Saturday, April 30, 2016

April Books

1.  Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli (audio, read by author) - Not going to lie, I didn't understand all of it.  BUT, I deeply enjoyed listening to this book.  The thing many people don't understand is that mathematicians and scientists understand the beauty of the world....and they are capable of describing that beauty in a way that is full of mystery and grace.  This is a very short book, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Following that begins my month of feisty females:

2.  Heroines of Mercy Street, Dr. Pamela Toler (audio) - I learned about this book because it was the basis for a Masterpiece Theater show that aired right after Downton Abby's recent final season.  I'm a bit torn.  On the one hand, the subject of women nurses during the Civil War is fascinating, and Toler most certainly dug up some really fascinating information.  On the other hand, there was far too much of an emphasis on the state of medicine during the Civil War, and not nearly enough of a focus on the women themselves.  I get it...Toler needed to establish just how tough it was for those women to take on such a difficult career and she needed to drive home how awful the state of wartime medicine was in the mid-1800's...but I wanted more of a focus on the women.  What information there was was absolutely fantastic.

3.  The Labyrinth of Drakes, Marie Brennan - I have shared before just how much I enjoy the Lady Trent books, and this one didn't disappoint!  I preordered it months and months ago, and devoured it just as soon as it showed up in my inbox!

4.  Unseemly Science, Rod Duncan and 5.  The Custodian of Marvels, Rod Duncan - Having enjoyed the feisty Lady Trent, I found that I wanted to immediately go back to Elizabeth Barnabus and go ahead and finish up the series. No, these aren't perfect books, but they are highly enjoyable and they are also very hard to put down.

6. Jaran, Kate Elliott and 7.  An Earthly Crown, Kate Elliott - I first read Jaran years and years ago, and I loved it.  I was also very sad to find that the three other books that round out the series were out of print, and were not to be found anywhere.  (I think I checked the library and they didn't have them.)  The good news was that Jaran worked exceedingly well as a stand alone, so I called it good!  Well, in browsing itunes a while back I discovered that all four books are now available in digital format...even better, they are packaged as a book bundle with an awesome price tag.  I decided this was just what I wanted to start into some long, engrossing books for the spring and summer.  Jaran was as awesome as I remembered it...although I was kind of surprised with how much I had forgotten.  (Why, I don't's been since before I had kids.)  Tess is one of my all time favorite female characters, and I love how complex she is.  My one quibble is that the space portions bog down the books for me.  When the focus isn't on Tess I drift a tiny bit.  As with all of Elliott's other books, these are super hard to put down....but I had to because I had a bunch of library holds come available, and as they were books I had been waiting for for a long time I set these aside in great annoyance.  Can't wait to finish them!

8.  How To Be Here, Rob Bell (audio) - This was the second of my two 'homework' books to prep for SPEC.  I have to say that I found this book to be very shallow in comparison to the Brene Brown book that I also read for SPEC.  There's a lot of good information...but it's all presented at a very surface level with little to no concrete information about how to do the things Bell suggests we should do.

9.  Evicted, Matthew Desmond - Library hold #1.  This nonfiction book is one of the most damned depressing books I've ever read...but I also think it's a must read for anyone who cares. The cycle of poverty is so much more complex than most of us understand, and when looked at through the particular problems of housing it seems like it's a problem that's insurmountable.  Heartbreaking.

10.  Lab Girl, Hope Jahren - Library #2.  This is a very new memoir which is getting a lot of much-deserved buzz.  Jahren (a feisty female in her own right) is not only a scientist, but is also one of the best writers I've ever read.  Her story is divided up with essays on plant life that are educational and lyrical and compelling.  I want my girls to read this someday.  I want all girls to read this someday.  I also want people who care to read this.  (One of the tidbits that broke my heart  was the knowledge that as a country we claim we need more scientists, but the reality is that we have too many for the funding that's available.)  It's just beautiful.

Friday, April 15, 2016

One Year

Today, my friends.
Today was a good day.
Today was a day of celebration.
One year ago today I had a breakdown that proved to be cathartic...a breakdown that caused an incredible breakthrough.  I have been completely compliant on my allergy diet since then, and the changes in my life have been nothing short of miraculous.
I had planned to write a big blog post about how amazing and awful and everything inbetween this last year has been...a post about how proud I am of my accomplishments and where I plan to go from here...
But I've had almost no free time today, and am now incredibly tired. 
You see, I celebrated by running 10 miles this morning - an amazing feat for someone who has fought chronic illness her entire adult life.  I ran 10 hard miles, and felt my body and soul say yes to the world. 
And I need to honor that work by getting some rest.
So instead of writing a big post, let me share with you the message I posted on FB to a special group of people who have become an important part of my support system.  It read:
"Hey Everyone!  Today is a day to celebrate!  It's my one year anniversary for getting myself totally on board with my allergy plan/diet!  (Trying to come up with an idea for what to call this holdiay...ideas?)   A year ago today I had a breakdown in my allergist's office, but that breakdown enabled me to refocus and make some changes so that I could find success.  Here I am, 40 lbs lighter, free of depression and anxiety, headache and pain free, with a clear mind, considerably better sleep, and more energy than I've had in years...among other changes!  I'll never be "cured," but I have figured out how to manage my allergies.  Most importantly, I've made peace with the limitations I live with, and have found ways to fill the gaps left by all that I've had to give up." 
Happy Anniversary to me.
Today is my very own liberation day.
One last thing before I go:
I would not have made it through this last year had it not been for the love and support of some very special people, and I want to take just a moment to say thank you.
Thank you to Dr. Laurie Fowler, for being the best doctor in the world.
Thank you to Jenn, Danielle, and Carrie.  I've searched my entire life for girlfriends like you, and there are days that I still can't believe my luck in having found you all.  Our time together is truly special, and has been key to helping me find peace.
Most of all, thank you to my husband, Sean, and my daughters, Gillian and Tanith.  All I ever really wanted was you....and you've all gone above and beyond to love, help, and support me as I've taken this long journey towards better health.  Our family makes me the richest woman in the world.
I am so very blessed, and I love you all.

This isn't a comprehensive list of everything I've written about my allergies, but these are the important posts that tell the story:
  1. What the Heck is Smut: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
  2. What Happens When I Cheat
  3. The Uphill Climb
  4. No
  5. Dear Family and Friends
  6. What Is Different This Time
  7. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Fall
  8. Things That I Can't Control
  9. 160 Days And Counting: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Sharon Miller's Princess Shawl
Note: this isn't MY shawl or my picture, but a good detail photo I found online.
In October of 2012 I introduced you to my beautiful Princess Shawl.  It's a project that I dreamt of for almost five years before I took the plunge....and once I did it was a 350 hour/3 year labor of love that both tested my abilities and made my heart sing.  It was my mountaintop, and will hopefully be a family heirloom for decades to come.
Unfortunately, it lives in a box tucked away in my closet for safety.  There just aren't any formal events of the sort that would require me to wear something this special.  (My hope is that one day one of my girls will want it for her wedding....slim hope given how wildly different their taste is from mine, but hope springs eternal.)  Once in a while I take my Princess out and admire her great beauty, her delicate yarn, the gazillion stitches, the perfectly combined patterns, and her amazing drape.

Friends, it's time to knit another.  I'm ready to take up wee yarn and tiny needles again to knit another great masterpiece.
I need the challenge.

I need to be surrounded by that much beauty.
I spent Monday morning going through my options.  I have Miller's pattern for The Queen Ring Shawl as well as her books for the Love Darg Shawl and the Lerwick Lace Shawl.  They are all gorgeous, and I absolutely love the detailed patterns and books that Miller has created.
Then there is the gorgeous Queen Susan:
(Also a picture I found online...this is the one that is printed with the pattern.)
Which appeals to me in part because of the fact that the pattern was developed through the collaborative efforts of a group of dedicated lace knitters who'd fallen in love with a picture of an antique shawl at the Shetland Museum and had set out to recreate it for modern knitters.  I love that story of connection between the past and the present.
Plus, it's gorgeous.
But really, part of what triggered this need for more Shetland lace - although it's been building for a while - was the fact that last week I sat down to watch Outlander on Starz while it was free.  In two bedroom scenes Clair is wearing an absolutely gorgeous (and highly anachronistic) Shetland Shawl.  I lost my marbles over it, and spent an entire afternoon trying to find more information.  I was ultimately rewarded when I found the blog, A Passion For Lace
(photo from A Passion For Lace)
As it would turn out, Monique B. was also inspired by the tv show to recreate that shawl.  After studying screen shots, she contacted Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for Outlander, who sent her a picture of the antique shawl that was used in the show.  As of now, Monique B. has published The Shetland Star, which is a rectangular version, and is working on the pattern for the full-sized square.
Guess which one I want to do?
Yes, I'll wait for that square pattern.
So I have some pattern options.
I also am a fairly intelligent knitter and could probably come up with my own design if I'd get my act together - but that's another story altogether.
I also have some yarn options from a couple of fantastic sources.
One question remains.  What color should I use?
I've always had in mind that I wanted two heirloom quality Shetland shawls so that I could leave one to each daughter someday. (or they could each have a different one for their weddings....wishful thinking again!)  In order to do that, it would need to be another natural white.  Truthfully, I love white lace!  It just feels right.

I would LOVE to have a black Shetland shawl to actually use for myself.  I can actually imagine wearing black.  I've been dreaming about that for a long while.  Big plus, it would be a formal piece that I could wear to the (few and far between) formal events I go to, or church, or whatever!  It could actually also be more casual for wear with jeans and a sweater....not that I'm likely to do that, though.  I have other shawls for that.  The one problem I can see with this idea is that I would very likely go blind working on it.  Black is notoriously awful to knit with, and it has given me problems in the past.
One of the cool things that the collective behind the Queen Susan did was to put a gallery of pictures in the pattern in which the shawl is photo shopped in different colors, and it's kind of are the many pictures of Shetland Shawls done in colors that I've seen on Ravelry.  I will admit, though, that I have a hard time imagining living with a single color for as long as it takes to knit something like this, and I'm afraid it would ultimately limit it's usefulness in the future.  Plus, my color preferences shift a lot. 
So I'm dreaming, dreaming, dreaming...and hopefully by the end of the summer there will be something new on my needles!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lessons From The Road

We're 9 weeks into our training plan for the Go Girl! Half Marathon, which will be held at the end of May, and I'm enjoying every single bit of the work I'm putting into it.  The journey has so far been even better than I'd hoped/expected.  I've been challenged, and I've learned so much about myself along the way.

With only six weeks left on our training plan, I thought I would share some of what I've learned!

1.  I may not be particularly fast, but I am apparently built for distance.  I LOVE long run days! 

2.  And I must be doing something right, because at the end of every long run I feel like I could keep going for a while longer.  That's pretty darn amazing.

3.  For us, the magic formula on long runs is:  1/5 mile walk to warm up + long run + at least a 1 mile walk to cool down = a happy body. 

4.  I don't have much of an appetite the day of my long runs - but look out, because the day after I will. eat.  everything.  all the food.  all.  of.  it.  Maybe the day after that too.

5.  Epson salt baths immediately following the long run + proper training + foam rolling as needed = no muscle pains whatsoever.  Truth be told, I'm kind of surprised by that. 

6.  Hallelujah!  Unsweetened dried tart cherries work just fine for fuel during my runs!  My doctor gave me the go ahead to experiment with some dried fruit a couple of months ago...that and a few other whole foods that are on my approved list.  It was actually pretty nerve wracking.  You can't run for more than an hour without fueling the body SOMEHOW, but finding something that wouldn't make me sick was trickier than expected. 

7.  I have trouble eating immediately after a long run, but if I don't I get into trouble later in the day.

8.  I did find an electrolyte tab that actually works for me - but unfortunately the company changed the formula and it now includes something I'm highly allergic to.  I'm stocking up like crazy, and am not looking forward to starting the search for a new one when the old stuff is gone.

9.  Selfies when you finish a long run are an absolute must. A girl has to celebrate somehow!  My FB friends and family may be getting tired of seeing such pics, but tough!  (Actually, they all have been super awesome about showing support when I post them....and that support means the world.)

10.  I'm soooo glad I'm doing this first half with my running partner.  Much as I also enjoy solitary runs, long runs are easier and more fun when you aren't alone....especially when you have a partner as amazing as mine is.  Plus, we feel safe running together on all of the amazing trails that our city has to offer. (I would not run many of them alone.)  It's very true...that relationship is special!

11.  Likewise, I'm glad I let go of my original time goals for this particular race.  It is, after all, my first half as a runner.  The important thing is to cross the finish line safely - feeling strong, being injury free.

12.  Having said that, I'm now even more committed to becoming a better/faster runner for the future.

13.  I'm totally hooked.  If I could afford it, I'd be one of those people who races all of the time, traveling all over the country for different events. Realistically, I can justify doing this about twice a year, which is fortunately enough to keep me focused on training since I run better when I'm working for something. 

14.  It's true...physical achievement can also give you an emotional/mental boost.  I'm more confident now than I have ever been, and for the first time in years and years I'm feeling possibility open up in front of me.  If I can do this, I can do anything!

15.  I don't think I've ever liked or appreciated my body as much as I do right now.  That, my friends, is a gift.