"Be conservative in what you do; be liberal in what you accept from others.” Jon Postel

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Another Birthday

Today I am 63 years old, and I look back over a year that took me by surprise. None of us knows what lies ahead, and the Universe decided to use a sledgehammer to remind me of that truth over the past 12 months.

A year ago I was:

- a workaholic, juggling many different sets of responsibilities at my job.

- a person who got little exercise and who weighed more than I liked.

- glued to a computer screen for almost my entire day.

- feeling isolated much of the time.

- dabbling in mindfulness meditation, but without a practice.

- surprisingly healthy and prone to occasional feelings of well being, given all of the above.

Today I am:

- retired, and loving it. I feel no guilt at all about not showing up to work any more!

- a person with stage IV cancer.

- a person who is significantly more active. I go for a walk every day, and in general try to stay on my feet.

- still a lover of the computer and the smart phone, but not as tied to them.

- overwhelmed by the love of so many people.

- a person with a mindfulness meditation practice - although every practice can be strengthened.

- surprisingly healthy and prone to more frequent feelings of peace and well being, given all of the above.

Whatever happens in the next year, I will be fine.

And now I’m heading out the door to join my family for the wedding of my nephew, which is a celebration of Life - all our lives and all of our stories, including my own.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Where There's Hope, There's a New Sweater

One of the issues I grappled with early after diagnosis was: what the heck do I knit now? Sweaters and lace shawls are wonderful to make and wear, but they take a while to complete. An added consideration is how much wear they will get now that I’m retired. I could certainly wear that gorgeous lace-bottomed cardigan around the house, but will I? Does this mean that I had best restrict myself to small projects and gifts for other people to wear?

Gifts are another issue all by themselves. It’s surprisingly difficult to knit a gift that the recipient likes, or uses. Socks are the best bet, but even they are problematic.

I have resolved this issue by deciding to knit what I feel like knitting. This means that I now have a new sweater. I finished it in time to wear on a recent trip to Cape Cod (although not in time to wear to my retirement dinner).

Here I am in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts, by a memorial to Rachel Carson. Wood’s Hole is a fascinating spot, as scientific work provides a lot of jobs in the area though NOAA and the Marine Biological Laboratory. I found out that Rachel Carson worked for NOAA. She is an important person in my life, because her book Silent Spring was my introduction to ecology.


Other views of the sweater:

IMG_2535-2014-10-9-17-32.jpg IMG_2540-2014-10-9-17-32.jpg

The pattern is Damariscotta, designed by Marnie MacLean and available at the Twist Collective. I knit it in a Canadian yarn, Specialty Designer Yarns 50% Bamboo 50% Merino. It’s soft and cushy, warm and breathable. The sweater has shaping, is knit from the top down in the round, and was designed to have cap sleeves. When I got the body done, I had a lot of yarn left, enough to make 3/4 length sleeves. They seem more appropriate to the weight of the yarn and the tone of my arms than the original sleeve would have been.

The pictures above are a good demonstration of how hard it is to photograph yarn colors accurately. Three photographs, three shades of purple. The actual sweater is very close to Radiant Orchid, Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2014.

As for hope, blood tests indicate that the targeted chemotherapy I’m taking is working, and I am feeling remarkably well. I have cast on a lace shawl to celebrate.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I am not a rock. I am not an island.


After a busy couple of months, I have retired, and I am under treatment.

The treatment is a pill taken first thing in the morning. The medicine is very expensive, to all of us in the aggregate although not to me as an individual. Thank goodness for good health insurance. I do have a genetic mutation in the cancer and am able to take targeted treatment. I’m dealing with some side effects, but they aren’t as uncomfortable as full-bore chemo.

I’ve been taking care of business. New wills and powers of attorney are executed, my passwords are in a sealed envelope in the lawyer’s safe, beneficiaries are updated, and expenses have been dialed back. I finished my job as neatly and completely as possible, and left matters in good shape for my successor. All of this is liberating. As each task gets done, there is more time to simply enjoy living.

I am an oldest child, and I’ve spent much of my life being a responsible person. Now I am pulling back from that role. At the moment, I have very few responsibilities and I am loathe to add any beyond care of friends and family, and paying the bills on time.

I’ve been the rock, the person you can count on. Not any more. It’s time for a new role, and a life lived more lightly.

At the same time, I have never felt less isolated in my life. The abundance of love I have been shown by family and friends is overwhelming. I never realized before how many people care. All I can do in return is love back. There is a lot of peace in loving.

I have a new way of living to explore, and I am surprisingly happy to be in this place.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Knitting Blog: A Most Successful Sweater

Knitting a sweater to completion becomes more daunting as the years go by. The reason: My standards for success keep becoming more refined. There are so very many ways to screw up a sweater, all of which may result in an unflattering, poorly fitting, or uncomfortable item of clothing on which you have spent a long time, and probably a substantial amount of money. Yarn does not come cheap. I think many knitters have thought, while wandering through racks of sweaters in a clothing store, “I could knit that for twice the price!”

I started this project with one strike against it: I could not make gauge in my trial swatches. The yarn I wanted to use was Reynolds Coco, a discontinued yarn purchased at a bargain price years ago from a yarn store that has been long closed. The yarn was just a wee bit finer than the yarn used to create the original sample for the pattern, so the fabric that felt and looked right had slightly more stitches and rows per 4 inches than the specified gauge. I did some figuring, and decided to cast on a size larger than I would have knit if the yarn could match the pattern gauge. The yarn was worth the attempt - a luscious blend of wool and rayon with lovely sheen and drape and a rich, glowing emerald color.

The pattern: “Lorelei”, designed by Tonia Barry and published by the Twist Collective. I cast on my first stitches on November 17, 2012. Emerald was Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2013, and I was excited by the idea of finishing a sweater in 2013 in that year’s color. I then proceeded to be diverted by a number of smaller , less risky projects. As 2013 drew to a close, I realized that I needed to actually spend time knitting this sweater if I ever wanted to actually wear it. I finally finished it on April 14, 2014, just as it became too warm to wear wool sweaters. Oh well, I am ready to face this coming winter in style.

This might be the nicest sweater I have ever knit for myself.


A detail of the lace pattern at the bottom of a sleeve:


I read the pattern carefully when I started the sweater, and I realized that I couldn’t knit it as-is and be completely happy with the end result. I wanted a cast-on edge that would blend into the lace texture. The pattern needed one extra stitch (a selvedge stitch) at the sides, where the sweater would be sewn together. It also needed a better buttonhole. Here are my notes on my project page on Ravelry:

  • Use of a selvedge stitch is highly recommended! I don’t understand why one wasn’t designed in to make the lace match perfectly when the sweater is sewn up.

  • If you use a selvedge stitch, you will need to reverse the moss rib pattern on the sleeve bottom for the rib to flow into the lace pattern.

  • I used Techknitter’s Tulips buttonhole. A sweater like this deserves the best buttonhole you can give it.

  • I used the Rib Cable Cast-on described at http://www.keep-on-knitting.com/rib-cable-cast-on.html. It produced a beautiful edge to the sweater that works perfectly with the moss rib specified for the first few rows.

  • I’m happy with the result of my gauge substitution on my body. Warning to another knitter considering a similar gauge substitution: you may find the fit at the armscye to be too tight. This sweater fits me more like a blouse than a cardigan in the underarm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My World Turned Upside Down

A month ago, my life changed forever at an 8:45 AM doctor visit.

I had been “doctoring” for several weeks, trying to solve persistent constipation that was accompanied by a slight difficulty in breathing. After a variety of interventions had failed to solve the problem, my doctor ordered a CT scan of my abdomen and a blood test that flags lung problems. When the blood test results came back with very high markers, I received an urgent call from my doctor’s office, telling me to go back to the hospital stat for a CT scan of my chest. This scan confirmed that I had a large pleural effusion, or build-up of liquid in the pleural cavity of my left lung. A lung specialist drained my lung in the emergency room and sent a sample off for analysis. There were cancer cells in that fluid.

So what do you do when you learn on a Monday morning that you have lung cancer?

You say ungraceful things. You cry. You discuss the best options for care with your doctor, and follow his recommendations. And in my case, you go to work, where at least there was something I could do. I don’t think my husband and I could have done each other much good had I gone home, our feelings were too raw.

It’s been a busy month, filled with appointments with new doctors, financial planning, and communication with friends and family. My heart has grown at least a size from the love I am receiving from every direction.

I am still working, but I will retire at the end of August. My job is too demanding to balance with treatment and rest.

I am getting consistent messages from the medical specialists who are helping me that this cancer probably isn’t curable with the treatments they can offer, but that I am healthy and that they think the cancer can be managed as a chronic illness. The first step is to get a sample of the cancer for genetic analysis. I am going to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester on Friday to do just that. The surgeon will also seal the pleural cavity of my left lung, so that I don’t have to have it drained regularly. I have had a surge of courage these past few days, and I can do this.

I want to write more frequently here. I keep making notes of thoughts I notice and want to puzzle through as I talk out loud with my keyboard in this personal space. It’s hard to find time right now - I began this blog post days ago, and had intended to write in much more detail. I like this shorter version. Soon I’ll be living at a slower pace, and will have more time to write.

I don’t intend for this to become a cancer blog, however. I’m still knitting, and I’m still living a life that is bigger than the cancer within me.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I’ve endured the weather of this cold, icy, snowy winter with few complaints, other than joining in the general conversation. The wood stove, 2nd floor office (where I benefit from the rising of heated air), electric blanket, down coat, and bounteous collection of warm knitted clothing have kept me warm.

What has been more difficult has been enduring loss, and grief.

First we lost Patches, our 17 year old calico cat. She developed a severe urinary tract infection in December. We treated her, but the infection returned in January. A bunch of tests didn’t turn up an underlying condition, so she had a second round of treatment. This cat hated being doctored, but somehow we managed to administer three weeks of medication, and she seemed to rally for a few days. Right about the time we were to take her back for a checkup, she began to fail. In early February we took Patches to the vet for the last time.

Almost immediately after Patches’ death, our cat Mewah’s long, slow decline accelerated. She was more than 20 years old and was already thin. Suddenly she began to look gaunt, to smell faintly of urine even after a bath, and to lose her interest in food. Some research on the Internet led us to conclude that her kidneys were failing. We did our best to find food she would eat but nothing worked past a few days. Meanwhile, she was on the move constantly, and we realized that she was uncomfortable. On her last day, however, she spent quiet time in each of her favorite spots in the house: sleeping in a sunbeam on the futon in the guest room, curled up by the pillow on our daughter’s bed, on her favorite down-filled comforter in the living room, and on the warm sandstone that tops our wood stove enclosure. That night, she climbed up the steps to our room and meowed by the bed. She slept between our pillows for a few hours, until it was time to wake up. When we brought her downstairs, she was no longer able to drink water, and we knew it was time to release her indomitable spirit from her aged body.

Her death was calm, peaceful, and painless. It happened almost exactly two weeks from when we said goodbye to Patches.

I’ve cried so much for this cat, as she failed, and after her death. She was a special part of our daughter’s childhood, her beloved companion. Saying farewell to her ended a chapter in our lives. Ana wasn’t able to be here to be with Mewah at the end, so we had the vet take clay paw prints for her. As for us, we have a drawing on a shelf fungus that Ana made many years ago, serving as a tangible reminder of a little girl and a little cat.


And then, a week ago we learned that our dear friend Vivian had died in her sleep.

Vivian served on the town board with Robert during a troubled time in our town, and we became friends. You learn a lot about a person in adversity. I learned that she was a person with a huge heart and the capacity, as her son said, to take a lemon and make five gallons of lemonade. Her daughter-in-law talked about staying at Vivian’s house for several days during the 1998 ice storm, and said she had never laughed so much in her life.

We were far from her only close friends. At the evening calling hours, we waited for an hour and a half to talk with her family, and the afternoon calling hours had been as crowded. It was standing room only the next day at her funeral. Vivian was not rich in worldly goods, but she may have been the richest person I’ve ever known in people who loved her.

We would all have loved her to stay with us longer, but no one can deny that she left us in the best way possible. On Saturday night, she was at a large, happy party with her extended family, hugging, kissing and laughing with friends and family. Then she went home and went to bed, and died peacefully in her sleep.

Several days ago, as I drove to work, I said out loud, “I am in mourning,” and experienced a shock of realization. It has been a long time since I’ve mourned, and it’s a state that few of us are prepared to weather gracefully. I don’t think that mourning is a selfish state. As I explore what it means, however, it seems to be more about what I have lost than what those three loved ones lost when they died. This is food for my meditations, as I touch the edge of the mysteries of the finiteness of life and the nature of suffering. I can feel some joy and gratitude through my tears, that we share our lives and care with other creatures, and that I was fortunate enough to know Vivian.

I end with an image of Mewah and Patches sharing Robert’s lap.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ice Storms 1998 and 2013: Compare and Contrast

My Christmas holiday is my favorite of the year. I take a week and a half off from work and make as few plans as possible. Knitting, spinning, reading, cooking and eating good food, spending time with family and friends, and general indolence are my priorities.

This year our holiday plans were rearranged by an ice storm that brought back memories of Ice Storm ’98, the only natural disaster I’ve directly experienced. We were lucky - the storm fell short of the ’98 standard in the end. Still, it was a major weather event that will affect the rest of the winter and that will require hours and hours of clean-up work come spring.

I wrote a 100 page journal in 1998, so I have a historical record to refer to as I compare and contrast my memories of the two weather events. It surprises me to find myself emotionally moved by the tale of those days, when we had a 9 year old daughter and 84 year old stepparent in our home. She’s all grown up and he is dead, but my words bring back memories of them, and of a younger me.

Onset: Advantage 2013

The most eerie similarity was in the onset of the two storms. In both cases, the icy rain fell for days and built up gradually. My journal says that the icing began on Monday January 5 and concluded with a heavy rainstorm during the night of January 7. The December 2013 storm began on Friday December 20 and ended on Sunday, with ice building up gradually.

A key difference between the storms: on Sunday night, the temperature rose above freezing and stayed there all night. When we woke up the next morning, much of the built-up ice had fallen from the trees, and the world looked much less dangerous. I don’t record in my journal when “ice off” occurred in 1998, but it seems to have been days later.

Length of Power Outage: Advantage 2013

In 1998, we lost power early in the morning on January 8, and had power restored on January 26 - that’s 19 straight days of power loss. We bought a generator from out of area, and hooked it up for the first time on January 15. I’m still grateful to my stepmom for researching an appropriate machine and finding a supplier. That generator now lives in a cute A-frame shed next to our power entrance, and kept us comfortable nearly 16 years later.

Compared to 1998, this outage was a piece of cake. We lost power on December 21 and had it restored on December 23.

Damage to Infrastructure: Advantage 2013

Our basic support systems took heavy damage in 1998. On the fourth day of the disaster, a friend came over with a log skidder to open up our very long driveway, which was covered with downed trees. The skidder pushed the trees aside like matchsticks, but on its way out, a downed power line caught on the skidder’s axle, and the machine pulled down the entire line along our driveway, snapping the pole with our main entrance in half.

We also lost our running water, which was a crappy system anyway. We brought water up to our house from a well that had been drilled in the wrong place, above ground across ledge rock, over a brook, and underground up a hill. We had to run a trickle all winter to keep the system from freezing up, and it froze solid early on with no pump to keep that trickle going.

When I remember what our homeowner’s insurance did for us, replacing our main electrical entrance and paying for a new drilled well right by the house, I pay my premiums without complaint.

In 2013, we had one broken window, from a branch falling from a tree.

Damage to Trees: Advantage 2013

Here’s a quote from my 1998 journal: “Almost every tree south of the house is broken - tops broken off. Only the evergreens are intact. Of the three maples next to the house one is probably gone and one is not in very good shape. The poplars in front of the house look like ship’s masts.”

One thing we learned in the aftermath of 1998 is that trees have amazing recuperative powers. We gave many maple and black cherry trees around our home a chance, and they grew new branches and regained health and beauty.

Those darn poplars were goners, though. Good riddance.

We have plenty of fallen limbs on the ground from the 2013 storm, but damage is significantly lighter than 16 years ago. We heard a lot less crack - whoosh - tinkle, which was the constant sound for a couple of days in 1998. That said, some of the trees near our house that were spared in 1998 may not be so lucky this time. One maple tree that is dangling a broken branch above our solarium windows will surely go. Robert and I are both wondering if our choice to have a lot of trees growing close to our home is a wise one, and we aren’t going to keep any tree with a significant flaw.

Household logistics: Advantage 2013

Simply put: fewer people with fewer needs. In 1998 we had a 9 year old child and a partially disabled 84 year old man living with us. This time it was just the two of us.

Connectivity and Technology: Advantage 2013

Re-reading my journal, I am struck with how isolated we felt in the early days of the 1998 storm. We lost phone service, and that loss was wide spread throughout our region. Because Robert was Town Supervisor at the time, the phone company ran a line on top of the snowbanks to hook us up again; if he had not been a “very important man”, who knows how long we would have had to wait. My journal records our searches for functioning radio stations for news, and our happiness when the local public radio station went back on air. (Fortunately we had a radio with batteries.)

Now there is a cell phone tower a mile from us that was up and running throughout the power outage. Not only did we never lose phone service on our cells, we never lost access to the Internet. Woah. Just like remote areas in less developed parts of the world, where cell phones connect people to the world. I’ve read the thoughts of people who think that phones are more powerful devices than computers, and I feel like I experienced that first hand.

One weakness we have addressed: we were using phones on our landline that required electricity to function. They are gone, replaced by a Cortelco phone that gives us all the goodies we love, like a digital screen showing caller ID of incoming calls, but needs only to be hooked to the phone line. No more power adapter on our phone!

Emergency Preparedness: Advantage 2013

Our utility companies and local governments were poorly prepared for a major ice storm in 1998. Right-of-ways were clogged with underbrush grown too big, communication systems were poorly developed, and preparedness was on a back burner. Cue Frank Zappa: “It Can’t Happen Here.”

There’s been a greater emphasis on emergency preparedness everywhere you look since then, and there’s a formal structure designed to get up and running quickly to address needs. On the county level, we were fortunate that one of the County’s most effective department heads was serving as interim head of emergency services. On the local level, our highway and fire departments were on the job from the first indications that we had another major storm on the way. The clean-up from 1998 removed a lot of trees from the right-of-ways, and our town and utilities are more aggressive than they used to be at keeping growth cut back, so there were a lot fewer down lines.

Personal preparedness was better, too, mainly due to that generator. We have areas of needed improvement, though. Our oil lamps need new wicks, and we couldn’t find a reserve of lamp oil. We also need to make sure we have an adequate stock of batteries of different sizes on hand at the beginning of winter.

Physical Strength and Stamina: Advantage 1998

Another place where the facts are simply put: Robert and I are 16 years older. Also, Robert was struck with a vicious viral infection as the ice started to fall, and was sick and exhausted for the entire storm.

Some photos of the 2013 storm:


The view from the kitchen window on Saturday 12/21.

The rest of the pictures were taken on Sunday 12/22.


Fallen black cherry limbs.


We go for a walk. Robert and Samwise provide scale as we head away from the house towards an outbuilding.


Horizontal birch and constricted evergreens.


The top of a young white pine. The top eventually snapped off of this tree. Its lifespan is doomed to be short in any event, as it is growing in the right-of-way under the power lines.


Another doomed young white pine.


The only place along our power line where an overhanging tree would short out the line.


An icy lattice wall, and the shed that houses our trusty generator. That’s another tree that is already history, pushed down by the heavy equipment that finished clearing our driveway.