Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Beware the Prickles!

Alexandra let Percy wander around on the family room carpet last week. I wasn't thrilled, but it was definitely an improvement over the last time she had Percy downstairs and let him walk around on the kitchen counter.

It was hilarious to watch Jenny and Fergus react to Percy. Here is Fergus. He is terrified of the hedgehog and won't get near it. He stayed safely at the top of the stairs out of harm's way. I might be imagining it, but he looks a bit embarrassed to me about his cowardliness. And this is the dog I got to protect me from bears!

Jenny, on the other hand, is fearless. She just couldn't resist. She would watch Percy and slowly approach him.

She would reach out and nudge him with her nose, jumping back and shaking her head the second she made contact with those needle sharp quills. Then she would watch Percy for a few more minutes, creep up, and nudge him again. And again. There was something she found irresistible about that prickly lump on the carpet.

Jenny would shake her head so hard after coming into contact with Percy she was a blur!

This reminded me of when I was growing up on the farm. My first dog was a rough collie - the kind that looks like Lassie - and her name was Abigail. There was a creek about a quarter mile away from our house that had a resident population of porcupines. Abigail could not resist them. It didn't matter how many times she ended up with quills stuck in her snout, back she would go for another round. Needless to say, the porcupines came out the winners every time.

When she came home with her nose full of quills my dad would drive into town to the local drug store and get some tranquilizers to give her. Keep in mind the time setting for this story. It was the 1960s. Not only was it the 60s, it was rural/small town America. There was no vet to do the job for you. This meant there was also no vet to write the prescription for the tranquilizers. This turned out to not be a problem because the pharmacist didn't ask for one. He just counted out what he figured would be enough to knock the dog out without killing it.

This was back in the days of common sense. He knew our family and he knew our dog, so had no problem giving my dad a few pills. I doubt he even charged anything for them. My dad would drive back home, wait for the medication to kick in, then get out his pliers and gently pull out the quills. In the years after Abigail we had other dogs, but never again did we have a dog that loved to fight with the porcupines.

The weather got warmer a few days ago, so Percy got to go out on the lawn for a bit. I think he looks much happier here than on the carpet. A strange pet for a strange family.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Bliss

Today is one of those rare days where there is nothing on my calendar, not a single item on a to-do list, or any food to prepare (Sunday is leftover day at our house). This isn't to say there isn't stuff I could be doing, but there is nothing I need to be doing.

The weather is rainy and cold, which means these leaves will have to wait for another day to be raked.

Fergus loves the leaves and will be sorry to see them go.

Another indicator of a great day is one that starts out with dessert. This is an Apple Pot Pie leftover from last night. It was actually very healthy in spite of its dessert status.

I splurged and bought a new release from The Great Courses called The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience that I plan to start watching today. Okay, maybe this isn't what most people would choose for entertainment, but I love this kind of thing. Especially because I can watch it and knit at the same time.

Which brings me to the next great thing about today. I have just cast on for a project I have been wanting to knit ever since the pattern came out last winter. Granted, it doesn't look like much yet, but I promise it will the next time you see it.

Can you guess what it is from my project list?

So now I am going to settle in with a cup of tea and enjoy my Perfect Sunday. I hope yours is good, too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Take On Two Tales

I have finished two books in the past week. The first was JK Rowling's new book The Casual Vacancy. I purposely steered away from reading any reviews prior to tackling this book. I didn't want to be prejudiced by the opinions of others, and, more importantly, I didn't want to read any spoilers. I hate spoilers. Even the kinds that just hint at things. So I am going to try my hardest not to do the very thing I hate when writing about these books. Having said that, it would be impossible to write about a book without saying something about it, so be forewarned. I am going to be sharing my opinion of this book.

I want to start off by saying I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books, and an even bigger fan of JK Rowling. Which is saying a lot, because I am not usually a "fan" kind of person. I love her story almost as much as I love the stories she has written. And I love that she is giving back in such a big way. Big enough that she just got dropped from Forbes Billionaire List because she has given so much money away. This is a woman I greatly admire, which makes it difficult to write what follows.

I did not like this book. Sigh...(I wrote that because I literally sighed as I typed that sentence.) I wanted to like the book. I kept hoping as I was reading that I would start to like it. I tried to like it. But I just couldn't, and here's why. Although it is well-written, it seemed to me to miss the mark of the human condition. I believe that most people are mostly good, and that while nobody is perfect, in most circumstances the majority of us will do the right thing given the opportunity. Yes, there are people who are intent on doing harm to themselves and others, who live in a world of dark thoughts and deeds, but I believe those people are the exception, not the rule.

The thing about The Casual Vacancy is it seems to have this balance reversed. Dark thoughts and dark deeds were the norm, to the point I felt Voldemort needed to make an appearance just to lighten things up a bit. It seemed ironic to me that the Harry Potter novels, although based in a world of magic, seemed to touch on the truth of the human condition in a more balanced way than this book which is based in the real world. Yes, there were occasional glimmers of goodness, but not enough to take away the depressed feeling I had when I finished reading this book. That feeling would grab a hold of me every time I thought about the story for the next couple of days, right up until I started my next book.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is categorized as a middle grade novel, but trust me, this book is every bit as much for adults as it is for kids. I'm in agreement with C.S. Lewis. "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." This book is about August, or Auggie as his friends and family call him. When the book begins, Auggie is preparing to start fifth grade. This might sound all very ordinary, but it's not. First of all, Auggie has never been to school before. Up to this point he has been homeschoooled. Secondly, Auggie has a severe craniofacial abnormality that makes him the object of attention, and not in a good way, wherever he goes.

This book whooshed away every bad feeling left behind by The Casual Vacancy. The characters were realistic - some you empathized with and others you disliked intensely. No character was made to be perfect, and while not every flaw in every person was made right by the end of the story, many characters did grow and change for the better. In other works, it reflected real life. There was a theme of goodness emerging that made me want to stand up and cheer by the time I finished reading it.

I will confess this book also made me cry. More than once. My final bout of tears was in the Costco parking lot yesterday morning (I was waiting for the tire department to open so I could get my winter tires on.) As I finished the last few pages the tears were rolling down my cheeks. This was not good for several reasons. It was snowing outside and I was freezing. Cold and tears are not a good mix. Worse yet, the tire store was due to open in a few minutes and I realized I was going to go in looking like I had some kind of problem.

I used to cry all the time when I read aloud to my kids, so they are quite used to it. I wasn't so sure about being unleashed on the unsuspecting public though, but as it turned out everyone was so intent on getting their place in line nobody paid any attention to the crazy lady who kept wiping her face and blowing her nose. It didn't really matter anyway. You see, the reason I was crying was because this story ended so perfectly, so filled with emotion and goodness and hope, that it didn't matter to me if I did look a bit odd on the outside. On the inside I was cheering for Auggie. And for the power of a good story to carry me outside of myself and into someone else's world in an unforgettable way.

Just off the needles is Who?, a free pattern from Ravelry. This was a very quick knit, and another stash buster. I used the rest of the City Tweed HW left from the Donegal Fingerless Gloves.

The Alexandra update is a good one. The vac dressing is working, and she should only have to wear it for another few days. Three cheers for the wonders of modern medical technology! I would love to hear your thoughts on The Casual Vacancy if you have read it, and also on Wonder if you decide to read it (I really hope you do!).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Slow Recovery

As I mentioned in this post, I tend to get the most knitting done when I am stressed. Well, the knitting has practically been flying off my needles all on its own around here lately. I feel a bit like Mrs. Weasley.

For those of you with squeamish stomachs, you might want to skip this next bit and just scroll down to the pictures of my latest finished object. I have refrained from blogging about this for over a week, but at this point I am feeling so frustrated, and, to be honest, angry, that I decided it would make me feel better to write about it. So my apologies in advance if this is Too Much Information.

Things had gone so well with Alexandra's surgery. In fact, it was the best hospital experience she had ever had. I was so happy that for once things seemed to go off without a hitch. The important word in that last sentence is "seemed."

A couple of days after she was home she started to have some pain around the incision site. Keep in mind this was no small incision. It had taken fourteen staples to close it. Here's the thing. They took all of those staples out the day she left the hospital, just four days after the surgery. As it turns out this was way too early. The incision started to come apart. This resulted in a trip to the hospital emergency room.

She was told it would now have to be packed every day with gauze, so for over a week she has been making trips to the ambulatory clinic to have this done. Not pleasant. Then it got infected. This wouldn't be a surprise since it is now an open wound and getting handled every day.

Then, a few days ago, it basically came completely apart. This meant another trip to emergency and a visit to the surgeon. The plan now is to use a special kind of vacuum dressing to get the incision to heal. She will have to wear this machine all the time, and as a consequence now has to book off at least a week and a half from her job. The good news is this should have the incision healed in a couple of weeks, as opposed to the month or longer it was going to take using the current approach.

I get that bad stuff happens sometimes. But "this stuff" was, in my opinion, totally avoidable. Had the staples been left in for the proper amount of time it is highly unlikely any of this would have occurred. There is a lot more I could say, but it would involve using some very bad language so I will stop here.

These are Donegal Fingerless Gloves by Kate Davies, knit with City Tweed HW. Details are on my Ravelry page.

I think it is safe to say you can expect to see more finished knitting projects in the near future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Purchased Courage

Over the course of her childhood Alexandra visited BC Children's Hospital as an outpatient over fifty times. Throw in her hospital admissions and that number is closer to sixty. Unfortunately these visits often involved needles. She was terrified of getting poked, and would scream and kick and carry on until I feared for the safety of those around her (myself included). It is a horrible thing to see your child be so terrified, plus all of her thrashing about made the procedures much more painful than they would have been had she sat still.

There was, however, one thing Alexandra loved about going to Children's - the gift shop. It was quite small, but was filled with things that delight a small child - fancy pencils and erasers, notebooks, stickers and cheap jewelry. 

After one particularly harrowing event in nuclear medicine I came up with a brilliant idea, one that was to see us through many a rough spot over the coming years. In a word, it was bribery, although I prefer the term I used in the title of this post. Purchased courage.

I made a deal with her that roughly went like this. If she had to have a poke for a blood draw she would get $1. An IV would net $2, a procedure (endoscopy, kidney biopsy, etc.) was worth $5, and surgery earned a whopping $10. The money was cumulative, so if she had surgery she was into the big bucks because she usually had to have blood work ahead of time, plus there was the IV when she was put under, along with the surgery itself. 

But there was a catch. When she had these things done she could not scream, throw herself around or kick the unfortunate people who happened to be standing nearby (this last one was for my own protection). She could say "ouch" loudly and wiggle her toes and still get paid. Anything more than that and she wouldn't get a penny. Let me tell you, this worked like magic. Never once did we have an issue after this plan was implemented. She would march off to the gift shop and spend time looking at the goodies, figuring out what she could afford with her hard-earned money. She was so focused on the money that she would be calculating ahead of her visits exactly how much she would be earning! 

Now that Alexandra is an adult things have changed. As we were walking into the hospital a couple of weeks ago ahead of her surgery I turned to her and jokingly asked if she wanted me to pay her. She laughed and said no, that was okay. Of course, she was right. She is way too old to think she has hit the jackpot if she gets $10, and it has been many years since a $2 ring with an adjustable band, one that would turn her finger green within a couple of days, held any appeal. 

She has matured and so have her tastes. This latest hospital stay netted her these. Knit with Biscotte & Cie self-striping yarn purchased from The Loopy Ewe.

I'm happy to say these brought a smile to her face every bit as big as she used to get all those years ago at that little hospital gift shop.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fergus Friday, October 12, 2012

Before I went on my trip to Korea I would frequently have people express surprise when I told them Fergus had been to puppy training. To be honest I found these observations to be offensive. Well, since returning I have to admit I have joined the surprised camp. Seriously, this puppy has gone feral, and worse yet, I think he has taken Jenny with him. Do not be deceived by these seemingly innocent puppy faces.

It reminds me of when Rebekah was three years old and we left her with my parents for a few days while we went to Vancouver. I'm not sure whose child we picked up from my parents' farm, but it most certainly wasn't my sweet little daughter! She had my parents so under her control that when she wanted a drink of water her grandma was the one who was allowed to fill the glass, but she insisted the water be delivered to Her Royal Highness by her grandpa. True story. The good news is Rebekah grew up to be a lovely young woman, and is now completely capable of getting her own drinks. This gives me great hope for Fergus.

This picture is also misleading. It gives the appearance that Fergus and Emily are friends. They aren't. Fergus is sitting on the steps to keep Emily from being able to go into the kitchen.

This picture might look like our three pets enjoying each other's company. Again, this would be misleading.

Emily is waiting for someone to open the door and let her through to the basement - a place she is safe from canines. The dogs are waiting for her to make her move. As soon as she does Fergus and Jenny become The Hounds of Hell.

Emily can be quite nasty when the dogs gang up on her. You can see her paw raised, ready to strike if Fergus gets too close. Poor Emily. I'm sure she was wondering why this human was taking pictures instead of opening the door so she could escape from these ridiculous dogs.

Finally, Fergus and his accomplice Jenny have turned into the neighbourhood busybodies. They spend hours looking out this window. Fergus seems to have a goal of barking at every school child who walks by our house.

In spite of his antics, or maybe because of them, I really missed Fergus while I was away. Judging by his reaction when I got home, I think the feeling was mutual.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Socktober, the Very Best Month

It has been an amazing October so far. Day after day of clear blue skies have made it seem like summer is still trying to hang on, in spite of the fact we are already a couple of weeks into fall. This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving and I can't ever remember a Thanksgiving where it was so warm you could sit out on the back deck enjoying a good book. (Well, maybe not that great of a book, but I will save that for another blog post.)

It was a very strange holiday here at the Hammond house. Usually the house is full of people and food and laughter. This year there was an unwelcome silence. The only one of my kids home was Alexandra, and she had to work (this in spite of the fact the surgeon told her not to go back to work yet!). In a fit of self-pity I made a batch of gluten-free pumpkin scones and indulged, with my Autumn Korknisse keeping me company. The only good thing I have to say about this is at least I didn't have to share my scones.

This good weather is only supposed to last another few days, and I have to admit I am sort of glad. Every year I make myself wait until the cooler October days before I start wearing my hand knit wool socks again. It might sound lame, but I look forward to the first day I get to put on my wool socks the way some people look forward to Christmas. This year there are several new pairs waiting in my wool chest, ready to be pulled out and put into action.

In addition to getting in some reading and knitting over the long weekend I also managed to rip out most of my garden. My carrots, parsnips and kale are still going strong, but the rest was a sad, sorry tangle of half-dead plants. It is a relief to look out and see the garden boxes cleared out, ready for next spring and hopefully a more productive year than this past one was. I cut the parsley that was left and dehydrated it. It will be nice to add to soups and stews this fall.

I love the "tucked in" feeling I get in October. Knowing that the yard and garden have been put to rest for the winter, getting out hand knit sweaters, hats, socks and mitts, reading in front of the fireplace, dinner cooking in the slow cooker, filling the house with good smells - these are just some of the things that make October the best month of the year!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kimchi, Weck Jars, and a Hedgehog

Last weekend when Karsten was here he got to meet Percy, Alexandra's hedgehog. I think Karsten was more impressed than Percy, who made horrible hissing sounds throughout the meet-up. Or maybe that was actually me making the horrible hissing sounds when I walked into the kitchen and saw this. This is when bleach becomes your best friend.

I have been going through Korea withdrawal, missing both Rebekah and the food. In an attempt to help cure that condition I made a batch of kimchi last week. I didn't hold out much hope of it being edible. I have tried making it in the past, with the finished product tasting like a salt mine. This time I found this recipe, carefully read through the reviews and tips, and took extra care when rinsing the cabbage. The result is amazing! Better yet, last week when I was out in Sorrento (the one in BC, not Italy) visiting my friend Cindy she showed me the jars she had just bought. I couldn't believe it when she pulled the Weck Jars out of her cupboard! I have been wanting some of these jars forever, and it turned out a local store was carrying them. The large one is perfect for storing kimchi.

I bought several smaller jars, too. If you saw these jars in person you would understand why. They are beautiful.

In other news, Alexandra is home and doing well. Percy was especially glad to see her. He hates me, and did that hissing thing every time I gave him food and water. I think he is still holding a grudge about the little episode with him being on my kitchen counter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bumpy Landing

While I was away, other than the plane ride, I hardly touched my knitting. This was partly because I was so busy, but I think it also had something to do with the fact that a holiday is a relatively stress-free time, and one of the times I knit the most is when I am stressed. I also knit when I am happy, or just have some spare moments in the day, but the biggy, the thing that drives me to the needles above all others, is the need to knit out my worries. I anticipate a fair amount of knitting will get done this week.

Alexandra was scheduled to have surgery later in October to repair the hole left from when she had a feeding tube. The surgery got pushed ahead to today, and she will be in the hospital until at least Thursday recovering. Worrying plus waiting time should equate to at least one pair of socks being finished before the week is over.

While I was away our family was subjected to another one of the "appliance benders" we go on every so often. The first thing to break was the dishwasher. It actually died before I left, but didn't get sorted out until well into my time away. It took the repairman four house calls to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be the same thing that had broken the last time it died. While waiting for it to get fixed the ice cube maker stopped working. Then the lawnmower died. The good news here was the ice cube maker mysteriously started working again. The bad news was the lawn mower didn't, and had to go to the repair shop. If I had been home to experience all this breakage first-hand I am sure way more knitting would have happened. Given the circumstances, I am happy to have missed out on that extra knitting time.

This past weekend was the big move from Calgary to Victoria for Karsten and Diana. They were scheduled to stay at our house on their way, and I was really looking forward to seeing both of them. Then on Friday Karsten called to say there had been a change of plans. Diana had a family medical emergency and needed to fly back to Montreal. This left Karsten to load up their vehicle, complete with their two cats, and drive here on his own.

Karsten's two cats and our cat Emily hated each other from the second they met. Emily was hissing, Karsten's cats were hissing, and it deteriorated from there. This proved to be unfortunate for Karsten, who got caught in the middle of one of Emily's rages. The cat hooked a claw deep into Karsten's finger, and at that point Karsten was also in a rage. (Have I mentioned that I've gotten quite a bit of knitting done since getting home from Korea?)

By the next morning, as he had rightly predicted the night before, his finger was infected. He is now on antibiotics. He was in better humour about the whole thing by this morning, and so I thought it was safe to make the observation that it seemed auspicious to me to be heading out to start his career as an infectious disease physician on antibiotics for a cat scratch. Judging from his reaction I think his humour needs to improve a bit more before he sees it from that angle.

I won't go into any of the other things that have helped these latest pair of socks fly off my needles. Suffice it to say I am really hoping the knitting production goes down markedly next week. Not because I don't love knitting. I do. I just would like the production to drop to the level it is at when my life setting is at "normal." These are knit with Simply Socks Poste Yarn, colourway Sedona Sunset.

Sorry for such a disjointed post, but this is what comes out when waiting for someone to get out of surgery. And now it is back to knitting...And waiting...