Thursday, November 26, 2015


This morning I see many Thanksgiving posts on Facebook.  Lots of "gratefuls" and "missing those no longer heres".  It gives me pause this morning.  

My mom has what is possibly terminal breast cancer.  We know for sure it is Stage 4, having reared its ugly little head after 3 years of clean PET scans, this time in the form of a brain tumor. It compromised, most likely permanently, the function of the left eye and the left side of the face in general.  The right eye is similarly affected, though not to the same degree.  That tumor is inoperable, though a large chunk was taken in the name of biopsy last month.

Am I grateful that my mom survived a difficult brain surgery?  That now in addition to the above she has cognitive and speech difficulties as a side affect of the surgery?  I don't know.  If she weren't so cheerful and good-natured most of the time, I would think we were making the wrong decision to keep pushing through with treatment.

We started stereotactic radiation two weeks ago.  It was supposed to be simple; five treatments, every other day.  We were counseled the radiation would temporarily increase inflammation and impairment to the adjacent nerves, ie a reversal of the gains we had made in speech and cognition post-surgery.  We were not prepared for her mouth and throat to become so swollen that she lost the ability to swallow, necessitating a return visit to the hospital to have a PEG tube installed, so we can literally pump fluids, nutrition and meds straight into her stomach.  

Even though it has been six days since the second radiation treatment, recovery of speech has been slow. She is super confused.  She gets lost in the bed.  She has more pain because of the PEG surgery. Her speech is super slurred and it's hard to not get frustrated on both sides.  She even tries to spell, but if I can't understand the letters, then it still doesn't work.  She asks to write it out, but that part of the brain doesn't quite seem to work right now either.  

And of course she still cannot swallow.  "I'm hungry, can I have some soup?"  "No Mom, you can't swallow, remember?  Look, I'm putting lunch right into your tummy, isn't that cool?"  Yes, it's cool, and while she is theoretically getting all of her nutrients and calories, it doesn't replace the smell, taste and sensation of real food.

Last night my mom asked me how long she had been in prison.  "Prison?  You mean the hospital?" "Maybe."  I couldn't help thinking that maybe she thinks she's in hell now, trapped in a body that won't cooperate.  When she's having bad moments, when there's nothing else I can do for pain or to make her feel better, or see the pain in my dad's eyes over the thought that we might be killing her faster than the cancer is with these medical interventions, I think I might be in hell, too.

There are no easy answers here.  We'll get the latest PET scan results back next Tuesday.  We plan to finish radiation next week.  As we get more answers, we'll make more decisions.

Today is Thanksgiving.  I'm thankful that state and federal laws allow me this leave time to care for my mom.  I'm thankful that my employer is a strict adherent of those laws.  I'm thankful for those coworkers that have donated leave time so I got at least one more full paycheck.  I'm thankful for all of the support, prayers and love being constantly sent our way by friends and family.  I'm thankful this time has allowed my dad and I to become closer again as we support each other in our care efforts.  And I'm thankful for those sweet moments with my mom, which reaffirm in these difficult days, at least today I'm doing the right thing.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Adventures in Brain Surgery

10:42am Saturday morning.  I'm walking down the hallway of the 6th floor inpatient rehab center.  Singing a song about ants.  Pushing my mother in a wheelchair.  

"The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah.  The ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah."  My mother chimes in on the hurrahs.  We're walking around to the windows that overlook that small park.  "The ants go marching one by one and the little one stops to suck his thumb (she giggles), and they all go marching down, to the ground, where it does not rain, boom-boom-boom."  More singing along with the "booms".  

We keep walking, well, I keep walking, and in between more verses in which I try desperately to remember what the littlest ant is doing in the fourth line, we take breaks to look out hospital windows and at the paintings lining the hallways.  

Hey mom, what's in that painting?
I don't know.
Are these red flowers poppies?  I point.

At the farthest point in our stroll is a large 6-story curved window.  The view is impressive.  She peers down at a couple walking on the street below.  "They looks so small from here, like ants," I observe.  She looks around for more ant-people.

On the morning of October 15, my mother underwent a left craniotomy for a brain tumor biopsy.  The scans showed a large cherry-tomato sized tumor, growing bilaterally from the base of the brain, damaging the nerve responsible for facial sensation, including the inside of the mouth, and ocular function, which controls eye and eyelid movement.  What the tumor was impeding in functionality was also producing huge amounts of nerve pain.  Entwining itself around crucial nerves, the tumor itself was inoperable, but it was deemed important enough to possible treatment outcomes to risk surgery and biopsy the tumor.  

The surgery was complicated by the location of the tumor.  Imagine a space nearly dead center in your skull, surrounded by crucial parts of the brain.  Yep, that's where it was.  The language center of the brain was shifted over to remove a large chunk of tumor.  Now the brain has to recover from the trauma of being poked and moved around.  So here we are at rehab.  

My mother requires 24/7 care.  Medically she is fairly stable, but she cannot walk without assistance and is very weak.  Short term memory is nil.  Certain aspects of speech and cognition are not available.  The nerve damage affecting the use of her eyes has not gone away, so she has very limited vision.  

Through all of this she is mostly cheerful.  Her world revolves around meal times, therapy and needing to pee, which is announced suddenly and urgently.  She often uses a sing-song, small voice, and sometimes the best way to get her to vocalize is to sing songs.  Hence singing about ants as we walked.  

Her pleasures are simple.  A sympathy card is carefully read and admired.  She reads every part, even the designer mark on the back and the postmark on the envelope.  A new puzzle with flowers make her eyes big and wide.  She oohs and ahhs over the colors.  Tell her she has a visitor and she lights up, full of smiles.  She may not talk much, but she's always following the conversation, nodding here and there.  The essence of my mother is still there with her generous nature and usually good humor.

In rehab she gets three hours of therapy a day.  It includes use of the walker, strengthening, dexterity and balance. We get training too, how to help her move safely, use equipment, etc.  One session is dedicated to speech therapy, which is sometimes the most frustrating session for her.   

Losing a piece of my mother in this way was not something I expected going into the surgery.  The biopsy results confirmed breast cancer metastasis.  We can't consult with the medical or radiation oncologists until she has progressed further.  I don't know how I'm going to balance working with caring for my mom.  Even doing shifts with my dad, this is a full time job.  

And the neuralgia pain seems to be coming back.  Over the past three days, she has gone from no pain, an unexpected blessing of the biopsy, to needing pain intervention.  How this will affect her rehab and brain recover is too early to tell.  We're repeatedly told by staff that stimulation and activity are needed to improve function, but how to balance stimulation, rest AND pain is another unknown.  

Today is another day.  We've briefly ventured outside with the wheelchair to look at flowers.  Now we are watching tv (her request).  It's fun to watch her reactions to the commercials.  The Colonel was telling us about his chicken, that its finger lickin' good.  She smiles and nods, "Yep".

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beekeeping: An Introduction

Until six weeks ago, I'd never been stung by a bee.  Nope, not once.  I didn't avoid them.  Just call it good bee karma.  I gave them their space to do their bee thing and moved deliberately and slowly around them.  We had an understanding.

And then I met him.  Never mind that he lives in the Central Valley.  He's a hobby beekeeper, transitioning to professional.  Rehabilitating part of the family farm, living mostly off-grid.  How could I resist?  Ok, we'll go for the obvious simile that I was drawn in like a bee to nectar.

Which is why I find myself in Oroville, picking up fifty packages of bees for hive expansions.  Each of the boxes pictured below contains 2-3 pounds of bees and a queen.  This is the start of fifty new hives.

Of course this was during one of our warm spells in April, so the bees and I were happy to arrive in Dos Palos.  It had rained the day before, so the air was clear and the moon was rising through shades of purple over the field of onions.  It was almost enough to fall in love with the valley again.  (Not really, but it was beautiful.)

The next day we started the process of opening each package and shaking (yes, literally) into the hive.  Each box is placed near the hive entrance where any stragglers can make their way into the new home.  The queen is in a special wood and mesh box called a queen cage.  To ensure the bees accept that queen as their own, a candy plug is placed in the end of the queen cage.  By the time the workers have chewed through the candy, she will be accepted by the workers and can begin to move around the hive.

Each pallet below has two hives on it.  We did fifty hives.  It was a long day.  After shaking the bees, we gave them a pollen patty and sugar syrup.  The extra nutrients help the new hive get a jump start and prevent them from swarming. 

During that first day, I was wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a veil.  I was actually stung through my long-sleeved shirt on the shoulder just after my friend was stung.  I didn't have much of a reaction for my first sting.  Of course, it's not the first sting that matters.  It's the second one...

This little darling decided to visit for a bit while we took a break in the shade.    She's busy cleaning off the sugar water we sprayed on the package to keep them from being too mobile.

And when he offers me my own hive?  Of course I'm not saying no.  I bring home package number fifty.  I'd already repainted the old school wooden boxes, so it was a simple enough matter after doing forty-nine packages to set up my own hive.

Ta dah!  Look!  I have bees!  Riley approves.

You can see the orientation of the package to the front of the hive, to facilitate the workers moving into their new home.  A check a few weeks later shows a happy and productive hive.  In the first frame, you can see capped honey in the upper left, and some pollen deposits mixed in with brood (baby bees) in the center.  If you look really closely in the center you can just about see some c-shaped white larva that will be capped by the nursery bees soon.

Here you can see lots of capped brood.  While capped they transition from larvae to adults, analogous to a caterpillar metamorphosing into the adult butterfly.  In a few more days these brood will begin to hatch, chewing their way out

Bonus shot of Riley on the ranch!  The lighting really was phenomenal that day.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

"Cat People Are Smarter Than Dog People"

You know, I see headlines like the one from Huffington Post below, and I realize that most people I know now would consider me a dog person. Yet I am solidly from a family of cat people, was raised with multitudes of cats (at one time we had six for a 1.2:1 cat:people ratio).

Well, on reflection perhaps it would be best to say that I was raised in an animal friendly environment. In the first 18 years of my life, we had eight cats, two dogs, anoles, box turtles, fish, rats (rats rule!), an iguana, a garter snake, a couple of hamsters (rats are better!)... I feel like I'm forgetting something.

And for the record, I had two cats when I got my Corgi pup, in addition to dairy goats and chickens. I'd have cats now if I could. And goats. Chickens. Maybe a bunny. Yeah, baby bunnies are cute!

So, what do they say about animal people in general? Hmm...

Cat People Are Smarter Than Dog People, New Study SAN FRANCISCO — "Dog people" and "cat people" really do have different personalities, according to a new study. People who said they were dog lovers in the stu...

A few pics of family members gone but not forgotten...  Wish I had more pictures!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Kool-Aid Dye Project

My fiber guild proposed a challenge this year: dye fiber with kool-aid, make something and display all of the resulting projects in the fiber room at our annual county fair.

Seems like a good idea, but I floundered for inspiration for awhile until I saw someone's fabulous handknitted kneehigh socks on Ravelry.  They had wonderful striping action, and I knew I wanted some for myself.  Now, the socks I admired were from handspun yarn, but I wasn't going to have time to dye fleece and handspin the yarn for the socks.

So I compromised.

Knowing that 100g of sock yarn doesn't quite yield a pair of knee high socks (think mid-calf), I purchased 2-100g of undyed yarn from  Now, I could have dyed the fiber in the skein, but I wanted stripy rather than variegated yarn.  So borrowing a friend's knitting machine (thank you Lindsey!) I turned each skein into matching sock blanks.

Now I had a canvas onto which I could paint kool-aid stripes.

Using Biscuits and Jam random strip generator, I selected my colors and stripe width and repeat parameters, printed out the result and had a guide for my stripe pattern.

The dyeing is pretty easy.  Kool-aid is considered edible and non-toxic (depending on who you ask, right?), and pretty easy to use, with a minimum of prep.  Knitty has an excellent tutorial on dyeing with Kool-Aid, complete with colors achieved from different flavors.
Mixing up the colors, two packets per color.
Ready to dye, the two blanks laid out together.

Wrapped in plastic, ready for microwave "steaming" to set the color.

On display at the fair with other kool-aid projects.  If you look closely you can see the beginning of a toe in the upper left.

Best thing?  The socks still smell like strawberry kool-aid.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

There and back again, a fiber tale

It's that time of year again, when vendors, knitters and other fiber enthusiasts descend upon the Santa Clara convention center for the annual Stitches West convention, where there is easily an acre of booths all selling yarn and fiber related stuff.  This is the best opportunity to see indie dyers and craftpeople in person, touch yarns you've only see in glossy pages on through the gentle blue glow of the computer screen.

Last year at this convention I struggling with epic pneumonia, and had no idea how radically my life was about to change.  It was nice to relax and get high on yarn fumes with a few thousand like minded fiber enthusiasts.  It's one of those rare times when my knitting worlds converge into one place, including Auburn Knit Night, MeadowFarm, and Fiber Trash Girls, as well as friends from the blogosphere and Ravelry.

There were pajama parties, great food, and lots of squealing over color, fiber and accessories.  Here's my acquisitions for this year.

Miss Babs' Yowza.  540 yds of luscious hand-dyed yarns.  This is going to become a Harmonia's Rings sweater.

This was the first time I've seen Western Sky Knits, but fell in love with this glitter sock yarn in the Rustic Rainbow colorway.  I've made socks before in the same yarn base, and they're yummy.

Of course I had to acquire more Abstract fiber.  This is Polworth in Lauren Hurst colorway.

And I took my very first stitches class this year, a fair isle for socks how to with Janel Laidman, author of such sock wonders a Sole Enchantments.

Another Coco Knits pattern that just could not be resisted.  I'll have to see what I have in stash to make this...

And, I won this awesome organizer from Chicken Boots in the daily prize drawings.  I had just been admiring Rowen's organizer when other friends informed me that they'd hear my name announced as a winner, and I was thrilled with my prize!

Friends, food, fiber, so much to absorb...  My senses are still reeling with everything seen, touched, tasted, heard and felt.  I'm really going to sleep well tonight!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Unpacking, The Saga

I’m sitting in my new place,  500 sq ft of laminate floors, double-paned windows, European-style fixtures and soft lighting.  I love it.  My first night I unpacked most of my kitchen, much of which has been packed away for nearly eight years.  I happily washed and dried for hours, reacquainting myself with my paternal grandmother’s crystal and glassware, my maternal grandmother’s cast iron pots and pans, my own dishes and hand crafted pottery mixing bowls.  It’s by no means organized, but its clean and unpacked.
Not so with my beloved books.  The shelving is all up, but every time I look at the pile of boxes, I hesitate.  What’s holding me back?  Finally tonight, a week later, I jumped in while dinner was cooking.  Pulled a box off the shelf, opened it, and put it on the shelf.  It’s a box of games, including the fabulous card game Munchkin and Lord of the Rings trivial pursuit.  That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Ok, on to the next box.  Oh, my knitting books.  I’ve had access to those all this past year.  Right, up you go in a place of honor.  Next box.  Some paperbacks.  Excellent, I haven’t read those in over a year, they’ve been all packed up during the divorce and in storage.
And then it hit me.  For some odd reason that I cannot explain to myself, and yet try to share here, maybe I’m not quite ready for these books to come out of their boxes. 
I’ve never been without books, and can barely remember a time that I couldn’t read.  I’ve kept childhood favorites like Hans Christian Anderson, Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, and Anne of Green Gables.  I read and reread old friends like Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Charles de Lint.  New friends too; Kim Stanley Robinson, Barbara Kingsolver and Frances Mayes.  Then there’s the host of reference books; knitting, natural histories, geology, herbals, gardening.  Anyone who’s helped me move knows that I love my books and don’t like to be parted from them.
So upon opening the next box, it hits me, these are intimate relationships I’m reviving.  The oldest of the books have been with me a very long time, and they have anima from being handled so long.  Like the very best of friends, they don’t resent our separation.  They understand and are glad to be welcomed back into my life and on the shelf, but my memories around these books are complex.  The books aren’t different, but I am, and handling them now reminds me that I’m not the same person I was when I packed them away.  No wonder I’ve barely been able to look at these boxes.
Each box, each book, more than any of my other possessions, forces a reminder of who I am, complete with all of the changes.  I’m still not always sure how I feel about all of these changes, hence the hesitation putting books on shelves. How can I reconnect with my books when I’m still figuring out my own story.  This could take awhile…  In the meantime, it’s time to put away dinner and maybe open another box.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Green Sweater Project: Dyeing

Another belated post, this time from August 2011.  

In July I started cleaning a Romney fleece acquired locally from a friend in the fiber guild, resulting in about 5 pounds of decently clean wool.  I had decided at some point that I wanted this to be a sheep-to-sweater event, just to say I'd done.  I decided that I wanted a rich, multi-toned green, maybe even a bit heathered. 

So I pulled out my dye sample book and newer color box, picked out the colors that made my heart sing, and set about dyeing.

First is soaking the wool in hot water with a splash of vinegar. 

I found I could comfortably work with about 3/4 pound at a time.  More than that and things got unwieldy, and the fiber didn't have much room to move in the dye pot.  I used a large steamer tray insert in a buffet server to do my immersion dyeing.

Here's a result of the primary color drying on the rack.

I processed a total of six batches over about four days.  Two of the primary green, three of other shades, and one of a fuschia that was supposed to be a bit more salmon as a contrast color.  We'll have to see how that works out during the blending.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More fuzzy babies!

At five days old, Dharma's babies were happily scampering about, so we decided they could be let out of the birthing stall.  I usually do this at around three days, but because Sprawl couldn't walk, we held off a bit.

Turns out it was really good timing.  We heard sounds coming from the pasture that afternoon, and upon investigation we found Maharani had quietly given birth around 2pm to twins.  We each grabbed a baby, dried them off, cleaned out the birthing stall and installed the new momma and babies.  She had a boy and a girl, and just like Dharma's babies, they are both fuzzy.

When all the excitement was over, we found Sprawl, Spunk and Spot piled up outside napping after their first afternoon in the pasture.

I especially love Spot's ears.  She looks like a little bunny.

We continue to give supplemental bottles to Spot and Sprawl. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

A new way to sample

I first leaned to dye samples last year with Sara Lamb and the Fiber Trash Girls.  Then Jan showed up this summer with a dye sample box, rather than a binder.  Using embroidery floss organizers, she samples small amounts of dye, keeping very accurate records of the combinations used, then wraps the small amount of yarn around an embroidery floss bobbin for easy viewing. Her idea was featured in Interweave's Fall Color ezine, Spin Knit

I loved this idea, and set out to increase the amount of sample colors I had.  I began by sampling my primary Lanaset colors: turquoise, mustard, yellow, scarlet, fuchsia, and navy and black.  I sampled each at DOS 2%, 1%, .5% and .25% to have a range of tints.  Four jam jars fit nicely into the crock pot for steaming.

I then picked my favorite two-color blends and sampled at 2%, 1%, 1% with a drop of black added, and .5%.  Here's a different selection of greens drying.

Here are a selection of my colors, all wrapped up and ready for their box.

This project is by no means even close to being finished, and it'll take me a very long time on my current schedule to fill my sample box.