Noro Spiral Hat

I’m not talking about you-know-who today because I can’t do it without evoking the sadness that comes from being hurt by those that you thought loved you.  Every newscast of the hurt party reveals the unbelieving anger, frustration and pain in his eyes.  And the leering, manic, self-appointed wise man is undeterred by the fact that he not only hurts his former friend, he is potentially hurting a whole country. 


When I am disturbed I move on to something comforting.  Today I put effort into dinner, chopping veggies, making Israeli couscous, composing a sauteed tofu dish.  I put more effort into the hat I started last night.  When I finished my writing yesterday I was already in need of a simple project.  I put down the secret competition sock and picked up a ball of Noro Silk Garden Lite.  I cast on 103 stitches and started knitting in the round at a gauge of 5 stitches per inch.  I knitted six rounds, making a roll-up brim, then began to knit 5, purl 5, all the way around.  I continued to spiral with the knit 5, purl 5, and this is what I have so far.  If the photo isn’t visible, click in the square and a large view will appear.


  I love the fat spirals going around the hat, and all the beautiful Noro colors.  The pattern does not start over at the beginning of each round, so there’s no need to place a marker.  You continue to knit 5, purl 5, around and around and around. 


I’m surprised that the photo survived.  My computer chose to die during the uploading of the photos.  I had a few anxious minutes while I removed the battery and waited, then rebooted it.  I think this is a sign that I had better do the backup I’ve been putting off.  I’m not going to stress it any more tonight. 




Watch Your Back, Barack – Part II

I am disturbed.  The events of the last few days are a classic display of an intergenerational struggle that exists in the black community.  Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, put on a show for the press and for the country.  He was strutting his stuff and spouting his bizarre beliefs on a well-lit stage, cognizant of the fact that he was providing a serious detriment to Obama’s campaign.  This is not the first time I’ve seen it.


I am at the tail end of the Baby Boomers.  In the black community, we were just ten years too young to participate in any of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.  I was old enough to be aware of the movement, and to mark the deaths of the notables, but not old enough to march or carry a sign or vote.  More than that, I was already living in the rarefied air of the U.S. Army officer’s child, an integrated living and work and school situation long before that existed in mainstream America.  It was my age group that began to see the benefits of the Civil Rights movement, to actually live with some of the improvements that have come in this country, and even to sometimes take them for granted.   


Before my generation, college-educated blacks were frequently very limited in career choices.  They could become educators, preachers, or-with the required family wealth-doctors, lawyers, and dentists.  Whatever the choice, they would practice their profession in a segregated society.  Those who became preachers were frequently the most powerful professionals in their communities.  They ran large organizations (their churches), lording over both the social agenda, the finances, and the religious direction of the institution.  They were looked to for wisdom that was far wider than their field of training.  They held large groups of people in their sway, and people were commonly willing to overlook the areas of their lives and presentations that were not in tune with the prescribed religious doctrine that they professed.  This was Rev. Wright’s generation and millieu. 


These are my experiences:

     I once attended a church with a powerful minister who was a contemporary and acquaintance of Dr. Martin Luther King.  He was a powerful speaker, adept with words, and he used his words instead of the yelling and noise that is sometimes proffered as preaching.  He was a community leader in my hometown and was well-known in the black and white communities.  He served his church for more than 40 years.  That is not a term of office, it is a regime.  Most politicians and monarchs can only hope for such lengthy rule.  That kind of power for that length of time can be corrupting and beguiling. 


     Several years ago, a local black civil rights leader who was of the same generation as Rev. Wright made a  public anti-gay declaration in the name of civil rights.  When I wrote an editorial to the local paper lamenting his use of Dr. King’s name in the interest of homophobia, and noting that everyone deserved the fair treatment for which the civil rights movement had struggled, I was contradicting one of my learned elders.  That set up some animosity and resentment towards me, the upstart who dared to speak out and publicly disagree, somewhat analogous to the relationship between Obama and Wright.


     As a high school senior, I finally had the opportunity to learn from one of the few black instructors at my predominately white private school.  I was overjoyed to be in that class.  I was probably a little more talkative than usual, with the end of high school approaching.  I may have also been seen as over-confident, as I was near the top of my class and had never seen a grade lower than an A.  However I was seen, my confidence was thoroughly trashed by the teacher, who informed me with the words “You’ll get yours.”  To this day, I cannot recall anything that should have inspired such hatred and disdain in that teacher.  Another example of one generation resenting the successes of the next, and angry that the next generation’s choices had expanded. 


Some of those who fought for civil rights in this country seem unable to stand back and allow progress to be made.  One would logically think that the “old heads” would be overjoyed to see the country at the point where a black man and a woman are vying for the Democratic nomination.  One would also expect that anyone with a history of supporting equality would only be interested in supporting those candidates and promoting a fair race with focus on what the country still needs.  Instead, the ministerial power has gone to Wright’s head, and subverted his thinking, reducing him to a jealous old man who resents the next generation, the benefactors of his early work.  It is one thing to hold unpopular views and disregard science and history in your understanding of current events (such as the AIDS crisis); it is a whole other thing to deliberately impose those views on others in a public arena, whether it is a pulpit or a press conference.  Jeremiah Wright is egotistical and irresponsible. 


Last time I said “Watch Your Back, Barack”, I didn’t think I’d have to repeat it in reference to his former pastor. 



Sister Stuff

I had a bonding experience with one of my sisters yesterday.  She came over to use my computer.  She was preparing a work-related presentation, and she had to type several pages of handouts and notes and copy them for her audience.  Then she had to practice the presentation, and I was her first practice audience.  During her visit we managed to catch up on family news, share a meal, and enjoy some silliness. 


I’ve probably mentioned that only one of my sisters is close to my age-the youngest was born just 11 months after me.  My mom called us her “old age babies”, because there was a ten-year gap between her earlier four children and us afterthoughts.  The upshot of that is that the older girls frequently entertained us and taught us various skills.  I distinctly remember learning knitting, reading, and braiding from various sisters.  The sister who came yesterday had the best sense of humor of all the girls.  She knew how to tease and joke and make a situation lighter.  She still uses that in the care of my elderly parents, and I could see it in her presentation yesterday.  I’ll never forget how convincing she was in telling me and my baby sister about the origins of dandruff.  She had us convined that little dandruff men knocked on our scalps when we were sleeping and asked if they could live in our hair.  She had special bedtime skills that we younger ones benefitted from until she was out of high school.  When she put us to bed, she would smooth our sheets very carefully to get all the wrinkles out, then wave the top sheet over us gently so that it billowed out and fell gently onto our bodies, making a soft breeze.  To this day, if I’m having trouble sleeping, I will get out of bed and smooth all the wrinkles from my bottom sheet. 


My mother was adamant that the older sisters not be burdened by the birth of the “afterthought” babies, so she hired a German maid to do the housework so that she (my mom) could focus on caring for the two babies.  Daddy was stationed in Germany at the time, and it is the only time my mother had regular household help until they were quite advanced in years.  She was unusual in allowing the older ones in our large family to continue to have their childhood and their freedom from caring for the younger ones.  That left us all in the unique position of being able to be friends later in life with no resentment on the part of the elders.  Despite that, depending on the issue we’re discussing, we will either claim to be from a totally different gene pool (found in the commissary, as my mother used to tell us), or the “real” children of the parents, denying our relationship to the other group of sisters. 


There seemed to be a natural trail of tattling that ran through the family.  One of my memories from early childhood is of playing in the sandbox with my sister and our friend, Rudy.  Somehow that sandbox play among four- and five-year-olds turned into a session of playing “doctor”, and Rudy and I were caught with our pants down.  We were caught by the sister I’ve been discussing.  She was only about 15 at the time, and didn’t feel equipped to give us a properly stern admonition, so she told my mother.  That resulted in some painful punishment, and I stayed angry at that sister a long time.  I couldn’t stay angry at her into the summer, however, because she was the sister who would take us swimming. 


As often happens, we younger two idolized our older sisters and wanted to be a part of everything that they did.  My excitement about prom nights began with the oldest sisters.  We would watch them get dressed and have their hair done for the formal occasions, and then we little ones would ride in the car with our Mom to the prom site, and watch all the beautiful girls and their dates going into the event.  Of course, our sisters were always the prettiest.  I was tickled to see that my daughter, in her grade school days, had the same fascination with the neighborhood girls and their proms.  She would peep from behind the curtains to see the beaus in their tuxes approach the house, and the gorgeously-attired girls come out on their arms.  It continues.  When we moved to our current house, my daughter was starting 11th grade, so the little girls in our neighborhood came to hang out and see her in her prom dresses, and ooh’d and aah’d over her beauty.  Thank goodness some things seem to be a constant. 


Because my father was an officer in his Army career, my parents had many mandatory social occasions, and they thoroughly enjoyed them.  They also enjoyed being the host and hostess, so we saw them entertaining, too.  It was an event for us girls to watch Mama putting on her red nail polish, mascara and red rouge for a dress-up occasion.  She had beautiful clothes, usually custom made by a seamstress for her plus-size form, and after she sprayed Chanel No. 5 and slipped into her dress she was a sight to behold.  Usually Daddy was in dress blues for these fancier events, and they were a splendid-looking couple. 


Okay, I’ve been reminiscing up a storm.  You would think that I’d spent all day knitting and could afford to put down my sticks and while away the evening with family memories.  Nope.  I took my car for an oil change and then went on down the road for groceries today.  Haven’t touched a stick.  It’s time to get a little work done. 


The Sunday Litany

I went to church this morning. This is how I got there:

Alarm, alarm, it’s 6:23.  I can make the 8 a.m. service.  Get up, flex the feet, get up, hurry to the kitchen.  Start the coffeemaker.  Go to the potty.  Go to the laundry room, find some pants.  Get your coffee–oh no! malfunction, coffee’s on the counter, clean, clean, clean it up!  Put dog out.  Let dog in.  Drink the half-cup.  Start the shower, get in, lather hair, wash body, rinse hair.  Find conditioner–can’t see labels, no glasses.  Conditioner on hair, water off, leave shower.  Oops, hair not rinsed, back in shower.  Water on, too cold, too hot, just rinse and run.  Dry, dry, dry, dry…dry (big body, small towel).  Find glasses.  Find cosmetics, put them on.  Get clothes.  Wrinkled pants?  Get more pants.  Black?  Blue?  Can’t tell.  Wear them anyway.  Blue blouse, red sweater.  Earrings missing.  Look in drawer, look on table, look on counter, open another drawer, see earrings!  Blue rose earrings, put on shoes.  Get medicines.  Need food, get toast, splurge on yogurt, eat food.  Take pills, only three.  Close bottles.  No, wait, need Tylenol!  Get sweater, put on, admire, fix collar, admire.  Oh no, eyebrow strays, get tweezers, pluck, pluck, pluck, ouch!  That’s better.  Get purse.  No, nicer purse.  Change wallet, business cards, pen, checkbook.  Gotta go.  Get in car, leave neighborhood, fix the music.  Drive, drive, why do I live so far out?  Drive, drive, big parking lot–no, that’s another church.  Drive, drive, there’s the light.  Whew I’m here!  Only 10 minutes late. 



Happy Ramblings

Today is for miscellaneous.  That’s what I was thinking while I was eating breakfast oatmeal for my dessert just now.  That’s not an indication of laziness.  Sometimes there are just short, unrelated comments to be made.  Far be it from me to leave a thing unsaid.  Yeah, those of you who know me are laughing.


I’m back at the level of functioning I aim for after every lupus flare.  I wake up in the morning and there’s no major pain.  I can get out of bed and have breakfast, take my meds and get ready to go out in less than two hours.  I remember most of my vocabulary.  I have the energy to do more than one thing in a day.  I can exercise (ride my bike in this case) more than 15 minutes per day.  This is my best “normal”.  The longer I stay in this zone, the more active I can be.  Sometimes I get back to walking a mile a day.  I lose weight.  I start bigger projects.  Eventually, this phase gets closed down by another flare.  Hopefully, the current meds will keep that time far, far away. 


I’ve been working steadily today.  I did some knitting on my cool new sock design at knitting group.  I finished a pink and magenta cotton child’s chemocap.  I piled up some things that need to be photographed and put into my store inventory.  I finally took my red Berocco sweater to knitting group and modeled it.  I had been a little nervous about doing that, but everyone was gracious with compliments.  Whew! 


This weekend was another prom experience.  My son came home from college to attend a local prom, having been asked by a girl that he doesn’t know very well.  It was a group enterprise with five of his good friends, some still in high school.  All the guys dressed at our house.  When they came downstairs, I had to catch my breath.  They had all ordered black tuxedos with black shirts, and had on their best sneakers or slip-ons.  They sported ties to match their dates’ dresses, and some had sunglasses and black hats.  They were adorable!  I was honored to be the prom mom for this bunch.  They are always sweet when they come over, finding me before they go upstairs, giving out hugs and greetings.


I got a text message that I have been waiting for today.  Sometimes it just takes a sentence to set your mind at ease and let you know someone is safe and well.  Even though I am verbose in person and on paper (well, on email), I don’t require equal numbers of words in return.  I love when someone will drop a line to say “hey, I’m still alive, just busy with work”. 


Filled up my car today at the only locally-owned gas station in my little area.  I was the only one there, because there was cheaper gas at several stations down the street.  I felt sorry for the owner.  He changed his station from a Chevron to an independent several years ago so that he could bring cheaper gas to this community.  Now his folks have abandoned him because he isn’t the cheapest this month.  It is so difficult to see the prices on everything going up at the same time.  I’m fortunate that I don’t have to drive many miles, so I can splurge the extra $1.00 per tank and give this poor guy some business.


I was talking to one of my sisters on the phone today, and she said she was trying to think back to when she was really happy.  I felt blessed, because I’m really happy today.  And I was yesterday, and pretty much every day, except when somebody (oh, yeah, that was me!!!) messes with my antidepressants.  And it’s not that antidepressant medicines make you happy.  They just allow you to perceive the good things as well as you perceive the bad.  They keep those distorted signals from coloring your life.  How nice for me!


I visited my little old parents two days ago.  We had a lovely time, just talking.  My dad walked me outside and to my car when I left, being courtly and giving me his arm.  Despite the difficulties of my childhood years, I grew up to realize that they did what they thought was best in raising us.  In some ways, they were extraordinarily good parents.  As they have aged, they have made sure to tell us all how much they love us.  Now it’s rare for a conversation to end without “I love you” being said. 


I’ve learned some valuable aging lessons from my parents.  They were in their early seventies when I was pregnant with my daughter.  They immediately began to plan to be her babysitters when I was at work.  My mom hastened to have a nerve problem in her elbow surgically repaired.  They both attended grandparenting classes to learn what had changed in child-rearing since their time.  They showed me that you could still grow and learn at any age, the way they took their new knowledge to heart and put it into practice.


I’m thinking that I need some Sudoku before bed.  A cup of tea would go well with that.



More Depression, and Not the Last

Okay, this is the day I turn on my air conditioning.  It is in the 80s outside and my bedroom has reached at least 376 degrees.  I will air condition this place or be roasted.  In just a minute.  When I finish typing.  And watching Ugly Betty, which is a new episode for the first time in forever. 


I mentioned depression yesterday and received an unexpected number of comments, both on and off the blog.  Actually, that shouldn’t surprise me, because the prevalence of this disorder is astonishingly high.  According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability in persons over the age of 5 worldwide.  In the United States, it is the 8th leading cause of death for men and the 16th for women (and climbing).  (2004 National Institutes of Mental Health statistics)  The NIMH estimates that 7% of U.S. adults experience an episode of major depression each year-11% if you include less severe depressive disorders and bipolar disorder.  Given those numbers, we should expect that in company where we mention depression, we will be among people who have experienced it either first-hand or in friends or relatives.  How could something that common be something we can’t discuss? 


The sad thing is, when we don’t discuss it, and let the world know that it’s an illness that affects a lot of us and it is treatable and we are dealing with it and living our lives–when we don’t convey that, more people are afraid to admit to symptoms and reluctant to seek treatment.  If the research into brain chemistry and our ever-improving understanding of the brain and how it works doesn’t convince people that depression is an illness and not a weakness of the will, the attitudes and successes of the millions of us in treatment should accomplish that. 


The worst thing about depression (after feeling lousy, losing productivity, ruining your home life, and having sleep and eating disturbances) is that it is a risk factor for suicide.  That means it is a potentially fatal illness.  The incidence of suicide in the U.S. has recently climbed sharply.  It went up 8% from 2003-2004.  It is the 8th leading cause of death in men, the 16th in women, and the 3rd in young people age 10-24.  All of those statistics are from the NIMH, which also has terrific patient information on their website (google “NIMH depression”). 


My daughter recently mentioned that she thought the roommate of a friend was depressed.  I suspect she was right.  It’s a hard diagnosis to miss in adults when you’ve lived in a family with a strong genetic tendency to depression.  As a medical student learning diagnostic techniques, I could diagnose depression by just sitting in the room with a depressed person.  You learn to feel it before you hear it.  Children are another matter-you need to know the symptoms for them, because they can look like inattention, or misbehaviour, or attention-seeking.  And it’s important to know that it occurs in children, with results that are just as ominous as in adults if it isn’t treated. 


Grey’s Anatomy is on.  It’s my favorite doctor-in-training tv series yet.  It is heavily skewed toward surgery, so the contest amongst the residents tonight involves getting points for things like numbers of sutures placed.  In internal medicine, we made our points by (1) presenting every history and physical to our team on morning rounds fully from memory, even after being up all night and admitting eight patients; (2) having an arsenal of journal articles on every relevant topic that we could quote from memory; and (3) single-handedly making complex diagnoses before anyone else on the team.  We thought surgeons were Neanderthals.  Numbers of sutures indeed!  (Not to say that I couldn’t suture.  Two of my best friends, both a year ahead of me, made me practice until I was adept at suturing, and my surgical attendings complimented me on my skills.  I could also place my full 128 pounds on a retractor and keep all the guts out of the way on an abdominal surgery.)


Okay, not the time for medical exploits.  Today I have worked some more on the prototype sock.  Those of you who want to see it will be able to, after you are sworn to secrecy.  Not that there’s much to show right now.  I’m just approaching the part with the innovation, and it’s gonna be hard to knit, so I may still just be talking about it for the next few days. 


Oh no, wisdom from Grey’s!  George just said “Great doctors-they know when to stop.”  How true and real is that?  One of the hardest things to teach to my interns and residents. 



I Want My Neurotransmitters and a Little Taste of Curry

Today I hunkered down with a ball of sock yarn and two pairs of skinny circular needles and tried to figure out how to knit the innovative sock that I want to create.  By the time I finished, I had ripped out and started over twice, grabbed another ball of yarn, unwound yarn all over my bed (the research center) and said a few mumbly words to myself.  Guess what?  I figured it out!  I feel like 30 years ago when I solved a really tough calculus problem.  (Yes, I took four or five semesters of calculus-I was an engineering student.)  Now that I know how I’m going to manage this strategically, I have to do some experimental knitting to determine the exact numbers of stitches that will make this work.  Then I’ll try and knit a prototype.  This makes me so excited my toes are wiggling. 


Speaking of toes, has anyone seen my brown Crocs?  The old mary janes, not the new cross-strap ones with canvas uppers.  Since I walked so much yesterday, my feet are crying out for the comfort of my cushiest Crocs.  I swear, they are such big babies.  After all, they are cradled in perfectly good Landsend slip-ons which I probably paid $9.95 for in the Landsend Overstocks.  Red slip-ons!  What more could a foot want?  I have a tendency to take off my shoes in weird places.  I grew up walking barefoot whenever I could, and there are times when I’m in my house and the shoes just have to come off right that minute. 


I can smell my dinner.  I followed a recipe for curried pink lentils, and I have brown/wild rice in my rice cooker and a skillet full of cabbage, onion, garlic, and well-cooked pink lentils waiting to be eaten together.  Mmmm, it was as good as it smelled.  The curry is quite spicy (I have a liberal hand with seasonings) and my next round I’ll put a dollop of Greek yogurt on top. 


When I talked about my depression the other day, someone commented that it was nice to be able to have it in the open.  I’ve always been upfront with everyone (including patients) about my ailments, with no reservations about doing so.  For years we in medicine have understood that depression and other mood disorders are physical illnesses, brain dysfunctions.  Our moods are controlled by chemical messengers in the brain.  Those messengers can be affected to some extent by our activities and circumstances, but the largest effect is totally chemical.  Treating depression with medicines involves increasing those neurotransmitters to normal levels. 


Yesterday on the Ellen Show, Dr. Wayne Dyer was promoting his new book.  He spouted a lot of rhetoric about kindness curing depression, i.e. being in the vicinity of acts of kindness causing increased serotonin levels.  I spent an hour today searching through the entire Medscape library and 25 pages of Google references, looking for a published scientific study that confirms that.  I couldn’t find a single one.  It seems that an entire world of new age, self-proclaimed experts and amateurs are all quoting Dr. Dyer’s position without any documentation in evidence. 


I don’t have anything against kindness; we could all stand to be more kind to our fellow woman, and we certainly thrive in the receipt of kindness.  The big problem is that this is another instance of blaming the patient for the disease.  If kindness causes increased neurotransmitters in the brain, the corollary is that people who have depression (low neurotransmitter levels) must be unkind.  That’s bunk.  Dyer went so far as to suggest that more children were suffering from depression because of the lack of kindness surrounding them.  We can plainly see the genetic influences on depression, and we won’t be surprised if there aren’t strong environmental factors, like our brain chemistry being affected by the chemicals and hormones in our foods.  Pooey!  I could use a little real science with my curry.