Saturday, December 20, 2008
With itajime, I prepare the cloth as meticulously as I can, dye very carefully, and hold my breath when it comes time to unwrap.
These three all came out very nicely, without missing motifs or excessive bleed-through.
Traditional shibori artists tied bolts of cotton or silk into complex patterns and then vat-dyed them to produce beautiful fabrics for kimonos. Each bolt of cloth might be tied into one pattern, dyed, untied, and then tied into a different pattern and dyed in a different color. This process might be repeated as many as 30 times, after which time the cloth was ready to be sewn into a kimono and embroidered. The production of a special kimono often took decades of work.
I use traditional shibori techniques (and a few modern tie-dye techniques that do not appear to have been derived from shibori dyeing) with modern materials and dyes. I use rubber bands instead of silk thread (usually) and squirt the dyes on instead of immersing the fabric in vats. I dye finished items instead of raw bolts of cloth.
This year, tea towels for Christmas presents.
I've been tying this batch of towels for about the past 2 years. Yesterday was dye day.
The first one here is as close to traditional as I get: kumo (spiderweb) and ne-maki (thread-resisted ring) motifs on simple cloth dyed in a color rather close to indigo:
The second is a large kumo (spiderweb) motif dyed in a single color. The turquoise is the bleeding from the aquamarine dye.
On December 11, Malcolm and I mixed the dough for lussekaat (Santa Lucia day saffron buns). During the process, we had a long talk about yeast biochemistry, the importance of gluten, and how kneading and rising develop the stretchy gluten structure that makes wheat bread so wonderful.
As we were pouring the yeast into the warm oat milk, honey, and saffron mixture (heaven, in other words), I talked about how you can tell whether your yeast is still alive by seeing how much it bubbles up when you activate it. I asked Malcolm what gas he thought was in the bubbles.
"I don't know," he said at first.
"Well, yeast breaks apart carbohydrates to get energy."
"Oh. So the gas must be carbon dioxide then."
This led to a discussion about how the little air pockets in bread are from the carbon dioxide given off by the yeast, and how quick breads use a chemical process (which he knows well) to do the same thing that we're using a biological process to accomplish in yeast breads.
As we kneaded, I showed him how to gently pull the dough into paper-thin sheets to test to see whether the gluten was fully developed.
Malcolm has the science background now to visualize what's happening in the kitchen. This is fun and exciting for both of us; it gives us another way to connect over the creation of food.
He, Matisse, and Merlin rolled the bits of dough into kuse and lussekaat shapes.
I have really been enjoying the children and feeling blessed to be their mother.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
A couple of months ago, I had to go shopping for new pants. None of my pants fit any more, not even my 15-year-old “skinny” pants. So I went shopping, thinking that I would be delighted to get back into a nice pair of 14s.
The 14s were clearly too big, so I picked up a pair of 12s. The 12s were just a bit loose. Somehow, however, I couldn't bring myself to try a size 10. My daughters wear size 10, and it would be too much of a shock for my brain to go there.
I bought some size 12s, and they'll certainly do me over the winter, even if they are pretty darned loose around the waist.
I came home and saw my daughter's blue corduroys in the wash. I picked them up and put them on, and they actually fit. A bit tight just out of the wash, perhaps, but overall a good fit.
Meanwhile, I've been essentially plateauing for the past few months. The moving averages show me losing about a pound, a pound and a half a month, way below the 3-pound-per-month pace that has been my average during the past 2 years.
162 gets me to 70 pounds down, and I think there's something about that number that just makes my brain go "Whoa! I can't deal with that! Hold up and let me catch my breath, will you?"
So I've been doing that, trying to stay with my program and not stressing too much about the current plateau. In this long journey, my mind and my body probably deserve the occasional rest period, time to re-group, catch up on any nutrition I've missed doing the slow starvation of getting weight off, and getting used to my new size.
I kept touching down at 163.8 and then bouncing back up again. I decided maybe I needed to visualize some numbers below 162, to re-set my brain so it doesn't wig out so much. I imagined 158, 154, 151, 148, 145, 142, 138. (Anything below 142 is probably too light for my frame. I've been 138 as an adult, but wasn't healthy at that weight.)
This week, I broke through the barrier and have stayed there. Still, I need to reckon with the bimbo in the mirror, to adjust my image of myself to what registers on my eyeballs.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Buttermilk Icing and is from an old old cookbook that forms the basic of many
of our recipes.
Matisse knows how to adapt most baked goods so I can eat them (replace
milk with oat milk, buttermilk with oat milk plus cider vinegar, butter
with Spectrum shortening or lard, eggs with 1/4 cup applesauce, etc.)
as well as substituting raw sugar for white sugar, whole wheat flour for
white flour, etc.
So she wanted to make this cake and asked what she needed to do to
adapt the frosting recipe.
"Oh, no big deal," I assured her, "Just follow the recipe."
"Okay," she said, "the recipe calls for buttermilk, white sugar, butter,
corn syrup, and baking soda. How exactly do you want me to follow it?"
"Replace the buttermilk with oat milk and vinegar, the white sugar with
raw sugar, and the butter with coconut oil."
"What about the corn syrup?"
"You can omit that."
"So basically, the only thing I keep from the original recipe is the baking soda?"
"Yeah, and you cook it to soft ball stage and then beat just like the recipe says."
I guess I'd gotten so used to making substitutions on the fly that I didn't notice
I was replacing almost every single ingredient.
I found a recipe for a (no-bake) egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free
pumpkin pie (thickened with gelatin and with coconut milk to stand in
for the dairy) and I'm trying to write my own recipe for an egg-free,
dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free chocolate cream pie.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
"I'm trying not to get on Puzzle Pirates," she said.
We chatted then about pirating, and I suggested we might go look up a trivia point on the wiki called the yppedia.
"I know you, Kat," she said archly.
"Hmm?" I said, curving my back in a cat stretch.
"You're the sort of person who responds to her screen name in real life. I don't think I would respond if someone called me Ace."
"I knew someone named Ace in real life once," I asserted, "Her best friend was Suzy. Ace and Suzy. I always thought that sounded a little strange."
I waggled my rear a bit to loosen up the back.
"Not as strange as Authority and Tamar, however."
"Once your father and I saw a movie called My Dinner with Andre. It was a movie about a long philosophical discussion in a restaurant. After the movie, we went to coffee house and got into a long philosophical discussion."
I have sometimes wondered how many people had a recursive My Dinner with Andre experience like that -- recapitulating the movie in a restaurant. My Dinner with Andre was my second most recursive movie experience. The first was getting lost in the warehouse section of Honolulu right after seeing The Terminator.
"As we were sitting there deep in discussion, a man walked into the coffee house, said 'Have you seen my friend Conflict?' and walked out again."
My daughter laughed, and I was caught in that moment again. All conversation stopped, and the coffeehouse sat frozen in time for a moment as we considered the meaning of that question.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
The boys meanwhile added their Homeschooling: the Half-Generation touches. They looked for giant flying waffle-footed tigers, dragons, and gryphons. They performed Spot and Listen checks, and hunted for treasure in the river. Malcolm failed a lot of Move Silently checks in the river.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
How do you pack for a parent's death bed? Can you fold the tears in with your underwear, tuck some hope in your favorite socks? Can one small suitcase fit all the love and sorrow you need to bring along? What sort of toiletries can make you look normal at a time like this?
In the spring, the children and I watched the BBC's Blue Planet. In one segment, orcas were hunting baby seals. When the orcas had caught one, they'd take it out in deeper water and toss it back and forth. The still-living baby seal would be tossed high in the air, and then batted back to the first orca by another whale. The orcas would continue their play for half an hour or so, until the baby seal was good and dead.
Cancer reminds me a lot of those orcas. It plays with its prey, tossing them up and down, letting them think they might escape, battering them more and more until the end.
My dad is still alive.
One thing I've learned from cancer is that you have to keep living every second you've got. We've had wonderful family moments long after we expected my dad to be gone. Times where he's seemed to have lost his lucidity for good are followed by days of clear sunny weather.
So we go on. One step in front of another. One moment of being tossed in the air, one moment of being deep underwater. Laughter made more precious because of the contrast with the suffering.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Last Saturday, June 14th, I dropped Morganne at the airport for her trip to Argentina. I continued on to San Francisco to support my mom during my dad's hospitalization.
My dad was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (the most aggressive kind of brain cancer) 20 months ago. Since then, he and my mom have done an amazing job of continuing to live their lives amidst medical treatments and a dour prognosis.
The prognosis is still dour, but my dad has lived (so far) 8 months longer than expected, even with treatment.
When I got to the hospital, things looked pretty bad. He was in the ICU, struggling to become conscious, and pretty much completely out of it. The right side of his body was paralyzed, and the doctors told me to call my sister and brothers and tell them to hurry if they wanted to see him alive, and conscious, again.
I was doubtful of the "conscious" part of that, myself, but my dad has rallied so many times that my mother and his doctors thought it was possible he might rally again.
Supporting my mother is always a challenge. Just about the time I'm saying, "Don't you want to sit down and rest for a while and read a book or something?" she's thinking that a dinner party would be just the thing. Right after visiting the hospital the first night, I drove her to a dinner party where most everyone spoke French.
The hosts have known me since I was a teenager, and it was pleasant to chat in French with the foreign guests, but the whole thing was a little surreal. My dad is sitting in the hospital, barely there. My daughter is on a plane bound for Buenos Aires. My mom and I are at a Thanksgiving celebration (really!) in June practicing our French.
I did get the (now familiar) thrill of watching someone faint when he learned I have a 19-year-old daughter.
The surreality continued. We spend about half our days at the hospital, watching my dad struggle. We spend the other half of the day socializing. My mom's giving me fashion advice, loaning me jewelry, and encouraging me to take special care with my appearance. I've never loved my family role as show daughter, but I submitted to it more willingly than usual.
I was also my mom's designated driver. As I wove my way uncertainly through the city, my mom encouraged me to drive more aggressively. "Go go go!" she'd exhort, "you've got to speed up or we'll be stuck at that light for 10 minutes. Hit your horn to tell that guy to get out of your way." Her language was a lot more colorful , though, and her road rage a lot more emphatic.
Okay, I thought, she's incredibly stressed right now, and she always drives like a bat out of hell anyway. And despite driving like a bat out of hell, she has an excellent driving record.
So we're very different, my mom and me. I like silence, solitude, serenity, and a slow pace. She's an extreme extravert and an adrenaline junkie.
I had my brief for this week: to support her the way she needs to be supported. Not the way I would need to be supported, but the way she needs to be supported. This required constant adjustment on my part, because my first impulse was almost always dead wrong.
So I went to brunches and dinner parties and ran errands that (in my opinion) didn't need to be run. I cooked and drove and tried to maintain my serenity. I met with an endless bevy of family friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, and, of course, my grandmother.
One night when we were driving home from a dinner party at a Thai restaurant, I told my mom, "I like all these people. I just find them overwhelming in such large, loud bunches."
The large, loud bunches energize her. I don't understand how this works. I don't need to understand how this works. I just need to accept that it does.
Meanwhile, the hospital visits continued to be agonizing. My dad was in a constant struggle for consciousness, almost getting there and then slipping below the waves again. He was in restraints, because he kept pulling his tubes out. He had frequent seizures and involuntary muscle movement on his right side because of misfiring neurons.
Also meanwhile, Morganne got to Argentina and started posting frequent updates to her trip blog. If I hadn't been so absorbed by my parents, I would have been a basket case with her going so far away. As it was, my basket-case-ness came from quite a different source.
And also also meanwhile, Garry celebrated his birthday with the three younger children. Morganne was in Buenos Aires and I was in San Francisco.
When my mother wasn't busy in other ways, she was on her cell phone. On Tuesday morning, I decided to confiscate it for the afternoon. I told her she could have it if she really wanted it, but that I'd make all her phone calls for her and answer it so she could have a break. By that time, even she was totally frazzled, so she agreed.
My sister arrived late Tuesday night, which was a relief.
On Wednesday, my dad was a little more aware. His seizures were under control, and he could focus his eyes for periods of
up to a minute or so. My sister and I spent the afternoon together at the hospital while my mom went to work (she's a therapist, and she still works Wednesdays and Fridays). We each gave the other one an hour or so alone with our dad.
During my hour, I just sat with him like you'd sit with a baby. I'd been wanting to do that, but my mother and other visitors
kept up a steady stream of chat. I sat, made eye contact when he'd let me, cried some, prayed lots, and spoke when he spoke.
He didn't speak much, and only in fragments. "Unnatural," he said, and I had to agree that the whole hospital thing was
unnatural. "Facts don't matter," he told me emphatically, probably because his doctor and my mom are constantly asking
him about irrelevant details like what year it is. (The year, in case you were wondering, is January.)
Science, he said at one point, isn't important. This was quite a shift from the person I've always known.
Finally, after an extended period of eye contact, he said "I don't like to be rushed."
So he's not going to be. He's taking his time about dying, and he's welcome to it.
My dad's always been pragmatic and a problem-solver. He was a programmer. When I was 13 or 14 and struggling with some word problems, he told me that he solved word problems for a living. He then sat me down and showed me exactly how you go about solving any word problem you run across. He was methodical and precise.
He never wasted energy wishing things are different than they are. When some crisis appeared, my mom would get all het up, go into what-ifs and it's-not-fairs and rail against the situation they found themselves in. He had no time for any of that.
"Here's the situation," he'd say, laying out the bare facts, "and here's what we need to do about it."
He's still doing that, I realized, watching him struggle with the smoking wreckage of his brain. He's still figuring out what he has to work with, what his givens are, laying aside the hypotheticals, and trying to solve the problem he's been given.
Maybe that's why he's lived so long, and how he's managed to regain function that the doctors believed he'd lost. All along, he's problem-solved around his limitations, and I could still see him doing it. He might lack memory and motor control and even the ability to stay conscious, but he'll continue to use what he has as long as he can.
No matter how out of it he was, he'd struggle to kiss us good-bye and tell us he loved us. Even if all he could do was move his lip a little and grunt, he did it.
I left San Francisco on Thursday.
Saturday was Merlin's (Remus John's) 9th birthday. We have a new rat in the family, the Rat of Khan. We celebrated at the pool with lots of friends, watermelon, and ice cream. It was lovely and hot, and the day in the sun was refreshing.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Last night, we watched (and loved) Stardust, to the point where we consider it a serious contender to replace the Princess Bride in our affections. We especially liked Michelle Pfeiffer's evilness
and Robert DeNiro's buffoonery. It seems to fall down a bit in quotability, but we love love loved it.
Tonight, however, we watched the worst film we have ever seen. It's called Over California, and I expected it to be a natural history filmed from above. Instead, it was a collection of not-half bad aerial shots of (mostly) coastal cities accompanied by some nice music and the worst, most syrupy, adjective-laden narration it has ever been our misfortune to hear. We had hoped for interesting facts and amazing footage a la Planet Earth, but this film was amazingly short on facts for a documentary.
We seriously considered turning it off, but then there would be a bit of narration so bad that we were gasping with laughter. So, despite the fact that we hate hate hated it, we kept watching in the hopes that it would top itself.
Finally, the narration soared to meet our dearest dread. As the sun was setting over LA (the film had a penchant for sunset shots over cities, during which the narrator would bid them a fond farewell generously larded with complimentary adjectives), the narrator waxed lyrical about how LA was bathing in its tropical afterglow.
Tropical afterglow? Tropical afterglow? TROPICAL AFTERGLOW?
We have decided that we must immediately market something as Tropical Afterglow. But what should it be? A bath oil or cocktail seemed most appropriate, or perhaps a sunburn lotion or sexual aid.
Given the number of musicians in the family, however, we have settled on a rock band. Right now, Tropical Afterglow seems to consist mostly of drums and kazoos.
We have not laughed so hard in many moons as we did this evening. Don't get this film, don't watch it, and, whatever you do, don't steal the Tropical Afterglow brand idea from us.
A collaborative haiku on the subject:
haiku has no place
for tropical afterglow --
poison oak on fire
Monday, April 21, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
"Friend Heather," he began slowly in his unhurried, deliberate voice, "you are living proof of the proposition that less is more."
He met my eyes, smiling at me as I worked out what he was saying. When I smiled back, he said, "You look great."
We shared a smile for a moment, and then I thanked him. He slowly rose to his feet and walked away, leaving me to appreciate the joy of spending time with Quakers.
It was a few hours before I started wondering whether his wife had put him up to it.
It was a few days before I realized that I find old and young men more attractive these days than men my own age. A man at the next checkout counter at the grocery store smiled at me, and I was repelled. He had a pot belly and a bad hair cut, but what really got to me was the tired look in his eyes. Weighed down by his responsibilities, maybe. Whatever it was, it wasn't the least bit sexy.
I'm feeling young and sexy myself these days, having reclaimed my body from the years of childbearing and breastfeeding and painful disability. My hips move freely and there's a spring in my step, and I'm very much enjoying the way I look and feel.
I'm finding my path through middle-aged sexuality to be a place of exotic surprises, a far richer and lusher paradise than I thought it would be. I flirt with very old and very young men and don't take it too seriously. I feel freer than I did when I was younger, more sure of myself. I enjoy myself more. It's not at all what I expected to find when I got here, and I'm savoring it.
Fortunately, my husband is not one of the middle-aged men who has let himself go. He's still got his boyish figure and his hair. When he recently got back from a trip, I took one look at him and thought, "Damn, he's a good-looking man."
There's a lot to be said for old married sex, too.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I am neither friend nor foe.
I use neither sword nor bow.
I will neither catch nor throw.
I will neither lead nor row.
I am neither fast nor slow.
I will neither come nor go.
I make neither joy nor woe.
I will neither see nor show.
I sing neither high nor low.
I say neither yes nor no.
Various members of the family were challenged to memorize this poem. It proved to be surprisingly difficult to do so. After about the third try, three members of the family launched into a recitation of Hamlet's soliloquy in protest. When they finished, Remus John announced that they had lost the memorization contest.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
When Jazzercise first started, I thought it was strange, artificial, and peopled by former cheerleaders. I didn't like the music, the workouts seemed poorly designed, and the moves were funky. The regulars wore funny clothes. They used bunny weights. They hung out in multi-purpose rooms and public halls and church basements. They left their children in the care of strangers for an hour so they could get buff.
I took my exercise outdoors, often with a pack on my back. I took my exercise in a real gym, with weights and machines and macho muscular guys bragging about how much they could bench press.
I started water aerobics several years ago at the prompting of my next-door neighbor. She said it had been wonderfully rehabilitating for her hip. At the time, I was in near-constant pain from my own hip and back, and willing to try anything that might help.
Water aerobics did help the hip and back (although not as much as discovering my food allergies and changing my diet), so I kept it up. I also continued my weight-lifting. Due to my disability, hiking had become a rare treat, one that I paid for with several days of immobility.
Once I cleared my diet of allergens, my body began to heal. Within a few months, I could walk without pain, and even run for short distances. I bought myself a set of exercise videos, and started adding land-based aerobic workouts to my exercise mix. I also lost a lot of weight, and now feel better than I have in many years.
A friend from water aerobics has been encouraging me to try Jazzercise for a while now. She's a regular, and she says it's the best part of her day. One day, I agreed to try it.
I walked in the door, and it was everything I had imagined. The instructors were friendly, peppy, and definitely cheerleadery. The music, frequently country, insulted my intelligence and my esthetic sense. The funky routines made me feel silly and uncoordinated and switched fast enough to make me cautious about injury. The weight and abdominal parts of the routine did not meet my exacting standards.
I loved it. My waist and hips flowed free with the routines, and I left the class feeling sexy, even predatory.
Nor was I the only one. Jazzercise attracts 50-70 women every morning of the week (and two week nights), a pretty good feat in a one-horse town that rolls up its sidewalks at 10pm on summer weekends. The class attracts women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. In the light of the silly country music and funky moves, all of these women are beautiful, sexy, desirable.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Getting ready to go to the hospital one morning, I happened to notice my parents' valentines to one another on their entry hall table. I picked up the pink confectionary cards and read the short, loving notes on them. Placing them back carefully, I am reminded of how my parents' love and devotion for one another is a warm fire at the heart of my father's struggle with cancer. The naked heart of love is everywhere apparent in their lives.
Living in the Santa Cruz mountains, I often receive gifts of sudden beauty:
- Rounding the bend in the road to see the mountain in the evening light.
- Seeing the sun flash out behind a cloud to illuminate the white crown of a sycamore.
- The trees opening to reveal a sky full of crystalline winter stars.
- The scent of first violets in the bouquet presented to me by my son.
- The redwoods' branches tossing merrily in the breeze.