fact that I wasn't on Facebook. I felt that way before blogging before I started, too.

No, I still haven't joined Facebook. But I have become much more active, perhaps disastrously so, on Ravelry. I signed up months ago, looked at a few patterns and joined two or three groups, and never went back. But in my quest for new and better sock patterns, I revisited the place last week, and since have spent hours downloading free patterns, browsing groups (I now belong to nine, a modest number in Ravelryland), and, yes, getting great sock advice.

My latest project -- as if I need another thing to do! -- is to start a Ravelry group for fiberfolk interested in any aspect of Medical Humanities, especially Narative Medicine or Literature & Medicine. And if this sounds insanely specialized, you haven't browsed Ravelry groups. There's one for people who clean house while listening to their iPods (I swear I'm not making this up). There's one for clumsy people, which I should join but haven't yet. There are zillions devoted to various aspects of charity knitting, and there are a lot of medical groups: for doctors, nurses, patients, physician spouses, med students, medical transcriptionists, and pharmacists, among others.

But to start a group, I need to be able to invite three people. So I've put up notices on various boards asking if anyone else would be interested. So far I've only gotten one response -- although it's early days yet -- so I may not be able to carry through. Which, really, would be just fine, given my time constraints! But if you're on Ravelry and interested in MedHum, give me a shout, okay?

The good news is that last night and today, I got a lot of work done for my freshman comp course this fall, which will be about, you guessed it, Narrative Medicine.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Reno Worldcon a Go!

The 69th World Science Fiction Convention will be held right here in Reno, August 17-21, 2011. Woo-hoo!

Gary and I predict that we'll have a lot of houseguests. We only have extra beds for one couple and one single (unless we keep that double bed in the garage . . . hmmm), but we have lots of floor space for sleeping bags. Reserve your spot early!

Wow, I'll get to go to a Worldcon for a change. What fun!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Good Shift

Today's hospital shift was very fulfilling. The stories I heard were as grim as last week's -- maybe more so -- but I had more energy and felt a lot more resilient. I felt like I was riding the wave of tragedy instead of being smashed underneath it, if that makes any sense (not that this is a kind of surfing one wants to have to do!). My presence made a palpable difference to at least three patients: one who was traumatized and very fearful, but became calmer when I stayed at the bedside during provider visits and procedures; one for whom I arranged help from a community agency after discharge; and one who was very upset and just needed to talk, and to hear that coming to the ER had been both necessary and a sign of strength.

Mind you, my brain still has holes in it. I left my beloved Blackberry in the (fortunately not very heavily used on weekends) bathroom near the chaplains' office, but luckily one of the staff chaplains found it and handed it in to security. The security officers gave me a hard time. "Since it's a weekend, we'll need a $20 pizza donation before you can have it back. Oh, and we used it to call all our friends in Europe; that's okay with you, right?" When they were done having fun, they gave me a lecture. "That's a nice phone, and you're lucky someone didn't walk away with it and run up a big bill."

Yeah, guys, I know. I didn't do it on purpose. Honest.

So the brain's still a little shaky, but the heart's doing a teeny bit better. As for the socks, the jury's out. I stopped by my local yarn shop yesterday and learned that other people get holes with the technique I'd been using, too. Oh, good: it's not just me! The shop owner suggested another technique which also produced holes. I'm going to try Something Completely Different, but not until I get to the heel of my next sock, which will be a while. Meanwhile, we bought yarn for me to make socks for Gary, although I'm not going to start them until I've mastered heels. I hope that happens before I retire!

Friday, August 07, 2009


My mood's been really awful for the last few days, and so has my memory. I'm forgetting things right and left (and no, lists aren't helping right now), not seeing things that are right in front of me, and feeling panicky about work. My summer class ends next week, and then I have a week to get ready for the fall semester. I'm far, far behind where I'd hoped to be right now, and while I'm sure I'll pull everything together (since I always do), it's going to be stressful.

The memory issues (more like mini bouts of amnesia) are scary, but I'm sure they can be chalked up to a combination of grief, menopause, and stress. So I'm actually not overly worried about them, although they're disconcerting and inconvenient.

Meanwhile, though, I'm floundering on TSWP, buried under overdue chores -- renewing my driver's licence, making overdue doctor's and vet appointments, taking care of Dad stuff -- and, generally, crawling along with the energy level of an eggplant. A dead eggplant. A dead eggplant that's been crushed under a semi. My five-small-meals a day regime isn't helping with that right now. I'm so hopelessly behind on e-mail that most of my friends probably think I've fallen off the planet. AND my socks still have holes in them, even though I'm using a heel-turning technique that's advertised as hole-proof!

I'm also missing Dad more than I have for a while, although I'm past the point when most people (especially at work) will cut me any slack for grief. Last August was when he and Fran got the apartment here and when we started planning for the move, so I've now embarked on the series of Dad-in-Reno anniversaries leading to his death. From the very beginning, I've predicted that this is when things would get hard. I don't think it's just a self-fulfilling prophecy that this seems to be exactly what's happening.

Meanwhile, my fall semester's going to include a bunch of exacting and time-consuming committee work, on top of a ton of grading because I'm teaching freshman comp. And for a variety of reasons, I either can't or don't want to say no to anything.

Yeah, I know. I'm projecting: one day at a time, yada yada. Gary and I talked about all this last night, and he said, "Find something to look forward to, and look forward to it." Good advice. I'm looking forward to our Alaska cruise next summer, but that's awfully far away. I'm toying with the idea of going to San Francisco on Labor Day weekend -- especially since Labor Day's my birthday this year -- but right now, the thought of the drive fills me with dismay. And that's also the weekend of the hot-air balloon races in Reno, which I'd really hate to miss. The balloons always make me happy.

Last night I told Gary, "I have holes in my socks, my head and my heart."

He said, "Work on the holes in your socks. You can fix those. The others will take care of themselves."

I hope he's right!

Fluff with Feet

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

All's Fair in Love and War

I'm sorry these videos are so blurry, but this seems to be the best I can do. The beasts are still cute, though, yes?


Monday, August 03, 2009


I'm stalled on TSWP -- I keep reworking the same few pages and don't have much of a sense of what comes after them -- so I stopped working early tonight and settled in with knitting and two episodes of Dollhouse, which we're watching on DVD. It's gotten mixed reviews, and I was uneasy with the misogyny of the early episodes -- especially from Joss Whedon! -- but Gary and I are both liking it much better now. It's gotten complicated and morally ambiguous, and the characters have become more three-dimensional (as one would expect of a Whedon project). It's not Buffy or Firefly, but I'll happily keep watching.

Teal Sock #1 is a few inches from completion. I'm pretty good at toe-up toes now, although I'm still having some trouble turning heels. Wraps are a confounded nuisance, so for this pair of socks I'm using a technique without wraps. The problem is that you still have to count stitches, and for some reason I always lose track unless I use markers, which is also a confounded nuisance. I just found another method that doesn't eliminate the need for counting, but still sounds pretty easy, so I may try that on the next pair.

I'll probably do one more pair for me to see which method I like best, and then start a pair for Gary. The goal's to master heels so he doesn't have to deal with holes and bumpy bits!

Sunday, August 02, 2009


We just had a terrific cloudburst here, which brought with it pea-sized hail. The air's now much cooler than it was. Ahhhhhh!

In other cool-weather news, last week I finished the Bride of the Sock that Ate Reno, although something went wrong with the heel-turning and one of the seams is inside out. I think I know what I did wrong, though.

I've now started a (much!) smaller pair of thick woolen socks, in a lovely teal blue, for myself. If those turn out okay, I'll make some socks for Gary. I asked him what color he wanted and he said "beige," which is the color he always wants. "Meyer beige" is a joke around here.

I wish I could just knit tonight, but unfortunately, I have gobs and gobs of work to do. Miles to go before I sleep . . . but since I conked out after church and slept all afternoon, that should be less of a hardship than it would be otherwise!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Weight of the World

I went to the hospital this morning, but was tired and insecure through my shift. Other people seemed tired too -- we've had unrelenting heat here, which is wearing everyone down -- and, intellectually, I know I did good work. A patient about to be discharged for a minor medical matter confided in me about feeling suicidal, and I passed this along to the medical staff, with the upshot that the patient got necessary help and treatment. This is a great illustration of the principle that patients will tell chaplains things they won't tell doctors or nurses; it's also a reminder that one good visit can make an entire shift. And other patients I visited were grateful, and said so, so it should have felt like a very good shift.

Instead, it felt like a lousy shift. I chalked this up to fatigue and took a longish nap afterwards, but it didn't help much. I think I just heard too many awful stories today, stories about the worst the world can do to people, or that people can do to themselves and each other. There was good stuff too: cute babies, some very cheerful patients, laughter. But the grim stories are the ones weighing on me. I feel like I need a spiritual detox session.

I'll pray about all this, of course. I had a massage yesterday, and may try to get another next week. And we're going to a ooncert tonight, which will probably help. But still, I have images in my head right now that I know will haunt me for a long while.