In Need of 100 Books on Juggling Tips/ 2016

I began this blog in 2008,  as a chronicle of one year in which I read 100 books.  That  was a wonderful project, and one day I hope to establish a delicious book list like that one, and spend the year gorging upon it.   It was a great project and a great year.

The circumstances of life that year were perfect for that amount of reading.
I was home-educating six kids in a suburb of Toronto.

I believe that I was one of only ten women in the GTA doing exactly what I was doing at that time….so I had only a couple of very sweet friends to play with, and plenty of time on my hands.

Now, I’m homeschooling only two and  a half kids, living  in a smaller town, back in the USA where home education is rich and flourishing…..and this town is just packed with other homeschoolers and with so may ways to enrich our days and fill our home with likeminded families.   Home education in Toronto was a whole lot like life on the ship of Master and Commander, endless opportunities to devote ourselves to lessons punctuated by short adventures and diversions….then back to endless lessons.  Our present variety of home schooling feels more like juggling on a unicycle.  Fast and busy and always on the move.

Much to do,  places to go, so many opportunities. And, although three of my kids have graduated, their space in my life was immediately filled with increasing requirements of care for my Mom, who is undeniably sinking into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s disease.

I can’t take on any task as consuming as One Hundred Books now.  My life, at the moment, is devoted elsewhere.  My consuming task is the puzzle of how to keep her content, safe and healthy without forgetting that my husband and our kids come first.   It sounds like prioritizing.

It feels like juggling.

I hunt around for blogs about Alzheimer’s care, and there are many that are helpful to me.  Each one gives me a piece of what’s needed to keep marching forward, preparing  for new changes that will come next week, or next year.

There has been nothing in my life like this situation of caring for a parent with dementia.  And yet there have been a thousand things that have prepared me for this moment.   I am, in some ways, completely equipped for the work ahead, and in other ways I am frightfully out of my depth.

My Mom seems to be almost at peace with her situation, which is very nearly unbelievable to me.  Can anyone be at peace as their mind slips away?    I’m thankful she’s meeting it with that attitude.  I am thankful she’s not angry.  That is a great mercy!   And I watch it and want to be that brave.

But it’s hard for her, and for all of us,  to see her mind shrink.  She tells me every morning that she sees more and more memory shrinking.   She says  “It’s just gone.”   We see more and more of her personality and good judgement slipping away, but she does not seem to be aware of that.  Another mercy.

I can barely get my head around what it might feel like for her as she vanishes.  Today, I can only talk about what it’s like to try to live my normal-ish life, keeping my household running as it ought to while it’s full of kids growing up.
To do this normal stuff with my Mom here with us ….. sometimes adding surprising wisdom, often contributing to the conversations with strangely off-topic remarks, sometimes throwing us all in a lurch with remarks and questions from left field.

I wish I knew how to build a community of caregivers who could sit around my home and feed one another’s souls as we march forward on this crazy path.  We are all taking  care of our own vanishing parents, but it might be helpful if we also took care of one another.  This is, at times,  a long and lonely walk through a dark forest.

I collected a group of readers at this blog before, and we were a fun community while I was writing  regularly.  I don’t know if that can happen again.   Alzheimer’s Caregiving is not a very sexy topic.  It’s not nearly as attractive as reading lots of stimulating books.

But there are a bunch of us out there doing it, and maybe we can find each other someplace and help carry the burden for one another.




Drawing a Breath

There is only one doctor I enjoy seeing, and that is the one I married.
The rest seem to only bring dark clouds and inconvenience, so I avoid them.

But last month I got a postcard from my doctor saying I was overdue for a physical, and the same week three other people said they thought I should go to the doctor.  Maybe I looked tired….they did not say.  But, thinking it was the Holy Spirit talking to me, I made an appointment for a physical.

At that appointment it seems that some of my answers to some of her questions were worrisome answers.   I hate it when the doctor frowns at me.  Like I failed.
I was scheduled for five follow-up imaging and blood draw type events, all of which I have dutifully attended.
A Pap smear,  an abdominal ultrasound, fasting blood draw, EKG, mammo-torture.
Five days after The First of those listed events, I appeared at 7:45 am Oct 13 for events Two and Five.

I was told that the results for the Ultrasound (Procedure Two) would take a week, meaning I would hear something on Oct 20.

So, I went straight home, and made a cup of coffee, and as I poured it into my mug, the phone rang.    (It was still Oct 13)
It was my doc saying that “the Pap was abnormal, with abnormal cells that did not indicate cervical cancer but something  else,”  and “the ultrasound was really weird, like I’ve never seen one like that.”
At that point,  I was formulating several ways in which she might have conveyed her intended message with greater clarity and less freak factor, and I missed whatever she said next.

I did hear myself say to her “hang on, do you mean the ultrasound I just had an hour ago?”  And she said “right…..I’m sorry, have you had more than one?”   Well, No.

So then she said she wanted me to go for a biopsy and she gave me the number to call for that appointment.  She said I should call her back with the date of that biopsy as soon as I got it.  So I called and they gave me a slot on Friday, November 13.  A month away.

I called my doctor back  and she said “OH, that’s not good, I will call you right back.”
And indeed, she called me back 2o mins later with a biopsy appointment for “day after tomorrow.”

You can see that the lack of clarity in her language was more than compensated for by her actions.
And, although I was not feeling comforted by her attention, I was grateful for it.


On Friday, Oct 16, I reported dutifully for that biopsy,  expecting to meet a more relaxed physician who would  say, “Oh, there’s nothing to see here….”

But no.   The biopsy doc was even more animated than the GP.  She described those abnormal cells as being “goofy, crazy, hard to explain, and worrisome”
And then she said “The biopsy they recommend is not sufficient.  We need two different tissue samples to start with, and that’s two separate procedures, one of which requires sedation as it is invasive.  Are you ‘in’?”
It felt as though my head were suddenly  filling with water, bubbles,  and tiny colorful fish.  I agreed to everything she had to say.
I was vaguely aware that during  Biopsy Number One, which followed immediately after the fish arrived in my head, I was telling jokes and generally talking too much.
This is what middle children do.  When we sense stress and danger, we do whatever it takes to re-establish harmony and peace.

That was almost three weeks ago.
Twelve days later,  I  donated more  bits of myself for Biopsy Number Two.

I want to talk about the part of that second biopsy which  happened before the sedation, since that’s all I remember.
I arrived at the hospital 45 minutes before I was supposed to.  This was because I was trying to sneak out of my house without raising the suspicion of my worrying mother and my even more worrying 8 yr old.  So I had to make it look like I was going out for breakfast with Jon.

And we pulled it off.    Score one.

Unfortunately,  the hospital did not inspire confidence.  Just as I arrived, three fire trucks pulled up right behind our car, and the entire crew stampeded  into the medical building in full rescue formation.   Into the same building  I hoped to depart later with my health and strength fully restored.  Was the building on fire?  That didn’t bode well.

And then it got more exciting.  As I chatted with the check-in lady I learned that all the computers in the hospital, ALL of them, were down.  All paperwork was being processed, and corrected where necessary, by hand, with red pens.  Like in Second Grade.
Were surgical procedures being done with  safety scissors?
And I began to wonder if, maybe, my paperwork might be switched with that of someone who might perhaps be in for an amputation.
Perhaps I would wake up without something I needed.   Like a leg… or a kidney.
I was puzzling over whether I should talk to her about my concerns when I noticed they had the wrong birthdate on all three pages of my paperwork.  It all seemed incredibly comical.
I asked myself if I was afraid, and oddly enough, I was not.

After we got my birthday straight and recorded (in red ink) on those pages,  I was instructed to go to the 9th floor to report for my surgery.   But when I arrived, the 9th floor turned out to be cardiology.  Which was funny because my surgery was gynecologic.  I did a quick U-turn and found the correct floor.

After that, it was nothing anyone would want to read about, except that you can rest assured….. they took the right stuff out of me.

My lovely, and very youthful, physician reassured me, before the memory erasing mask was strapped on, that I would hear results and lab reports by “Wednesday of next week. ”

And so, I celebrated my birthday and I endured Halloween, and I painted the sunroom, and I watched the continued construction of our new deck, I learned  all the hard details of how one of my children is floundering in school,  and I began to notice that my mother and I have the same conversation word for word,  over and over, all day long, as I waited to hear what is growing, or NOT growing, in my abdomen.
And it has been, at times,  like holding my breath.

Sometimes I would scare myself with the prospect of therapies and surgeries for me as I am  caring for my Mom who is ever more repetitive, disinhibited,  demanding, disoriented and forgetful.   Like, really, how was that going to work?   I was interested to see how God would work that out.

I dreamed about those fish in my head, and I was underwater with them, waiting to know, in silence.  Waiting to breath.  Either to take a deep breath and prepare to fight, or maybe just to exhale and go back to the life that was always sufficiently interesting and full before any irregular cells appeared on somebody’s slide.

Waiting well means paying good attention to the importance of keeping life normal.  My entire household wants life (and me) to be normal.  I am theirs, they are mine.  They need for me to be OK, and I want to be OK for them.

It seems like the best way to walk through these days is to almost methodically  add to my faith virtue, and the virtues to add are courage,  trust, quiet and calm, industry and service, and honesty about exactly what I do know so I don’t add anything from fearful imaginings.   Virtue meant answering those worried teachers who want to help my struggling child do well,  cleaning out closets, staying on top of the laundry, playing with kids and dogs together, showing up for everything,  telling everybody around me what I am thankful for, being extra kind to my husband, pushing those grammar lessons, making amazing dinners, and never ever complaining.

And on top of those virtues, I need to add knowledge.  And that is knowledge of who God is, what He has done for me before this because that reminds me how He cares for me, how very very kind He is to me.  Knowledge of the natures and needs of my family.  Knowledge of good books and of the hearts of the people who fill my life.

And then to add self control….the self control of waiting patiently without allowing my imagination to carry me off.  The self control of digging into scripture morning and evening. And the self control of staying in the room in which I have been placed, not peeking through the doors into spaces where I am not meant to go.  And the self control of consulting scripture rather than Dr Google when I begin to worry.
And so today, this morning,  I learned that all is well.
All is clear.
And that is as close as I ever hope to come to cancer.

Close enough to reorient my priorities a little.  And no closer.

Close enough to almost touch it, and see that God would take me through it.

And then to turn and walk away, back to joyous mundane health.

I am so thankful for this normal day.


Finding that Joy this week

This was a busy week.

I’m supposed to be educating my kids here at home. Which I am cramming in around the edges of everything else with energetic fervor.

Like “Quick…we have 23  minutes….Grab your grammar books and lets see if we all agree on how to identify a gerund”….and then we race off to karate, gymnastics, violin, Biblical Counseling, Speech Club, the gym, and one of these days I need to pick up  Jon’s shirts at the dry-cleaner…..

Meanwhile,  we have patio/ deck construction in the yard which creates clouds of dust and makes it impossible to enter the fenced backyard without walking all the way around the house from the front.
And that’s only an issue because we have this puppy who is still getting the hang of where to squat…..ten times a day.

And there are five rooms inside the house which are ripped up with plaster missing, flooring removed, knob and tube wiring and lathe and plaster and pre WWI dust all exposed.

Every day  felt chaotically full.

Then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, my mom began waking up in the mornings not knowing with real certainty who I am for the first time in a very long while.  I asked her if she remembered me,  and she smiled beautifully, and said “You are a dear friend.”  Or  ” Of course I do, What would I do without YOU?”
And then I discovered that she is sometimes lost in places that were perfectly familiar to her last week.

And her doc says “Little Strokes are happening while she’s sleeping”

Which begins  puts the rest of the busy week into perspective.

Then last night, while I cooked dinner, Mom sat in the kitchen with a little glass of bourbon in her hand repeating the same tape of commentary over and over again about the news, and the family, and the weather, and who’s got a birthday in September.  And just when I thought with really heavy sorrow, “it seems like she has nothing new to say…..”  she chirped up and pronounced “You know, I am so thankful I live here.  I am so glad we are all together.  Isn’t this just the best!”

And suddenly everything was clear, in almost perfect focus.

So very much to be thankful for.  This is the work God has prepared for me to do.  It is heavy and feel ill-equipped.  But she feels blessed.  So that is evidence that God has given me all I need for this piece of life.







The Joy of the Lord is My Strength

I like writing funny stuff.

But for a long time it seemed hard to write an honest report about our lives and to make it fun to read.

It’s not like my days and my life aren’t amusing to me.  But describing with humor things like Moving Teenagers across the Country,  Recovering From Being Asked to Leave a Church, Losing Your Entire Downpayment in a Real Estate Deal, and Living with Your Dementing Parent is potentially offensive to people…..if you really tell the whole story without pretending the emperor is wearing more than his underwear.   Especially if you really describe the parts that made you laugh.  It would sound careless and irreverent.

But, really, there is a ton of humor in all these things.  It’s only NOT funny if you are trying to cover up and make it look like somebody in the story is not flawed and prone to sin.  Actually, we are all a little bit heroic, a little bit tragic and a little bit hilarious in these little stories.  And we are also brave and broken and beautiful and warped  and kind and selfish and we are all confused people who have fleeting moments of clarity.

That means we all need a savior.  And the savior we have offers us joy.  John 15:11,  John 16:24
And joy makes all the hard stuff look less scary, and it’s easy to see the funny parts.





Introvert consoles herself with sticks and string

So I am just never ever alone.

What a gift, what a joy.
I am always in the company of people I love, really.
And, simultaneously,  I am a person with a very high need for alone time,
and that’s been the case all my life.
So, knowing I have this great yawning need for solitude, I gave birth to six children.   Of course, who wouldn’t!
And they have friends.  And I have also got a husband.  And now my mom lives with us too.   And I love them all.   And I also love to be alone.

These people I love  manage their day by taking turns talking to me.  Passing the baton of continual conversation so that I am prevented from ever completing a thought.

Today in a short two hours, I began with a long chat with the 11 yr old about Minecraft .
He mentioned all its different building materials, and how it has blessed his little heart more than any book he has yet read   (a challenge which this literature loving Mom identifies and accepts).
Now he’s building me my own Minecraft house…..actually a fantastic compound with towers and swimming pools, a breathtaking view of the ocean, and BEST OF ALL…. a multi-level sheep farm.
He delights to describe it to me in minute and repititious detail.

In case anybody wants to see it, I have a photo of the sheep area which he took on my phone and brought to me:


Those things that look like bunk beds on the left are actually two sheep pens, extra large, one stacked on top of the other.    Because he is confident that one day I will want to produce wool in my very own yard to save myself the bother of hauling off to Paradise Fibers every time I need more yarn.

Then, he  randomly mentioned something irrelevant to sheep and virtual building, which was this:    “Oh, and there is an extinct family of cephalopods which were Ammonoidea  or something.  But they are also called ammonites.  Weren’t those guys in the Bible?”  and, like you, I have no idea what he’s talking about.  But when I Googled it on my phone as he was speaking, I discovered  this.   And  realize he’s doing sciencey stuff in his free time, when he’s not making sheep bunks for his old mom.

And as soon as he’s done  and headed out of the room, the six year old comes in a different door and starts talking about what kind of rabbits she’s going to have when she graduates from medical school and how she plans to dress them in little outfits and take them to work on leashes to keep her patients from being bored in the waiting room.   And she’s asking if I have some spare fabric so she can start that project right now.
As she heads off to paint some bird houses instead of sewing, my mother arrives with a fist full of statements from her broker wanting to talk about how much better her portfolio could be managed if we would just spend an afternoon trading out stuff and cleaning the whole mess up.   And she has quite a number of ideas on the subject.

And I’m smiling and nodding in the most noncommittal sort of way when the sixteen year old saunters in talking about election law reform, the galaxy-wide loss of popularity of the US,   and asking for food.  He then eats and leaves……
And just as my head begins to settle on the power line again, picking up some pitiful train of thought from three hours ago, the 17 yr old crashes into the house full of disturbing updates  about her delinquent chemistry professor who made somebody cry,  and how many drug dealers she observed while waiting at the bus station.
This sets my mind racing in all new directions,  only to be interrupted by the ringing phone and the rice  boiling over and the kittens  falling  into the toilet.
And then,  Hark, it’s the doorbell heralding the unexpected arrival of  the architect with drawings for Jon to look over, only Jon is still in the hospital with patients.  I greet him at the door wishing  I was wearing something other than spandex running tights and top,  also wishing I could teleport my husband right home.

So that’s why I knit.   Knitting creates a little bubble of isolation around me.  Knitting is my little cave.  When I am knitting, people come and talk to me and I can whisper, “sorry, I’m counting….”  And they actually apologize and back out of the room.  Because they were close to me the year I learned to knit lace and they know I cried over it from time to time.

And then, most of the time they can come and sit with me and do their talking, and it’s all friendly.   But there is some kind of buffering membrane around me when I am knitting.  It’s like a portable comfort zone.   I think it makes me a kinder person, sometimes.

Sometimes ladies will suggest we gather for  knitting as a group with cups of tea and lots of chit-chat.  And I always say, Oh that sounds fun.  But I wind up never going.  I think it’s the chit-chat that scares me away.   I’ve got all the chit-chat I can handle.

I knit alone mostly, and I am up to my eyeballs in Christmas knitting projects.
There’s a man’s Size Large sweater, a Size Six girl’s pink poncho, eight or twelve hats, a stack of washcloths for the ladies at Jon’s office, a lacy wrap,  a super cool fair isle skirt in a Ladies Size Extra Small, a coffee pot cozy, and a blanket.


I have a written schedule to help me get them all finished in time for Christmas Eve.   It’s crazy speed-knitting, and it’s making me faster.



And while I knit, they all talk to me.    Roughly 50 days to go.   It seems like a whole lot of time.





The top ten reasons I don’t keep up this blog

Often  I go to bed with an idea for a blog post in my head, and often even rise in the morning with a blog post in my head, but nobody would ever know it.  I love the idea of writing, and of being read….it feels like a lovely   connection to me.  And I find there are so many little piles of stuff to get past on my way to writing anything.

Here’s what gets in the way:

1.   Always as I am beginning to write something up, regardless of the hour and never-mind that I might have just sat all alone for two hours, the minute I start typing in this little window Somebody arrives and wants to talk to me.  It just happened again, and I can’t type with people talking to me.

2.  Blogs (of this type) require photographs.  But my 100 year old house is under re-construction in many places, and the progress is so slow that I don’t want it photo-documented.   People like to see change, but I don’t have much of that to show.  People always appear a bit discouraged when they realize that we still have no kitchen cabinets, and the deck is still about to fall off the back of the house, and we still have a 3 x 6 foot  opening in the floor under our bed.  I don’t mind camping in my own home, but I hate to disappoint anyone if I can help it.

3.  Blogs, again,   require photographs.  But I have the deadly triple curse of cream colored carpeting, a one year old German Shepherd and a pond.
Not wishing to publish any pictures of cream colored carpeting covered with  muddy  prints from the dog who just bounded into the house from the pond, my field of photographic backdrops is narrowed further, because that dog just loves the pond, and I just love the dog .

4.  My kids are still funny, but not in that universally shareable toddler kind of way.
Now their humor is kind of esoteric and controversial and when I try to describe it, we sound like a pack of nerds.  And they want to edit what I can say about them.  It’s as though they were all running for office.

5.  The other funny person in my house is my mother, but if I share her funny remarks it sounds disrespectful.  She’s got some early senile dementia going on, and even she finds some of it amusing……but it also doesn’t share well.
I sometimes think that a blog about this aspect of life would be helpful, because we are not the only family watching brain impairment change a parent.  That blog should be called “Are You My Mother?”    But this minefield is a tricky one.  Not going there yet.

6.  There is no great theme in my life around which to write.  We’ve got a whole lot going on:   renovating this house, educating kids at home, keeping up with eight people whose ages range from 6 to 80 under this roof, there is also a Speech and Debate club which meets here (60 human beings) each Friday, plus the knitting and the camping and the fly-fishing and the preparation for college and keeping Jon’s shirts ironed.   All are marvelous, but I find that too many hats make me  just  distracted rather than particularly interesting.

7.  All that stuff in  #6, plus the shampooing of the carpet in #3 leave me with no time at all to put coherent thoughts together.

8.   My mother’s comment about this blog, when she saw it once was this:  “You mean people read that?  Well I guess some people just don’t have enough to do to fill their days.”     I had to share that.  It makes me laugh every time I hear it in my head.   It’s so humbling.

9.   All the lovely Christian Lady blogs are so lovely and theological.  And much as I love to read them, I do so because I need their insight.
I am better at dishing out borderline irreverent humor, and have offended people in the past in the most ridiculous ways, simply by writing what popped into my head.
Anyone who witnessed the “hubby” incident on my facebook wall, or my little rant about the word “congrats” when “Congratulations” are in order, will know what I’m talking about.

10.  I am a poor finisher.  Beginning a blog was easy….carrying it on well is a different story.   It’s a maturity thing.




Dearie is In the House

So, in a watershed moment which was far from unexpected, my sweet mother has moved into our home.

There is no mother anywhere who would be more charming to live with, and everybody who has met her would agree.

She’s a good sport and everybody loves her.  And best of all, she loves my husband at least as much as she loves me.  She always takes his side over mine if there’s a disagreement.  And that’s exactly as it  should be.

The kids love her.  Sometimes they love her too much, too close and with too much talking.  But overall it’s  healthy and mentally stimulating.

Even the dog is glad to have her.    It’s win-win all around.


But having another person around with her own esoteric ideas, needs and shopping lists is reminding me of the days when we had four or five tiny children underfoot, each one perfectly certain that each thought must be shared the instant  it gelled.   By five PM, my brain  is mush and I have to apply some energy in order to meet the darling husband with anything softer than a  glare.  And it isn’t really his fault they were talking all day.  Poor man.

Mom’s arrival, combined with a the fact that the NCFCA, or my desire to start a debate club in the name of the NCFCA,    and the mountain of stuff I don’t know about starting a club,  is eating my life (… another story for another day),
plus this acre of overgrown garden which we purchased  nine months ago and which is now coming to life and Must Be Subdued …
these events  have been  almost mind-numbing in combination,  and I’m thinking we might have to hire somebody to come in and brush my teeth for me if the iron supplements and the spirulina don’t kick in.

Anyway, all that was just to excuse the crashing drop of literary standards which has occurred.
No Greek classics.       Instead:



I read Albert Brooks 2030 and it was the most wonderful bit of mental junk food.  Just an easy, compelling anti-utopian guess at what might occur in the US by the year 2030.   Cancer is cured, LA experiences The Big One, our health care program is a bankrupt disaster.   One night I read about a third of it before falling asleep, and woke up thinking all these calamities were really happening.  What a relief when the coffee brought me around!

Lots of food for thought here.    This would be a great beach read, or if you find yourself stuck in the airport, trot off to the bookstore because I’m pretty sure they will have a copy.






My second piece of mindless non classical fun was Adrienne Martini’s book Sweater Quest, in which the author chronicles her month by month progress knitting an Alice Starmore Fair Isle sweater.   She chose the Mary Tudor Sweater  which can be seen, along with a basket of all the colors required to knit it up right here .

This sweater and all other sweaters designed by Alice Starmore,   represent the Mount Everest of knitwear.  It’s more like stunt-knitting.   Here is a poor quality  picture of what it looks like completed in case you didn’t want to bother with the rabbit trail  link above.



I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I loved this book.    Like the author (not Alice Starmore, but Adrienne Martini)  I could gush on and on about all the wonderful things that I believe have come into my life via my obsession with knitting.    I felt such a kinship with her when she described the attention deficit disorder which crashed in during her years  mothering small children, and the outrageous sense of accomplishment and personal victory that washes over her when she completes a knitted item.  I really really understand that.   I know it’s weird.    So, this book was such a sweet  confirmation of fellowship, somewhere in the lonely universe.

But, nice as kinship can be, I will never under any circumstances knit up a Starmore sweater.     Laying hands on the required yarn, let along knitting the sweater, would take a year. In order to follow her pattern, I  would  have to overcome my terror of  cutting steeks, and I have never been invited to a 1980’s theme party, which is the only place on earth where a Starmore sweater would not look frumpy and overwrought.

Anyhoo, getting back to the book,  Martini shares her reasons for tackling this ridiculously hard project, the history of the Tudor family, since it helps to understand the motifs knitted into this Mary Tudor pattern, she shares some wonderful anecdotes about some of the celebrities of the current knitting scene (yes, there are knitting celebs).   She talks a bit about Toronto as the leader in fun, young knit-design in North America…..and I thought that was pretty cool, because it was during my years in Toronto that I became a knitting freak.
She also tells quite a bit about Alice Starmore,  knitwear designer and litigant of all who might take liberties with her name and designs.
This aspect of Starmore’s persona takes one by surprise, as we are   all hoping she’s kind of a cuddly granny drawing up soft wooly designs from her hideaway in the Hebrides.
Alas, no.  She is quite fierce, and not to be toyed with.
Starmore, when not defending her name,  creates patterns for  the most complicated and revered knitting patterns anyone has ever seen, and she designs them to be knit only in her own colors… substitutions.  Which would be merely an inconvenience if her wool distributer still carried these colors.  But none of them are currently in production, and so it requires a good deal of detective work and a very large Visa credit line to find the correct colors on E-Bay or any of the numerous knitting chat rooms.  The book includes Adrienne Martini’s story of how she found her yarn, and how unsettling it was when  had to substitute some colors with yarn of which Starmore-The-Designer would never approve .

Tempest in a teapot.  But I loved it.




And it set me off to read Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting.    I have finished the first long chapter of this book which deals entirely with the history of the Fair Isles and the knitters who live there.   I particularly enjoyed the speculation in this chapter that the Fair Isle motifs  which are so much associated with this remote island in the North Sea, may have originated from Spain in 1588 when the flagship of the Spanish Armada crashed on this island, and somehow the sailors Moorish sweater patterns were snatched up and copied by the good wives of the Fair Isle fishermen.

This idea was dismissed by Starmore as colorful fiction, but it appeals to me because of my own ties through marriage to Norway.  My mother in law, born on the west coast of Norway,  claims that her dark coloring comes from a Spanish ancestor who was himself a sailor who washed up on the beach in 1588 when the Armada was defeated and his ship drifted north.


The proximity of Fair Isle and the Shetlands to the same coast where my MIL was born gives so much heft to that story.   And I love the idea of a Muslim sailor, representing a Catholic king, running in defeat from a Protestant Queen, with gorgeous knit wear as the punch line.   Makes me smile.







Reaching back to a couple of dry ones from February

I’m strangely charmed by the observation that if you close your eyes in a karate class, it can sometimes sound like a crowded birthing room full of laboring women, with choruses of gutteral grunting from all directions.   Perfectly suited to reading.  Not.   Which is why I usually knit during karate class.   But the similiarity of  background noises lend the pinache of Blackbelt achievement to motherhood.  And I think that’s just about right.

Three weeks ago, I was seated on a bench at Daniel’s karate school “watching”  his class perform a self-defense  maneuver  with my gaze riveted to the screen of my kindle, upon which I was reading yet  another debate text………(insert agonizing groan)… .    ( It turns out that there are some very engaging debate books, but I had not yet discovered them three weeks ago.)



I was reading Leverett S. Lyon’s Elements of Debate……….dry as the Sahara.  And I was still hopeful I might find some savory tidbits about how one might  build a solid and compelling debate case which finessed everyone in the room into the very palm of one’s hand.

I was in the middle of some juicy sentence like “The issues when stated in declarative sentences are the fundamental reasons why the affirmative believes its proposition………”  when Daniel’s ultra energetic karate instructor  yanked me out of my stupor with the news that Daniel was being “invited” to join a special training class, the demo team which does karate demonstration (for recruitment purposes)   all over town.  This was presented, and actually is,  a great  honor which is not to be sneezed at .   It was four days later that  I realized the  fullness of the price hike that accompanied this profound  upgrade.   And I’m thankful we can do this for him.

But since that fateful day, Jon and I have parted with something close to $300 in unanticipated fees.    So, I won’t read in karate class for  a while.  I’d better stay alert.




And then there was Hesiod’s Works and Days.   I did not read Theogony, even though it was included in the same volume I have which was translated by  Stanley Lombardo.  The main reason I didn’t read Theogony is because I found that Works was just a little more Greek god than I need on any given weeknight.    It’s almost a Theogony all it’s own, with some good difficult labors and oxen tossed in.

I was mostly interested in reading Works and Days because it was described to me as one of the earliest known narratives on economic thought.  The First of anything is always interesting, and always turns out to be less auspicious than expected.  Having always thought of Hesiod in conjunction with Homer, I expected  Works and Days to be formal and majestic in the way, I guess, that one would expect epic narratives to be.  But it was more like epic poetry for the common man.  Written in the first person and, as I already indicated,   a little bit over the top in his invocations of Zeus and all his mates.    But Hesiod does have a keen eye for the frailties of man, our tendencies to mischief and squabbling,  and the need of hard work and no more insolence towards the gods.

The kids and I have been reading about the  establishment of Greek colonies all around the Aegean, Sicily, and even as far flung as Hemeroskopeion in  modern  Spain, and a dozen or so colonies spread all around the Black Sea.   This colonization was ongoing for five centuries after Hesiod’s lifetime, and was neccessary because of an endless need of more and better farm land to feed the growing population.  It’s interesting to interpret the farming crisis of these islands, and rocky colonies along the seacoast in view of Hesiod’s portrayal of the rigorous like of the Greek farmer, and his much repeated perception that hard labor is the lot of men, and that success will come to the one who is willing to work for it.   And not complain, or expect a life of ease.   I think he must have been a great parent.

So, Works and Days was a well timed read.  It helped that I could fit it right into it’s historical context.  Otherwise it might have felt too repetitive and a bit much Greek Diety-filled for most of us.    I think this blog should be called something like Classics for Rednecks, because that’s really the flavor of these reviews, isn’t it?

So those were two books for February.   Glad I read them.  Glad I am all done with them.


Five books in February

Exactly one year ago, at an early morning ladies prayer gathering here in Spokane, I unravelled little bit when my turn arrived to tell everyone what I needed prayer for.

My issues of the moment were over the fact that our family had not yet settled in a permanent home after seven months in Spokane, and that there seemed to be no house which met all our criteria,  anywhere.    That this led to a chaotic home life which made home schooling almost impossible.
And I had an  unsettling terror arising from the fact that my first-born child was about to become my first-graduated child.
And further, because I had been such a negligent home educator, that he would  certainly be spending his adult years living under an overpass………. because, surely,  no university would allow him to darken its door.     He had no foreign language, no understanding of what a gerund phrase was, insufficient extra-curricular activities,  and the scanty  course records I had kept were lost among the hundred or so unpacked boxes in our recently flooded basement.   I wasn’t sobbing, but I was close.

This little melt down was followed by a tender prayer by one of those dear ladies in which she asked God to help me to persevere and see his kindness in the midst of my insecurities and lack of faith.  I had not recognized that it was insecurity and lack of faith until she labelled it for me.   And God did carry me through,  and we did find a place to live and David did manage to get into the school he wanted with a partial  academic scholarship, and I see in retrospect that my freak-out was  overdramatic.   And I have reflected often since that day that I have a tendency towards insecurity and a lack of faith, and sometimes I freak out needlessly.

I mention this because it’s happening again.  I am having a freaking-out, insecure failure of faith.  My mom is moving into our house in three weeks, and I  have begun to wake up at 2am chronicling all the ways in which I will be failing her, my husband, my children, this ginormous renovation project in which we live,  the  dog, and probably everyone else I know.  This calamity will begin when I  reach that point of no return as I close the door on her empty apartment and drive Mom and her stuff down the hill to our house.   For good.

There’s a little voice in the back of my head, occasionally audible when the sun is up, which says “it’s all going to be fine.”    Of course it will.   But there is a more strident voice at 2am which ticks off every possible way in which all who depend upon me will be lost in the quagmire of my disorganization, probably causing Jon and the remaining five children and my mother to spend the rest of their days living under an overpass.

I finished a book which I had started last year, Octavius Winslow’s Help Heavenward.  I picked it up again because I wanted to find a particular passage in his chapter “Human Care Transferred to God”.   The entire chapter is helpful for getting my sights corrected when worry begins to pull me under.   Here’s a little bit:

“Is not the voice of the Lord mightier than the voice of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea?    Is not the Care-taker mightier than the care itself?  Yet how we magnify and multiply our cares, anxieties and sorrows!   But for the immutability of our redeeming God, whose unseen hand guides and whose power, almost insensible to ourselves, sustains us, our care would consume us.    How often we are upheld, we scarcely know how, preserved in safety, we scarcely know why.  But ‘the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him” and sooner or later, we learn that Jesus has done it all, and has done it for his own glory.”    p. 99

And there’s a great deal more good encouragement where that came from.  Winslow is one of those soothing and comforting Puritans.  It does me good to think that those Puritans brought their own mothers into their homes when the time came, and that they did it with a sturdy heart which loved duty and obedience.  It’s helpful.



For a whole different kind of  treat, I  read a little PG Woodhouse as the finishing flourish to calm my jittery nerves.  This time it was Plum Pie, which is one of his short story collections.  Not my all time favorite of his books, but it was relaxing and mindless.  And that’s helpful.

I was escaping to the rich oxygenated leisure of  Woodhouse because the other book I’m dragging myself through is Martin Cothran’s very dry Material Logic text.   I have never read anything on the subject of material logic before, and so have nothing to which I can compare this text.  But, as it’s  a formal logic course,  a systematic study of the structure of reasoning, I am a few inches over my head.  I have rare intervals of lucidity as I read through this, and most of these moments come as I read a paragraph for the second or third time.  It’s helpful, I am gaining a better understanding of how to reason and to build arguments logically and coherently.   And to follow a debate round and flow it (almost) effortlessly.

Not surprisingly, I just happened to own this Material Logic text.
It  was languishing in the distinguished company of a few other unread logic texts in my “compulsive home-school purchases”  book-stash.
(Sometime I’ll write something about victory over my compulsive curricula purchasing days of yore.)
Anyhoo……I cracked this Material Logic book open for the first time after  yet another weekend at an NCFCA debate tournament where I had the opportunity to judge way more Team Policy debate rounds than I probably should have.   Much as I want to give these debaters intelligent feedback, I was continually reminded of the fact that they know TONS more about logical argumentation than I do.   I’m running to catch up with the kids again.

And, on the same subject, only more so, it looks like we’re starting up a speech and debate club here at our house next fall.   So I’m working through Richard Edwards’s Competitive Debate,  and Meany and Shuster’s  Speak Out,   to get my head oriented to what’s required to run edifying debate and speech instruction for highschool kids.

And this brings me back to the need for God to help me to persevere and see his kindness in the midst of my insecurities and lack of faith.

Somewhere in the late 1990’s, I read a line in which EB White said something to the effect that his life was the story of conquering his fears and insecurities, one at a time.  I have never been able to find that quote a second time, so maybe it’s my own idea of him.   It’s also my idea of myself.  I am a fearful mess sometimes, and it is God’s kindness that he shows himself to me through my weakness.   And I am thankful for the many many ways I find I am redirected to that perspective.



Having predicted…

I mentioned, in the little post in which I said I was not going to make excuses, that I was likely to fall off the rails when it came time to actually write up the blog posts.   Three weeks ago, I lost the book I want to write a post about.   The battery charger for my camera is fritzing out on me. We are frantically doing educational projects 14 hours a day in order to catch ourselves up, as we have fallen behind schedule.    I am never ever alone.    I have an undeniable compulsion to knit rather than read or do anything I ought to be doing.  I am four months behind on the book-keeping   (thank God for automatic  on-line bill pay).   And the 9 month old German Shepherd never tires of being walked, run, chased, and frisbee’d.      What all these  things have in common is that they  make blogging less and less possible.


But here’s the lowdown.  I got four books all done since the last time I wrote a post here.  I have absolutely no shame at all, and am going to claim for this list every single book I finish, as long as I get to the last page with honor.    (Even if it’s a kids book I read at bedtime to the babes.)    And that said, I will tell you that in the past two weeks I have finished Dorothy Sayers Letters to  Diminished Church,  Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth,   Kate DeCamillo’s Tale of Desperaux, and Nina Brown’s Children of the Self Absorbed:  A Grown-Up’s Guide to Getting Over Narcissitic Parents.   I’ve got three books on Africa going,  but they are slow and aren’t mindless enough for my old gray head to absorb while surrounded by the kind of mayhem that swirls around me currently.

But isn’t that an eclectic little foursome there?   I loved Sayer’s Letters…..and I have a little review of that one going as a draft.  But I’m delayed on that because my notes are tucked into the book, which I lost at a Hampton Inn in Portland, Oregon.  The housekeeping staff  is  hopefully reading it now.  It would certainly do them good.  That book is one helpful piece of dogmatic theological opinion.    I have to locate another copy so I can dig up the quotes I liked best and say why I think almost everybody  should read almost all of it.   It’s essays…..and some are way better than others.  And the edition I was reading had such a pile of distracting typographical errors.     Dorothy deserves a more meticulous editor.

Tollbooth and Desperaux  are certainly not up to Dorothy Sayers’s standard, but they were both fun.  How can it be that I have been parenting for almost 19 years and have never read either of those books until now?  I have heard my marvellous husband read The Phantom Tollbooth aloud to the offspring  at least twice.  Nevertheless, I’m  including it in my 100 because I have never read it with my own eyeballs.    And  I’m desperate for any morsel of literature that will take me to 100.

Which brings us to the book about children of narcissistic parents.   I found that title on a list of books recommended for people who’s parents are moving in, and I couldn’t resist.   Who wouldn’t want to see what lurks under that rock?     One thing that book did for me was convince me that my mother is the very least narcissistic  parent of her generation.  It’s a collection of tales of unhappy families and work sheets and quizzes to help adult children of the self absorbed work out the issues they have inherited.   The stories in this book left me so deliriously appreciative of my mother’s flexibility, humor,  uncomplicated nature and sensitivity to everyone around her.   Sin is misery, and it really is handed down from one generation to another.  What a sweet gift that we get to take care of someone who is kind and loving and fun!

And I’ve got one more “read aloud” to include…..I am almost finished with Livy’s Early History of Rome, some of which I got to read aloud to Daniel and Helen.  And that is such a great book to read to a boy.   I remember reading Herodotus aloud with David ten years ago, and he was so completely captivated.  And Livy had the same effect on Daniel.  Daniel is listening to Herodotus on audio in the afternoons.   These books are so perfect for middle school boys.   Loads of battles and double crossing, death and crazy acts of courage.


So, that makes six finished books and four underway.   Must finish two more before February 1.     Those two will be Livy’s Early History and Moyo’s   Dead Aid.

I have a week at home to finish books and begin new ones.    Then some of us will head off to our third NCFCA Speech and Debate tournament for the year.   At these tournaments, I don’t read as much as I knit and talk.   Lots and lots of  interesting people to talk to at a tournament!

But,  I have to say that as I am reading these books on foreign aid to Africa, and what a disaster it has been, my opinion of our role in the world is changing.   As I listen to the NCFCA   kids debating the topic of whether or not countries are morally obligated to help other countries in need, it’s all I can do not to jump up and quote passages from Dead Aid  and What’s wrong with Nigeria, about the miseries we have caused by pouring in monetary aid, food aid, cheap loans, all kinds of unhelpful help!  But there are so many perspectives on this problem of foreign aid, entitlement, charitable kindness, a global welfare state……and what the World Bank really ought to be doing.   I wonder what God is doing with us all.  One day we will see all, and know.