My Beautiful Little Nut Hoard

I will do what I can to explain to you why I have a nut hoard.  You probably will not understand, most people wouldn’t.  I will give it my best.  I have a beautiful little nut hoard.  It is sitting out on my back patio right now.  It is strangely satisfying to go out each day to check its progress. ….. what “progress” could a nut hoard possibly be making?  Let me explain, from the beginning.

For as long as I can remember I have been a ” looker”, no, not  that kind of looker, I mean a looker who looks for things.  What sort of things you ask?  Hmmmm….. anything that might prove to be useful I guess.  It’s a sort of treasure hunt, it’s a creative thing I suppose.  I like to find things, it is a way of life.  Perhaps it comes from growing-up poor, perhaps it comes from a childhood where I was in charge of entertaining myself, or maybe, it comes from generations of ancestors who were farmers making a living off the land.  I do not know, but I am a damn good looker.  It’s sort of like approaching life as one giant treasure hunt.  There is cool, awesome, amazing stuff, out there just waiting to be found.

I was indoctrinated into the society of lookers by my dad. Sometimes he would announce “we are going for a drive”.  THAT was a family activity.  He would take us driving on small country roads, because,  I realize now, he was a looker too.  Sometimes we would find amazing rare wild flowers, sometimes a stand of elderberries soon to be pies, a good fishing hole, brilliant picnic spot.  The whole purpose of these treks would be to look for stuff.  I remember once we found a whole field of wild huckleberries up on Powderhouse Road.  We spent hours collecting those tiny berries. How many other kids do you know who would be entertained for any length of time doing that? A particularly great find was a vast  field of wild strawberries in Hornby where I later took a nursing school chum.  We picked berries in the hot sun for hours, having to shed clothes at one point to keep from burning to death.  Heat exhaustion is no deterrent to a true looker & Donna must have been one as well.

So, back to my hoard, one of the purposes, intended or accidental, of these “drives” was for my dad to teach us about wild things.  Among these,  I learned to identify trees & their nuts, which ones were edible and which ones were purely interesting to look at and collect for the sake of finding something cool, beautiful, or intriguing, that may prove useful for some, yet to be discovered, future purpose.   Ok, back to nuts, so I grew up in the small town of Corning, NY.  It is a sweet little factory town that sprung-up around the Corning Glass Factory.  Our town has tree-lined streets that I walked every inch of, because when you are a kid you cannot initiate your own “take a drives” so you go on walks to kill time.  I knew every street and alley-way along with which yards were the best for “cutting through”, who had old garages that you could play in without being discovered, and who had anything edible growing.  I knew every cool and interesting tree in a four block radius around my house.  Next door there was a huge catalpa tree, we just called it a green bean tree.  The huge green-bean-like pods it produced were preceded by big, beautiful, flowers resembling orchids.  These were so exotic and beautiful.  When they fell to the ground in relatively good shape they were a great find and definitely worthy of collection. Down on second street between Chemung & Pearl old lady Tupper had a pear tree that always had massive quantities of fruit.  At the corner of 3rd & Wall was a huge chestnut tree that dropped crazy-prickly nut balls each of which contained two beautifully shiny chestnuts, but not the kind you can eat.  These were good only for collecting, and if you were a boy, throwing at girls.  But one block away, on the corner of Wall & 2nd was a true find. A hickory nut-tree!

There was an old guy who lived in this very well-maintained house on the corner of 2nd & Wall.  I loved walking by well-maintained houses, perhaps because of the fact that my own was quite a ramshackle eye sore.  Amongst my many daydreams was to one day live in one of these beautiful big old Victorian houses that lined the streets of my neighborhood.  Our house was once one of these, but something happened and the family, along with the house fell, into disrepair.  When doing some genealogy research I discovered that my grandparents had two daughters that died.  One as a 10 month old infant, poisoned by a “patent medicine” and the other a 13-year-old girl scout & honor student who went to take a bath at 1:00 in the afternoon & died from asphyxiation from the gas heater used to heat her bath.  The story I imagine is that this family of successful Irish immigrants began to fall into ruin after these two tragedies, but I can’t be sure. What does that have to do with nuts? Nothing, but I did like those nice houses, so I spent a lot of time looking at them.

When you are a “looker” you spend a lot of time looking at the ground for things non-lookers drop without notice.  This is a good way to find a little cash and one day this paid-off big-time for me at the corner of 2nd & Wall. I found a paper bag filled with $1 bills!  I don’t remember for sure how many, but it was a fortune at the time. Holy Jeez wowza I’m rich!  So if you’re a kid that finds a bag full of money, you think “this is the spot where people leave bags of cash” and you make sure to include that corner in every one of your walkabouts on the odd chance that history repeats itself.  I never found another bag of dough, but on the same block I found a $20 bill in the leaves along the curb in front of Jimmy Sproule’s house…. I used it to buy a black velveteen bikini with a satin lady bug applique from JC Pennys.  It was one of the nicest things I ever owned.

OK, back to the nuts, so, along with that fat bag of cash I happened-upon a major hickory nut drop under that same tree.  I didn’t know what they were, but they were definitely worthy of collection.  So I stuffed my cash filled paper bag to the hilt with these mystery nuts & carted them  home to await my father’s arrival  from work.  When my dad came home from the fire department it was the job of one of kids to take his boots off for him.  He plopped his bone-tired self down into his ratty recliner & one of us was assigned the undertaking of un-lacing his huge boots and pulling with all of your might to yank them off of his huge, white-sock-wearing, feet.  Then, and only then, could I show him what was in that bag!  Hickory nuts, yes, you can eat them.  Oh yeah, and BTW, I also found a whole pile of $1 bills.

I spent a lot of time inefficiently smashing those nuts with a hammer on the sidewalk in front of our house and fishing out what crumbs of nut meats remained in the aftermath.  I ate them on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream and it made a lasting memory that remains some 40 years later.  I remember exactly what they tasted like, something between a pecan and maple syrup.  But, I never found them again, until now, that it is.

Ok, back to my nut hoard.  I enjoy picking things up.  Go on a walk with me & you will see for yourself.  Perhaps you will find this trait quite annoying because it interferes with the purpose of taking a walk, which to some, is just walking & not looking.   So I was out walking with my friend Kathy, who I suspect may also be a  looker, when I discovered strange nut pods on a tree along the side of the road.  I break one open & inside much to my amazement was a hickory nut!  I had not seen them still in the pod before because in my previous find, the nuts had already been freed from them.  The thing is that I had been fooled by other hickory nuts before, not all of them are edible you see.  I have a  HUGE hickory tree at the end of my driveway which drops massive quantities of nuts, but they are the bitter,  inedible, pig hickory variety.  So this new discovery was worthy of some research.  Low & behold these nuts were from a shag bark hickory, the kind I have loved, but never eaten for better than 4 decades.

Now here we are at 1512 words and I haven’t said a word about my nut hoard.  If you are still reading this I am very impressed, but I am done writing so you will never know about me and my nuts.  But here are a couple of pictures to demonstrate why I bother to collect, sort, dry, and crack these amazing gifts from nature….the most amazing breakfast!

porridge with hickory nuts hickory nuts


How to use Japanese Sewing Patterns… if you don’t speak Japanese!

Sitting in the car waiting for my daughter at The Japanese Language School in Philadelphia gives me plenty of time to check out all of those super-stylish Japanese moms.  I love their chic, simple mode of dress and have spent a great deal of time coveting those gorgeous clothes. This style of clothing has a very simple silhouette, loose-fitting, and comfortable looking.  These ladies look effortlessly amazing.   I knew there had to be patterns to make them somewhere, but Vogue, McCall’s, Butterick, et al,  just did not have anything like what I was seeing.  Then I made a trip to San Francisco and while my daughter looked for Kanji books, I set off in search of patterns.  BINGO! There they were, and they had a few selections in English.  Japanese patterns are sold in book form.  Each book that I saw had a complete “wardrobe” with several different tops & bottoms, as well as dresses.  The books contain full size patterns, but here’s the rub, ALL of the pattern pieces are printed one on top of the other requiring you to trace the pattern pieces as needed for your selected garment.

The two books that I have tried were in Japanese.  I do NOT speak Japanese but I was able to use these books without too much difficulty.  The hardest part is finding the pattern pieces that you need, tailoring to your size, & then tracing them.  I would not recommend that you attempt using a pattern in Japanese unless you either: A. speak the language or B. you are a fairly experienced seamstress.  Adjusting the pattern to fit you (unless you are both petite & a size 2) can be a challenge. I am 5’9″ tall and wear a size 8.  I needed to do a fair bit of enlarging & lengthening the patterns to fit me.  Knowing how to adjust sizes without distorting the garment requires some knowledge.  Both of my pattern books had great illustrations for assembling the garments, so “no English” was a “non-issue” as I have a good understanding of how to construct a garment.

Finding the pattern pieces needed for my selected projects was made much easier by the fact that they used Arabic numerals & Latin letters in addition to Japanese on each piece. I have no idea why.   If this had not been the case, it would have been quite a headache as the pieces are hard enough to find as it is with them all printed on top of each other! You need a sturdy paper for tracing your pattern pieces.  One that will hold up to being written on & pinned through multiple times.  I bought a large roll of vellum from a retired architect at a yard sale for a couple of bucks some time ago & this proved to be the perfect thing!  Vellum is very expensive but you can buy rolls of tracing paper for a more reasonable price:

Locate your pattern pieces, adjust for size & trace.  You will likely need to add a seam allowance, as I did.  There were no markings such as “notches” on my patterns so I added my own to help me know which were front & back pieces.  There were no “dots” for matching-up pieces so you are on your own.  You also need to be able to recognize when a pattern piece needs to be placed on the fold.  My patterns did have directional arrows for placing on the grain of the fabric.   Now you are ready to get sewing.

The ladies whose clothes I have been admiring seem to dress in all linen or cotton fabrics, of course it is summer.  I chose 100% linen for my garments.  I am just mad for linen.  It is the most comfortable thing you can imagine and has an earthy, natural, look regardless of the color or pattern.  Sure it wrinkles, but in these silhouettes you will still look great.  If I could, I would wear nothing but linen,  and I would sleep on linen sheets… if they didn’t cost a fortune! japanese patern project #1

My first pattern book was a special gift from my daughter who bought it in Japan.  All of the patterns are for tops and all of the tops are made from a SINGLE pattern piece.  The front, back & sleeves are all cut in a single piece & then folded to make a top  with side seams… two straight lines.  I am calling this the “origami method of sewing”.  You will see a demo of one of these patterns in my second photo “project #2”.  I wish I had made one of the tops with sleeves so that you can see how that works.  Since mine is sleeveless I had sew shoulder seams too. I found this pattern to be incredibly easy to construct, however resizing this pattern was a bear!  In order to change the size I resorted to splitting the pattern into two pieces, thus putting it into a more familiar format.  Sadly, this took away the fun of using one piece & required sewing of an additional seam.  If you are tiny you are all set!

I bought one of my pattern books from sweet Nobuko’s Esty shop: Japan Lovely Crafts. Her listings include photographs of each garment found in the pattern book. She is a great vendor to deal with & ships things out very quickly. If you don’t live in a city with a Japanese book store Nobuko’s shop should be your first stop:       She also sells fabric and other craft items.

Japanese patern project #2

I bought another Japanese pattern book on Amazon.  They sell books that have been translated to English.  However, their listings only show the cover, not pictures of all the garments. When the book arrived I was very disappointed that I did not like any of them.  I have seen Japanese sewing books that are translated to English in Japanese bookstores in Japan Town In San Francisco and at the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, NJ.  But you have to admit, being able to read the directions does take some of the adventure out of the process.

It’s a Long Drop from the Nest

So where to begin? My two girls are growing up, can’t deny nor avoid the truth of it. But, I don’t have to like it, or do I? I look at them and think, wow, what amazing women they are turning out to be…. but the instinct to hover & protect them is very strong. My need to keep them close, under my wing, comes from so deep in my DNA that it defies logic & reality. Truth be told, it is all a delusion to think I can protect them from the world as the world has proven that time & time again. Does that reality really need to come in the form of a breath stealing blow? Can’t we just slowly ease into this independence thing without heartbreak & drama?
It’s a long drop from the nest my little fledglings. I will be there rooting for you and do my best to soften the landing. Once you have toddled off the rim all I can do is hold my breath & give you the best advice I have for how to keep yourself afloat. It is a day like today that I find little comfort in knowing that this is the nature of things.
Yesterday morning at 3:00am we set off to take Elena & her Japanese teacher, Lily, to the airport. They were off to spend 3 weeks in Japan together to soak in as much of Japan as they possibly can. We were excited, ecstatic really, that she was getting to make this fabulous journey, truly a dream come true. We were excited talking about how crammed their suitcases would be on the journey home, what they would eat, see, and experience. Elena was elated, she could hardly contain herself. I was so happy. I felt totally confident that Elena would have a trip of a lifetime and that she would be safe, she is in very good hands with Lily. Nothing to worry about, we had thought of everything & planned for every possible glitch.
They arrived safely to San Francisco 35 minutes early and all was looking perfect for another uneventful flight to Osaka. We had shared text messages with the girls about their progress. All was going well. We got the text  message letting us know that they were sitting on the tarmac, they were the next plane to take off. We took our last moment of our ability to communicate to wish them well and to enjoy the 12 hour flight.
We weren’t expecting to receive another text a few minutes later saying that they hadn’t left because there was a “plane crash”. Dave & I immediately assumed that there was some minor happening that would slow them up a bit. But, more  text messages kept coming, each one a little more frantic & concerning than the last. We put on the news and saw a large plane in flames on the runway in SFO. We knew Elena was there on a runway and this was happening in front of her. Dread, despair, panic, our baby was witness to a tragedy & I was not there to tell her she would be OK, that she & Lily were safe.
THAT is the moment that I realized how much magic a mother can perform. We have the power to kiss a boo boo and make it all better. We can hold our babies in our arms and they will feel safe from whatever they fear. As the babes grow older, we need to to do this less & less often. Perhaps I had even stopped thinking about this until the need to hold her was so coldly thrown in my face, without the ability to do so.
Elena was being brave, trying to assure me that everything was OK. But I know that she was trying to be strong for me. The only thing I wanted was to take her in my arms in a rib crushing embrace…. at this stage in her leaving the nest Elena would no sooner die than receive that hug.  She is tolerant of my need to kiss her & hug her, but I know she doesn’t like it.  I force myself on her anyway.  I’d be willing to bet that in this case she would not resist my grasp on her.

The hardest thing for me during this time was not being able to see her.  Elena is stoic and I need to see her in order to read the body language that tells me how she is really feeling.  I have no confidence in the “ha ha’s” and smiling emoticons in the messages she is sending me.  I know that she is panicking on the inside but doesn’t want me to know, to worry about her.  She sat on the tarmac for 3 hours while emergency personnel attended to the tragedy that laid on the runway before them.  All the while Elena is sending us messages saying “it’s bad” and sending photos of a plane in flames.  Knowing that she wasn’t in any danger did not comfort me much because I knew she needed me and I wasn’t there.  Back home we had CNN live coverage & we were feeding info back to the girls sitting on the plane.  We saw video of survivors exiting the wreckage and I needed to let them know that it appears there would be relatively few deaths.  “Few deaths”?  How reassuring is that when you are sitting on a 747 witnessing a tragedy? OMG and what about those waiting at the airport, excited to see their loved ones who were on that plane returning from a trip to Korea? Jesus, why I am feeling so concerned for myself?  Because I love her.  Because she gives me a reason to wake up every morning.  Because she is an amazing kid who at 15 is trying to protect me from 4,000 miles away.  Because she is beautiful, talented, and has a kind & loving heart.  Because I cannot imagine life without her.

Thank God she is safe.

the waiting room

Yesterday I drove a friend to a doctor’s visit. Not being a patient, I had about 1 hour to sit & just observe. I remember thinking for a moment that it might be an interesting study for a sociologist, anthropologist, or psychologist, to just sit and observe human behavior.  A few minutes later I find myself doing just that.  Here are my findings.

The first thing that struck me was that everyone in the room at the time was giving their full attention to their cell phones. (there is a sign on the entry door that says no cell phones)  I eavesdrop as they report to their companions who said what on facebook, and that so & so just asked them if they were awake yet.    Head-down, death grip, clasping their reason for living.  I thought to myself, how sad.  Is this a sign of some sort of psychological issue?  Is there a wee bit of pathology happening here?   I’m thinking yes, although I admit I do not have the titles that qualify me to say so.  I watch them as I sit knitting, doing my best to be stealthy as I peek up at them… yep those fingers have vice grips on their “devices”.  Is this a coping mechanism? Are they suffering fear about their appointments and need to modulate their anxiety by making a social connection?  I’m thinking, no.  I’m thinking that THAT phone IS that person’s existence, the only way that they can make themselves known to exist in the world.  I mean really, is it  important, useful, or even interesting to be up to date on who “likes” the latest cat video, right here , right now?    Sad, sad, sad.

I also got some interesting insight into what some people value most.  A man with many expensive-looking tats, designer shoes & an i-phone with a data plan un-apologetically  reports to the receptionist that he doesn’t have the $25 co-pay that she has just requested.  He is holding a mangled-looking arm & wreaks of cigarettes.  I’m guessing he is A: in a lot of pain and B: has a 2 pack-a-day habit judging by the stench level.  Hmmm, he can afford to spend $300 a month on smokes but can’t find $25 to have that arm looked at… after all why should anyone have to pay for health care?  I am pretty sure that his tattoo artist got paid his $300 up front before laying down all of that ink, but that’s different.    This leads me to consider for a few moments what it must cost to keep that orthopedic office running.  I counted 7 staff members, I don’t know if there were others.  It was a big office with multiple rooms which were well-lit & the heat was on.  There were an adequate number of comfortable chairs for those of us waiting.  They have an x-ray machine which requires maintenance   The cost of  malpractice insurance is surely in the 10’s of thousands of dollars.  The insurance companies decide what the doctor will get paid and he probably has a whole team of  “billing people” working full-time in an attempt to get him paid. That sounds expensive….. but I forgot about all of the TV lawyers waiting, salivating, hoping, for a chance to sue him for any reason the imagination can conjure.  Oh & there’s the $250,000 he spent on his education, student loans that he actually repaid.  I’m  glad I am not involved in making this thing work.

Another observation that I would like to comment on is the need for receptionists to ask for photo ID.  This is done because health care offices got wise to the practice of people sharing their insurance cards  & medicaid credentials.  TWICE the receptionist had to ask people for a second form of ID because the address on the person’s driver’s licence did not match the address the patient had given.  I did not have to prove my place of residence when applying for a passport!  She explains politely that a driver’s license that does not indicate where the driver really lives is not considered valid.  She asks if they have a “yellow card”, neither patient knows what she is talking about.  Apparently, you are given a “yellow card” by the DMV which has your current address to be used while you are waiting for a new driver’s license with your new address to be issued… but you must, of course, let the DMV know that you have changed your address.  How does she know that?  WHY does she HAVE to know that?  I suppose it is to increase the chances of the office getting some measure of payment for this office visit for which a patient is asked to pay $25 and which costs the physician $200 in expenses to provide, and from which he so selfishly expects to make a living… and provide a living wage for all of his staff.

Is health care expensive?  Hell yes it is!  Does everyone have a right to it?  Yes, I believe so.  BUT that doesn’t mean people should be allowed to abuse the system.  I think everyone should pay something and maybe for some people that something isn’t very much at all. And no more using the emergency room for minor ailments.  I tend to think that people are less likely to waste things that  they  pay for out of their own pocket.  I think it might not be a bad idea to require everyone to have insurance.  Make it affordable for everyone to have some level of coverage.  Why are we not OK with this system but OK with the system of those who do pay having to pay a lot more to make up for those don’t?   What to do about the mega costs of  life-style generated morbidity, such as smoking-related lung disease, and people who ride motorcycles without helmets is a very tricky issue… deciding who caused their own illness,  who got sick at no fault of their own, assigning blame…… that’s a hard one.  If you choose to do something harmful to your body, fully knowing the consequences to your health and the expense of the attempts to undo the damage that you created, should you be expected to be responsible for that?  Tricky, tricky.

OOOOH this next lady is a doozie, she has a complaint.  She is quite miffed about having to fill out a health history form on-line.  Why do they need to know about all of that?  It took her at least 10 minutes to complete that form because there were so many questions.  She is here for a broken wrist, the doctor does NOT NEED TO KNOW that she is allergic to penicillin OR that she takes blood pressure medication (who would have guessed). And another thing, she is tired of people asking her “why are you here today”.  First the nurse asks, then the doctor, why do they have to ask me ten times?   I burst out laughing, the secretary who is getting unjustly yelled at shoots me a dirty look.  I am sorry, but this is quality comedic entertainment right here.  Too bad I don’t have one of those newfangled smart phones & a YouTube account!

OK, now there’s a woman in utter SHOCK because she was told that she has a $20 co-pay (mine is $40, she must have a government job).  She is NOT happy, that is ridiculous!  Meanwhile she is a card carrying member of  the iPhone clutching, Coach bag carrying, Burberry trench wearing, with a $60 manicure & major hair weave club .  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the reason she is here is the back pain caused by the weight of all of the high-end labeled status-symbol crap she carries around with her combined with tripping around in her Christian Louboutin stilettos.  As an unlettered professor of psychology & sociology I know the truth is that she really doesn’t feel very good about herself, thus the pathetic need to announce to the world that she is somebody.  $10 says there’s a little dog with a jeweled collar stowed in that ginormous handbag.

Now this is the grand-daddy of all waiting room stories.  I swear to you that it is a true fact, I was not an eye witness, I confess, but I have it on very good authority to be the gospel truth.  A woman walks into the gynecologist office with her THREE little dogs, papillons I believe.  The  receptionist needs a moment to regain her voice because she has been rendered totally stupefied & speechless.  She politely tells the woman that she cannot bring her pack of canines into a doctor’s office.  The woman points to a woman holding her newborn and says something like “you let her bring that  filthy thing in here”.  Again, where are the You Tubers when you really need one?

In Charlie’s Lab

When I was in graduate school I had a job in Charlie’s Lab. It was a super-nerdy-real-deal-haven of scientific endeavor.  Charlie had a number of research assistants, there were three of us sharing our lab space along with some  fancy high-dollar equipment. There was the slutty med student who was all emo & crying about this guy & that guy. That is all I can recall about her some 25 years later. I can’t remember what she was working on, but I think what she was mostly working on was getting laid.

Ok, then there was “the dog lady”.  Holy shit she was bonkers.  She was a breeder of Irish Setters and that was her life.  Her dogs & Charlie’s lab, that’s it.  All of her money was spent on her dogs and traveling around to dog shows….day in, day out, dogs, dogs dogs.   She was working on something involving electrophoresis, preparing “gels”, for what I can’t remember.  Something to do with hematology, Charlie was a hematologist/oncologist. So here is the main thing that I want you to know about the dog woman: she taped her glasses to her forehead.  You know that image of the classic nerd with their glasses taped together in the middle of the nose bridge part?  Well, THIS tape-job had to be seen to be believed… and it’s all true, I swear to you, she taped her goddamned eye glasses to her forehead.  It’s important to me that you get this image in your head before I continue my story.  Imagine a 50ish woman, bone skinny from near starvation, as like I told you before, she spent ALL of her money on the dogs.  She ate nothing but ramen noodles, 3 meals a day, so one can only hazard a guess at how many holes there were in her liver. Charlie should have been studying HER blood chemistry.   Anyway, get the image in your head of a bone skinny & malnourished 50-something with hair that lacked from grooming wearing odd, ill-fitting, stretch pants and a sweatshirt with an Irish setter on it along  with the stupidest looking tennies imaginable.  OK, got that?  So here’s the hard part, on her haggard-stress-worn face are a pair of severely dated spectacles missing BOTH bows necessitating the need for the use of  several strips of Scotch tape stretched between the bridge of her nose & her forehead… ie: in case you didn’t get this, the ONLY thing holding her glasses to her head was the Scotch tape. She would walk around the whole hospital/university campus like that.  Of course she had to be careful about how she walked & how fast she turned her head, otherwise those damn glasses might go flying off her face.  Believe me when I tell you that it is not easy looking someone in the eyes when they have a couple feet of cellophane running between them.

No one ever talked about this.  There were no jokes, and no offers of charity to get her a new pair of specs.  I think probably because nobody in that whole damn department thought that there was anything odd about this, except me. This, apparently, is what true academia looks like.  I suppose no one at Princeton gave a thought about handing a comb to Einstein, at least his lab rats would never think of such a thing.  All of that being said & supported by the irrefutable  facts presented to you here, one can only conclude that I HAD to be the cool girl in that lab, recognizing of course , that coolness is a totally relative & subjective concept.

I was working with Charlie on a Phase 1 experiment involving the investigatory use of a brand spankin-new anti-coagulate in the prevention of post total knee arthroplasty deep venous thrombosis & pulmonary embolism.  See there, I was a nerd too, but a cool nerd….. yes, very cool.  I remember going for my interview for that job.  I had recently decided to never wear pantyhose again.   I thought I could bring  stockings held up with garters back into fashion.  At the time I did not, of course, realize that the practice of using these focockada garters went by the wayside on account of them being a giant pain in the ass. So I get this interview & I am so nervous because this is a pretty sweet job for a student, this Charlie dude is  well-known in the peer-review journal reading crowd.  All I could come up with to wear was this ridiculous outfit which included sheer gray stockings & a garter belt.  Mind you that I am not looking back 25 years on the silhouette that I put together & thinking I looked like a fool, I knew at the time that I looked like a dork…. but you have to wear a skirt to job interviews, we learned that in school. I have to walk from the Grad-student high-rise across two parking lots, through the entire hospital and back, deep, into the med school/research area of what is a ginormous monolith … you follow different colored lines of tape on the floor to find where you are going.  I remember passing the George Hoyt Whipple Auditorium along my route.  Some genius came up with this strategy of taping the floors to help other geniuses with poor homing skills find their way back to their labs.   Doing so greatly  reduced the number of “white coats”  found lost & mummified in the bowels of the academic machine.  This journey of mine was made much longer by the fact that my garter belt was apparently only meant to be worn briefly in the boudoir and not to really hold-up the stockings of a professional woman like myself.  Pop!   There they go again, letting loose their hold on my stockings allowing them to quickly fall about my ankles in a very not-academic kind of way.  UGH!  Thank god I am the only person walking in these rat maze halls & I am free to keep hiking up my skirt & re-attaching straps… if only I had met the dog lady before my interview, then I would have known to tape the damn things to my legs.

So long story short, I go into Charlie’s office.  Do you have to guess what happens next?  Pop, pop, boom!  Stockings around ankles….  sweet.  I just want to die, but turns out all is OK because I seem to be the only one who knows about this humiliating occurrence.   The situation required me to think of nothing during the interview except “it’s all Ok until I stand up to leave…. I need a plan”.  I don’t remember anything about the interview except that I somehow managed to remove the stockings while we were talking without the guy seeming to notice…. oh & i got the job.

If I remember, I’ll tell you about the time we all signed up for the mammography study for $50…that’s a good one.

Fun with Ready to Wear!

I like to make clothes, but don’t always have the time to devote to constructing an entire garment. While strolling through Target the other day I decided to pick up a couple of “bare canvases” to create some fun re-dos. These are quick, easy, projects that can transform a ready to wear garment into something a little more.  After purchasing the two tops, I challenged myself to make something out of them using only what supplies I had on-hand. Keep in mind that as an artist & hard-core supply hoarder,  I have A LOT of supplies on hand!  The possibilities are endless and you certainly do not need to purchase brand-new clothing to re-do.  Thrift store finds & “deep storage” oldies make the re-do into a recycle!
I did need to purchase some fusible web adhesive. This is a great tool for beginner & advanced sewers alike. The adhesive is sold with a paper backing on which you can draw (or even trace) design elements which can then be appliqued onto something else. You iron your drawn designed onto the designed fabric, cut it out, remove the paper backing & then iron it onto your “base” fabric or the garment. Beginners can start by using t-shirt jersey knit material. This fabric is almost fail proof because it does not fray after washing. Using woven fabric requires a little bit more forethought because raw edges will unravel when washed.  A densely-stitched zigzag around the entire boarder of an applique and the use of “fray check”  can prevent fraying, but that takes a looong-time and not what I wanted for today’s project.  For one my projects I wanted frayed edges on the appliques as an element of my “re-do” design aesthetic.
I used free-motion sewing so that I could stitch loosely & freely without having to constantly stop & turn fabric. Free-motion sewing allows you to move the fabric in any direction while the machine is running. The benefit of this is that you can more easily “draw” with your stitching lines & create free-flowing lines, like you would if drawing with a pencil. This technique gave me the

“folksy” look that I wanted as you can see my child-like doodle-y stitching lines in the photos below.  The downside to the free-motion technique is that it requires a special pressure foot ( mine cost $22)  & some practice to achieve “flow-iness” and an even stitch length. The stitch length is now controlled by you & not regulated by the machine. The speed of your hand movement must be timed just right with the speed at which the machine is operating to get an attractive & effective stitch length. Bernina now makes a “stitch regulator” for newer model machines. This gadget allows you to do free-motion sewing with perfectly even length stitches. I thought about purchasing one for my machine, but at a price of $600 (!) I decided I could live with my wonky stitches.
To use the free-motion foot you drop the feed dogs. As you begin to sew you will quickly notice that the fabric isn’t being pulled-through the machine like you are used to….. because YOU are now acting as the feed dog. Even though the free-motion foot does not apply pressure to the fabric, you still need to lower the presser foot or the machine will not link top & bobbin threads correctly & you will have a mess on your hands. You cannot do free-motion sewing without this foot attachment .
So here are my two quick & dirty projects. I chose a comfy hoodie to embellish & a flirty gingham blouse. What do you think?

sweatshirt redo 1sweatshirt redo 2blouse redo 1blouse redo 2blouse redo 3

Fun with Colored Porcelain

I have been playing around with colored clay off & on for some time. Lately I have decided to dedicate a little more effort into really learning how to successfully employ this technique. I am still in the early phases of experimentation & discovery, but I couldn’t wait to share what I have learned so far. I am going to walk you through an exercise that I did with layering different elements of colored clay. This was done in a step-wise process of “lamination”.  Very thin slices of each of the elements was adhered to a base slab of clay. I built lamination on top of lamination to add some depth to the design in an attempt to make it a little more interesting.

I decided to build a design featuring a rabbit made of roses set  onto a checkerboard background. Step one was  to create a series of “canes” which would be sliced to create the design motifs of the laminates. I created one cane of a four square “patch” out of yellow & green porcelain and a second cane of a large pink rose.    After rolling a slab of porcelain to 1/8″ I began slicing the checkerboard cane into very thin wafers.  Slicing small canes (<1″) can easily be accomplished using a scalpel, larger canes present a greater challenge.  I have found that the BEST tool for creating consistent slabs of an even thickness is to use a tool specifically created for this purpose.  Mine was purchased from a local potter, Nell Hazinski of Milkhouse Studio, and I strongly recommend that you consider investing in a tool like this.  Contact Nell if you prefer to buy one rather than make your own:

Slicing the canes requires care & patience even with a proper tool.  Timing is everything because if the cane is too moist slicing will distort your image.  If the clay is too dry attempts to slice it will only destroy the cane.  If your clay is too soft let it air dry for a bit, checking the moisture level from time to time.  If the cane becomes too dry, spritz it with water, wrap in plastic & let it rest for an hour or so. As slices are prepared I keep them under plastic until I am ready to use them.  Moisten your prepared slab with a little vinegar prior to placing the sliced components on top.  Once the slices are arranged, cover with a soft cloth & roll the slices into the base slab.  Gently rolling evenly in all directions helps to prevent distortion of your design during rolling.  Your goal is to use the least amount of rolling required to get the job done. Repeat the layering process until you achieve a satisfactory result.  Layers need to be planned so that the finished slab is of the desired thickness.  If your slab is too thin you can laminate another one onto the back.   Allow any project made using this technique to dry slowly under plastic.  Smudges in designs can be removed by sanding  the piece once it is bone dry. Wear a mask when sanding & dust off all loose clay before placing in the kiln.

laminate slicerlaminate baselaminate 2 preplaminate bunnylaminate gaplaminate bunny 2laminate samples

I Think My father Probably Died from a Lack of IV Access

Damn you hindsight! Why aren’t answers as readily available when you need them as they are obvious with the aid of hindsight? Damn you!

I know stuff, I see stuff, so why didn’t I put on my big girl panties & demand that someone put a functional IV in my father when he was a patient at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elmira, NY?

Ironically, I was working at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for a biotech company when my sister called with a FYI”  letting me know “Dad’s in the ICU at St. Joe’s, he has bronchitis”….. hmmm, that doesn’t sound right…. I think to myself, so I give a call to the hospital. “Sorry we can’t talk to you right now, we are working on him”… OK that’s an alarm, this is definitely not right.

So, I decide to take a drive up there. Five hours later I am standing in the ICU. CHAOS, a disaster.  “ICU” implies INTENSIVE care being provided here to the most unstable patients in our facility.  Here you have nurses who can’t start their own IV’s…. in an INTENSIVE care unit!  IV access is everything.  The FIRST thing that is done in an emergency, critical, unstable, patient is to get a “line” in, usually a big one.  Here in an ICU bed lies my dad with a BP of 80/palp with a 22g IV that only works intermittently.  A 22g IV is tiny.  You can’t “hose down” a patient with fluid, you don’t take a patient to the OR, you can’t give a unit of blood, & you certainly aren’t prepared for an impending emergency.  Forget the bore of the needle, this one doesn’t even work.  That blood pressure is inadequate & his heart is going to crap-out any minute.  HELLO!?!

My dad had pulmonary edema which basically means that there was a large accumulation of fluid in the tissue of his lungs making it impossible for them to maintain the exchange of oxygen & CO2 necessary to sustain life…. it’s a big deal.  This situation is extremely taxing on your cardio-pulmonary system which is working over-time in an attempt to kept a minimally acceptable amount of oxygen flowing in the blood stream.  UH? What are we doing about this shit-ass IV I ask?  A call was in to the “IV team”, AKA as the only nurse in the building trained to start an intravenous line…. OK, so where the hell is she?  Every minute that the blood pressure assisting drugs & diuretics aren’t being infused into my dad the weaker his heart becomes.  He is a 59-year-old man dying from a first episode of CHF (congestive heart failure) which is a MANAGEABLE chronic illness.  This is bull shit.  I can start an IV on anyone.  Finding a vein to give another round of chemotherapy is my specialty.  Working as the manager of an in-patient oncology unit at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital I spent my on-call weekends helping staff start difficult IV’s for patients who had nothing left all day long.  I knew if that IV team nurse ever did show up, she wouldn’t be able to get a line in my dad, it was obvious.  I could have started an IV on my dad in 5 seconds, so why didn’t I do it? Why didn’t I demand that they call the anesthesiologist on-call up there to put in a major pipe, which is what was needed at this point? I have never had a problem advocating for my staff & patients in situations that were going south before, going above the heads of interns & residents, calling in “experts” PRN.  That was my job & I was very good at it.   HOLY SHIT this situation is going down the drain right before my eyes & I’m just standing there watching it happen  like a family member with a dying loved-one who is helpless to do anything about it.  Idiot.

By the time we get a doctor on the unit my dad is in severe respiratory distress.  They decide to transfer him to the “bigger” hospital in town, where they have real intensive care?  The ambulance drivers put him F-L-A-T on a gurney…. Uh, the man is gasping for breath, could we maybe put his head up?  At this point I fear that he will not survive the ambulance ride across town.  This is bad.  Miraculously Dad survives his ride with Tweedle-Duh & Tweedle-Dumb.  But, by this time his heart had suffered too much damage to recover.   What a relief  it was  to see a familiar & competent face in the surgeon who came to put in an AV (arterio-venous) line.  I knew him when he was a resident at the University of Rochester, same place I trained.  He successfully placed the huge pipes into my father’s chest so that he could receive the life-saving dialysis now needed because his untreated low blood pressure had choked the life out of his kidneys.   My dad’s situation had deteriorated from a moderate excess of fluid in the body, to a flooding of the lungs, to a failing of the heart, & now failed kidneys.  Multi-organ failure, kiss of death.

My father was a mountain of a man. Standing 6’2″ he was a giant to me as a child.  A football letter-man, professional firefighter, a big strong man, brave.  Now on a respirator, I knew he would never be rid of it. It’s sounds crazy, but he looked so much better after they intubated him.  Despite maximum dosing with Dopamine, attempts to raise his blood pressure enough to make dialysis possible failed.  Fluid is accumulating, flooding, drowning, a heart too weak to move it, lungs incapable of transferring oxygen to the diluted blood.  DOOM & DREAD.  I could have stopped this, now it was too late.  A day late & a dollar short.  Fail.

My dad never lost consciousness.  He endured one painful, futile, procedure after another in attempts to prolong what could have been prevented.  All of the tubes, lines, drugs & machines in the world could not aid his poor tired heart.  After three days of unimaginable suffering he “called it”  mouthing the words “no more”.  Sadly,  I was not there to say goodbye.  He died just minutes before I arrived that morning.  It was awful.

Don’t drive the tractor in your dress-up clothes

The time has come.  The vegetable patch has partially been cleared of tired barren plants.  A bed has been prepared & ready to receive the seeds for next year’s crop of garlic.  The warm summer has transitioned beautifully into a glorious autumn.  The nectarine trees continue to have beautiful huge green leaves while everything around them has gone yellow.  Planting & spraying was a bit more challenging this year with my bum leg.  The weeds got so out of control I feared a “condemned” sign would be nailed on the front door.  I have begun a job of epic proportions to get things back under control.

I do have help and know where I can hire a strong young back when needed.  I also have power tools & I know how to use them. I started to write this blog way back before I became disabled by the “ungrateful beast”.  Today has me thinking about the garden and is as a good a day as any to finish up this story.  Here goes…..

You can drive the tractor in your dress-up clothes, but I don’t recommend it.  I was incorrect in my assessment that I could help my neighbor Amy drop mulch without getting dirty… no need to change clothes.  But, here’s the thing, diesel fumes are nasty and you still get  sweaty just from the heat of the engine.   I thought I could scoop & dump for an hour and then still look nice enough to go out in public without embarassing my daughter, wrong & wrong again. It was nice to be able to help out all the same while developing my street cred as a pretty good machine operator.

Ladies if your husband owns a tractor and you think, or have been told, that it’s not safe for you to drive it, you are being duped.  It is a carefully guarded man-secret that tractor driving is great fun AND it doesn’t take a Y chromosome to be able to do it.  We have a regular Kubota club in my hood.  Of the 6, all but 2 of them are driven almost exclusively by women.  The two super-big ones are both owned by the young woman with the horse farm.  These behemoths can move 900 pound round bales without revving the engine.  I have never seen my next door neighbor Herb on their tractor, it’s always Kathy.  She has a pretty big one too… back hoe, front loader, and a sizable chipper… all girl operated.  Our tractor is a respectable BX24 with front loader & back hoe.   The bucket is kinda small but it still beats moving compost with a wheel barrow, it gets the job done.

Probably the most tractor fun I ever had was when we knocked down Susan’s two-stall horse barn.  It was f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c!  Four girls, one tractor & a couple of sledge hammers.  That was the first time that I met Gale, a statuesque beauty with a sense of humor.  She’s a beast with a 10 lb sledge.  So it was all going OK, yes we were having problems & things got a tiny bit dangerous at times.  I mean we’re girls, we weren’t trained from birth to destroy things like the others.  We were having great fun but our efforts were  misdirected and ineffective at times.  When Amy suggested asking her husband to lend us a hand I immediately took a defensive posture “no way” a guy will just suck the fun out of everything”!   I was so wrong.

Amy gives a call & 30 seconds later we hear Nick start up his Kubota.  He arrives all smiles, happy to be called away from his desk. While we ladies had loads of enthusiasm, Nick had skills.  Best of all, he was able to guide us without lecturing, correcting, and ordering us around. Guess what?  We had even more fun with a lot less trouble.

I Shouldn’t Have Waited so Long

Yesterday, after thinking about it for two months, I sat down to practice the techniques I learned in a sculpting lesson. I wish I had done this sooner as my carefully studied & practiced skills are now a distant blur. My fingers struggle to comply with the instructions shouted by my brain.  The skills are rusty, but,  the experience of learning them is a more lasting & vivid memory.  I had the rare opportunity to spend an entire day with famed Mexican potter Angelica Vasquez Cruz.  She is just a little bit of a thing, but that tiny body houses an enormous spirit and immense talent.

Her studio is quite large, in a village where whole families live in a room of the same size. In the center is a monstrous gas-fired kiln. It was a gift from President Calderone to encourage her to continue her work. Two walls display the many awards, accolades, and distinctions earned in a lifetime with her hands in mud. The studio is strangely empty. Where is all the stuff? There is no junk, no jars,  plaster, piles of paper, ware boards, you know, STUFF, none of it . It’s a big empty room with the giant kiln looming like a ghost & one shelf.  Her work station consists of two pillows on the floor, a turn table, a small bowl of water, a cactus thorn, bent-over nail, and her hands. That’s it.  Her son drags a table & chair into the studio for my use as I was unable at the time to easily get up & down from the floor.  Here I was, already needing special accommodations and appearing to be the over-indulged American that I did not want to be.

Angelica takes me outside ….. AWWWWW…. here is her stuff, I knew it was here somewhere. In her garden are endless containers of dirt. Yep, dirt, that is what she has. La Maestra has to make her own clay.  As she walks me through her process of transforming rock-hard lumps of earth into silky-smooth clay. I remember thinking “this is ridiculous”.  I tell her she needs to find a young apprentice to do the prep work & heavy lifting for her…. she turns to me with a look of “that’s ridiculous”.  It wasn’t until later that I realized how transforming that dirt into art infuses every molecule of a finished piece with the spirit of this beautiful human being…. but still, pounding rocks into powder, sifting, mixing, straining, kneading… for HOURS….. on your knees in the dirt, is not my idea of fun.  I mean let’s get busy, when are we going to touch this stuff & make something?  The tour continues to the section of the garden housing many small cans &  containers  holding colored powders.  These are all naturally pigmented earth that Angelica has collected & uses to color clay.  She tells me stories about where she found them, sometimes stopping abruptly along the highway after seeing a good “color” in the distance.  There was also a tale of some extensive negotiation done to get a small sample of clay from a potter in the Yucatan.  Clay preparation techniques are closely guarded secrets.  Each pottery producing village is known for their unique product and protecting the lively hood of all who live there is important.

Angelica produces a black clay which fires to a buff color.  She prepares three different formulations of it.  A groggy mixture for sculpting the large supporting structures of her work, and two smoother, more refined clays.   She uses the one called “pure creme” to sculpt the tiniest of tiny elements.  I don’t know what is so special about this clay, because it is, of course, a secret…..and it is special.  She has designed it to perfectly suit her needs.  I want this clay!  Nope, she won’t sell it.  It’s too hard to make.  Each one of the clays has a feel different from the commercially produced products that I use.   The one thing that made it so incredible to me is that you can handle the clay extensively, even tiny bits of it, and it remains moist & plastic.  When I tried the same thing with my favorite stoneware it became dry & cracked in short order.

Her village of Santa Maria Aztompa is well-known as the production epicenter of the familiar green-glazed utilitarian pots.  These items are sold everywhere and used extensively throughout Oaxaca.  There are many potting families here and the streets are lined with their wares.  Amongst the functional pottery are some more inventive decorative pieces with colorful glazes.  Angelica uses no glaze in her work, only colored clay.

Her pieces are fired in a brick lined pit using wood, her state-of-the art gas kiln has never been used.  “I can’t read the manual because I don’t speak English” she tells me, well I can help with that.  But she is also worried about the cost of the gas needed to fire that monster….. but President Calderone has provided you with two huge tanks full of gas I helpfully point out… nope, not gonna do it.

Finally we get down to potting & she shows me  how she makes several different varieties of cacti.  She makes it looks so easy, it is, of course, much harder than it looks.  I spend several hours trying to build something minimally acceptable, disappointed in my abilities.  I thought I was better than this.  I like birds & they appear in everything that I make.  I decide that I am going to add 5 birds with human faces to my piece. “Oh you’re adding some Naguales (na’wall’ays)” she says.   Naguales are human beings who can transform themselves into animals.  Believed by some to be shape-shifting witches, but by others to be protectors of the people, the natural resources, and culture of the community.  They are highly revered, and also feared.  I learned all of this later and missed the opportunity to learn their meaning in Angelica’s work.  She does not speak a word of English and I did my best to “get the jist” of what she was trying to tell me.

I struggle with the face on bird numero uno and Angelica shows me how she sculpts teeny-tiny eyes, lips, and noses using her cactus thorn.  Re-do after-re-do does not produce what I want, a face.  A face has to have a quality that transforms it from just a thing into a someone.  I accept that this is not going to happen in my one-day internship and allow myself one just  “ok” Nagual.  Angelica kindly tells me that I am a good student & did nice work.  She politely admires my piece gives me some helpful feedback.  She will fire the piece for me and,  hopefully,  I will get to see it during my October visit.  She unnecessarily makes no promises that it will survive the firing…. this I already know. 

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