Appalachicola, Ratatouille, and Other Large Words

Ratatouille!  That’s what I said to my daughter this afternoon.  I had eggplant and squash from Crabtree Farms, thankfully still good since we forgot to take it on our trip.  We diced and sauteed the eggplant with fresh rosemary and onion, then layered eggplant, squash and canned diced tomatoes with a sprinkling of oregano and shredded mozzarella.  It’s at the “something in the kitchen smells good” stage.  Since daughter and I did all the slicing and dicing together, I didn’t have to stand up with the stiff back for very long.  I like team cooking. 


Meanwhile, some beach reports.  This is the complex we stayed in:  short strips of two-story townhomes.  The beach was across the street on the other side of the high rises you see.  Our balcony and patio faced the golf course, with enough greenery in between for privacy, but still a nice view of that pristine golf grass.  I only saw one golfer the whole week.  The complex was only half-full; it was pleasantly quiet. 


The roadtrip to Apalachicola with my daughter was the highlight of my trip.  The scenery along Highway 98 was so beautiful that I had to stop and take this photo at Mexico Beach.  We drove from Sea Crest Beach to Panama City, through Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, past the guarded gates of Tyndall Air Force Base, through a forest (complete with bear crossing signs), and finally over the bridge into Apalachicola.  The downtown has four or seven square blocks of restaurants, gift shops, boutiques, and cafes.  Some of the buildings look like this Owl Cafe:  nice old construction.  You can tell that I know less than squat about architecture, since I have no idea what this is typical of.  It just looks old.  As does the yarn store, Downtown Books and Purl:  .  Is that not a lovely facade?  I was enchanted before I entered, and absolutely enticed into the back of the store where all the yarn and knitting accessories are beautifully displayed.  The owner told me that she tore out the storeroom to make the knitting section, as she desired knitting supplies for herself.  It is ridiculously far to the next LYS.  I was astonished that her shop held so many yarns (fabulous brands) and a huge supply of needlecraft books and ample needles and accessories in the allotted space.  The front of the store was just as well-supplied as a book store, and Dayna found a book in short order.  I purchased four skeins of Araucania Quellon (viscose and cottton) from the sale bin, and two skeins of Pima Fresca (Queensland Collection, 100% cotton).  Interesting that even in a smaller shop, there was something (the latter yarn) totally new to me.


We had coffe and Italian ice at a Mexican coffee shop after our bookstore visit, then cruised through a number of shops.  We weren’t looking for anything in particular, but we struck gold in a cooking store.  I found cool utensils that combined a slotted spoon with a spatula and got one for myself and a left-handed one for my sister.  No worry, she doesn’t have time to read my blog.  It’ll be a surprise when I see her at reunion.  My sweet child bought a set of bands to place around glasses or cans with names on them that would keep you from ever losing your drink.  The names were very descriptive, like “Bedwetter” and “Slut”, the things you could only call your nearest and dearest friends, and only with great affection.  Especially if you’re 20.  I also purchased silicone egg cups for poaching.  Oh yeah, living it up!


I was into my fourth day of the steroid taper when we were in Apalachicola.  I walked around town without too much difficulty.  The next evening it all stopped.  I sat down at the table in a less than desirable restaurant, and when I rose I was stiff from my waist to my ankles.  That’s how it goes.  Stiffness equals inflammation, inflammation signifies a flare. 


But first, a word about the restaurant.  There’s a shopping and recreation area called Pier Park right off Panama City Beach.  It’s just the kind of place to attract every family vacationing in town.  All the restaurants were enormous-cattle drives to food, barns with tables, quantity over quality the word of the day.  We chose the one that seemed to have the shortest line.  Reggae Joe’s?  I really don’t want to remember the name.  After 30 minutes we were seated at a table in the midst of the mahem.  I watched, mesmerized, as an idle busboy chewed his knuckles and then wiped his hand on his shirt, eventually going to bus a table and wipe it with a cloth.  I prayed that he hadn’t bussed our table and shared his Adenovirus or Haemophilus influenzae with us.  The music was loud, the talking louder.  Dayna had poorly fried calamari, Chris fared better with his appetizer, as there wasn’t much they could do to a raw oyster.  We waited so long for entrees that I began to get to that place where it didn’t seem to matter if I ever ate again.  When they finally came, my salad was more interesting in print than in presentation.  The Caribbean salad with grilled scallops featured mushy fruit and a few slices of rotten black avocado.  I ate what I could and showed the remainder to the waiter, who found a manager and didn’t charge me.  I was happy to leave. 


Anyway, the flare symptoms were expected and I had lots of help from my travel partners.  I didn’t have to tote a bag or pack up the kitchen and could have come back without driving, if I hadn’t insisted.  Sometimes the driver’s seat seems more comfortable (and maybe the activity more distracting) when I’m not feeling well.  We stopped at a lovely Waffle House on the way back and had a meal that was way better than the one at Pier Park.  Next move will be to talk to my doc tomorrow.  We need a plan. 

And tomorrow, I can talk more about knitting on the trip and beyond.




Home, Where My Love Lies Waiting…

Okay, wishful thinking!  but yes, I’m home!  home!  home!   Love that word and the feeling of walking into my door and putting my stuff down and running a real bath in my own tub.  I feel so out of touch.  Our wireless service at the vacation house was killed by a storm Wednesday night, and after that I was unable to check email or blog.  I kept thinking, “it’s only three days,” but the reality of having my line cut was dreadful. 


I had 445 emails waiting for me.  I’ve waded through the pile and cut it down to a manageable 274, and now I have to take some meds and get some sleep.  Yes, the flare is definitely here.  No, I probably won’t die of this one.  Yes, I promise to write something substantive (or at least wordy) tomorrow because I’ve got “so much to say, so much to say, so much to say, so much to saa-ay”, like Dave Matthews, who sang to me my entire driving shift coming home.  I’ve even got pictures to show.  I’ll have a regular show and tell tomorrow, best people. 



Flaring in Florida

I don’t go to the beach.  My feet haven’t set foot on that sandy strip between the town and the ocean.  I am too sensitive to the sun, and I’m already in a flare.  Five minutes on the beach would be stupid, fifteen a disaster.  Yet, I insist on coming here year after year, close enough to look out the window and see the ocean, or ride down the street and smell the salt water.  There is a sense here of the whole world being on vacation, a leisurely pace and casual dress, big welcoming smiles when you enter a nice restaurant in your shorts and sandals. 


Yesterday we set out for Ft. Walton Beach to find the yarn store, Unwind.  I had been there several years ago when it had another owner and another name.  The store was worth the 45 minute drive.  It is beautiful, cozy but well-organized, and carries lovely brands:  Noro, Blue Sky, Tilli Thomas, Be Sweet, Malabrigo, Auracania…and more and more.  I was allowed to browse unfettered.  Only when I approached the cash register for the final time (I had made a pile there) and said “I am ready” did someone rise from her chair at the knitting table and come over.  I purchased Tilli Thomas’ Pure and Simple spun silk in Drewbilation (a blue and green that reminded me of the ocean), and Blue Sky  Organic Cotton and Dyed Cotton (also organically grown).  The Blue Sky cottons that I purchased are a heavy worsted weight, with more heft than most organic cottons I’ve used.  Can’t wait to make something fab for a baby.  I see scarves/shawls from the silk.  It is so luxuriously soft-I’ve never had silk that felt this good.


On the way to the yarn store, we needed to find food.  We slid into a strip mall and Dayna chose 98 Barbecue, a small restaurant with rustic decor and wonderful barbecue.  We promised ourselves that we will eat there again before we leave.  The pulled pork, a rare treat for my veggie-eating self, was lean and tender.  Dayna and I shared a plate and still couldn’t finish it.  One of our sides was creamed corn nuggets, a new one for us, and exactly what it sounds like:  creamed corn in bite-size battered nuggets.  Delicious.  My girl with the great sense of direction was able to recall that we had visited the same strip mall years ago, enjoying food from a Mexican bakery that is still there. 


Speaking of baking, I made a banana bread while ago.  We brought fruit with us, knowing it would spoil if left at home.  The last three bananas went into a quick sweet bread.  I found the perfect glass baking pans in the cabinet, and filled the smaller one with batter.  It’s cooled and ready to sample.  Mmmmm.  Nice banana flavor, not too sweet.  I am the Martha Stewart of the coast.  Neglected to say that I made raisin muffins Sunday morning.  The owners conveniently left a muffin pan, something you don’t always find in a cottage rental.  Somebody here believes in cooking.


Yesterday the flare hit the fan.  I could barely move when I awoke:  the stiffness that has plagued my hands was in my hips and legs.  I had to start the emergency plan that my doc made with me:  a brief prednisone taper of 30-25-20-15-back to 10 mg over 5 days.  Waking was easier this morning.  I hate increasing the steroids, but we’re buying time until the next big B cell-killing treatment.  Damn B lymphocytes. 


He-eyy, a shout-out to all my buddies who are vacationing!  Any good yarn where you are?  I’ve still gotta go the opposite direction, to Apalachicola on the other side of Panama City, where there’s a yarn store in the back of a bookstore (or, as I would advertise it, a bookstore in the front of a yarn store).  It helps immensely to get into a store and feel those yarns that I’ve been viewing on line, to see if my drooling is worth it.  About those bookstores, we had to hit one of those yesterday, too.  Dayna had finished her book stash and was ready to find something new.  She came out with a stack, and even had Chris picking out reading material.  We can nag the younger generation all we want, they teach each other much more effectively.


Holy cow!  It’s past noon and I’ve not bathed or come out of my bathrobe.  Ain’t vacation great?





Post 194 and Counting

I’m reading a book that is frightening.  Child 44, Tom Rob Smith’s first novel, is set in cold war Soviet Union, and focuses on a law enforcement officer.  The required, institutionalized lack of trust and innocence in this system is the diametric opposite of our American judicial presumption.  The justifications for this point of view are oddly logical, and it isn’t difficult to understand how the enforcers are brain-washed into believing and carrying out their objectives.  I’m only half-finished.  I’ve been mesmerized all afternoon. 


I’m reading here, in this townhouse at the beach.  It’s a great setting for catching up reading and knitting without distraction.  I have yarn stores to visit in Panama City and Ft. Walton, green lace and green baby dresses to knit, and chemocaps to design.  I packed five books, just in case; I hate to run out of reading.  I was reassured to know my daughter packed a stack of books too; we may need to trade. 


The townhouse was a find.  When you get on line to hunt beach properties that you’d like to visit three days hence, you are lucky to find something suitable.  This is even better-it meets my desires and my budget, it’s in the right location on the Gulf coast, and my contacts with the owner have been lovely.  “Our place” for the week has two nice-sized bedrooms, a large living room/dining room, and a spacious kitchen.  All the essentials are here, including patio and balcony, beachy decorating, and three bathrooms.  Okay, maybe three bathrooms aren’t truly required, but I hate sharing and I hate running from one floor to the other.  Parking is right in front of the door, something I miss when we get high-rise condos.  Publix is 10 minutes down 98.  What more could I ask? 


I’m learning something sleeping here.  The mattress on my king is very firm, and I slept like a dream.  I think I could do better to have a firmer mattress at home.  I’ve debated this before, but I haven’t had a harder mattress to sleep on and try it out, until now. 


Yesterday the drive down was complicated by a ferocious thunderstorm with pounding rain.  It was my turn to drive, and I was glad that it hadn’t caught either of the less experienced drivers who are my travel partners.  They both have considerable highway experience now, and were invaluable as navigators, but I didn’t want to subject them to all that water on less than optimum roads, or to the poor visibility.  At one point I had to pull over and wait out the worst of the storm.   


When we arrive at the beach, we have to make that all-important stocking-up trip to the grocery store.  We sent one member out this morning to get the most critical things, but my daughter and I made the more thorough trip to Publix this evening.  Now we have plenty of canned water (can’t drink the salty stuff that comes out of the faucet), pasta and sauce, sunblock, and a set of bowls to satisfy my cooking needs.  I’ve never stayed in a beach house that fully anticipated my need to bake.  This one has the pans, but not the bowls.  I stirred up some muffins this morning using a pan for my bowl.  There was one more staple to purchase.  I packed most of them, including a bag of coffee.  To my dismay, it turned out to be beans, and I didn’t pack the grinder.  Bless the owners for providing that first pot of coffee via a neat little pack on the counter.  Now I have Starbucks Italian Roast to follow it.  Sipping now.  Oh yeah. 


Yes, I’m still on the path to a flare.  Yes, I’m paying attention and doing what I’m supposed to do for this body.  I am blessed to have the greatest help in the world.  The older my daughter gets, the more she anticipates what I need on expeditions like this.  I don’t even have the worries of leaving my house behind.  Our neighbors are watching it, taking in mail, watering the crops, even going in to hunt for shoes to borrow today.  We have great neighbors, too. 


If you haven’t done so, take a minute to check out some of the comments that have come in this month.  There are some interesting thoughts piling up in that comment bin.  I love reading them.  I don’t know if I could have this conversation daily if no one was listening. 



Knitting Towards the Flare

This approaching flare thing is kind of interesting.  I can see symptoms beginning, gradually increasing, and becoming a problem.  It must be that regeneration of the B-cell population doesn’t occur all at once, so the level of inflammation gradually increases and affects more areas of the body.  Previously, I would flare by suddenly waking up with severe leg stiffness or brand new pains.  Right now, I’m having this progression from sore feet to stiff hands to painful knees to feverish feeling. 


This is the problem with being a physician who is also a patient:  you spend too much time observing your symptoms and appreciating the parameters and presentation of them.  Two years ago, I had a blood clot in my arm.  It began with an IV site in the forearm and spread all the way up my arm to the cephalic vein at the front of my shoulder.  At the same time as I was suffering from the pain and swelling, I was totally intrigued.  I had never had a patient with a thrombosus in an arm (legs are a more common site by at least 7:1), and I wanted to learn from it.  I found myself feeling that hard, lumpy length of vein over and over, memorizing the feel of it.  I stood in the mirror and compared the size of the swollen arm to the normal one.  I stared at the screen and listened to the flow sounds when I had the Dopper study to determine the extent of the clot.  I was totally entertained. 


I’ve done more than contemplate symptoms today.  I have also worked on the lace shirt.  It now measures at least three inches longer than it did when I frogged it.  The decrease rows go faster and faster.  I will finish the back this weekend.  I also worked on my second Obama banner.  I’ve knitted the background, tomorrow I can start duplicate stitching.  I looked on Etsy for Obama gear and there was a nice-huge, actually-selection of buttons and jewelry and t-shirts and art, but nothing like my knitted things.  Sometimes you can slide into a little niche with a unique product.


I’m not really writing today.  This is just the briefest of updates.  I’ve promised that I will get extra sleep for this early flare, and I like to keep my promises to myself (and others, too, but especially to me).  I finished The Immortal today, and I’m looking forward to picking up a new book tomorrow.  Opening a new work holds some magic for me.  Don’t get me started talking about reading. 



Knitting Obama

I’ve been threatening to knit that Obama banner, and today I did it.  But before you see my unfinished work, check this out: .  At Naked Sheep you can buy a kit to make socks that declare your Obama support.  The price is very reasonable, and it’s not a difficult knit.  I love creating things to show my support.  Anyway, today I got out some Lite Lopi and knitted a simple intarsia block.  It originally measured 22 x 8 inches.  After felting, it measures about 16 x 5 inches.  Here is the before and after:


It is still wet.  When it dries, I will trim it.  Remind me not to photograph blue on a bright red background.  I’m surprised at my own excitement over this.  I waited until it was certain that Senator Obama would be the nominee, because it would have been too disappointing to put lots of work in and then have him not make it to the big election.  I plan to put some “OBAMA” patches in my store.  Some will be felted, some will be knitted and duplicate stitched. 


We went on a fieldtrip today to an urban farm, Crabtree Farms (  It’s ten minutes from downtown Chattanooga, very close to a project and a low-income neighborhood, and produces organically grown crops for sale and for educational purposes.  It also has camps for kids and “pick-your-own” opportunities, as well as cooking and planting classes.  We were running late and the farm stand guy (who told us he had just come from slaughtering pigs for a pig roast Saturday) was nice enough to keep the stand open for a few minutes.  We came away with a bunch of turnips, some sage and rosemary, and some huge yellow squash.  Week after next it’ll be time to pick blueberries.  Oops, left out the chubby little eggplants, or aubergines as I learned today.   


New restaurant today:  a cute cafe called Out of the Blue.  It’s in Brainerd, a neighborhood that has slowly been revitalizing (not fast enough, if you ask me).  It’s one of the most convenient neighborhoods in the city, with access to downtown in 15 minutes, and a great mix of business and residential.  I lived in Brainerd when I was in high school, and of course I didn’t appreciate it then, but I could make the decision to move back in about 3 seconds.  Back to the restaurant.  It was open and bright and decorated in a clean, fresh style.  I loved the deep blue glassware and white tables.  One corner of the main room housed a huge assortment of kites for sale, and the whole place was decorated with kites.   Good breakfast and lunch selections ranging from a southwestern chicken soup to quiche with fresh fruit, but it was hard to take our eyes off the bakery case with fresh-baked cookies and lemon squares and muffins…totally drool territory. 


Gotta make some sleep tonight.  I promised the doc I would be extra-careful, with this impending flare.  I’m ready to sit back and knit.







A Flare of Drunk Knitting

I learned a new term after my daughter reached a certain age:  drunk dialing.  The Urban Dictionary ( defines a drunk dial this way:  “To make a regrettable late night phone call after drinking heavily.”  Last night I had terrible knee pain, as I have  had for several days.  It seems to always come at the end of the day; typical of inflammation, it isn’t related to the time I’m actually using the knees.  Anyway, I took a whole pain pill about 10 p.m.  At 3 a.m. the pain awakened me, again intense.  I took another whole pain pill.  At 6 a.m. my body awakened, per usual, and I got up to start my day.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that the pain medicine was still affecting me.  I got my coffee and some cereal, then settled down for some knitting.


You might be drunk knitting if…
…your humming turns into singing “hey mr. rayon, you are my brother” in a high falsetto so you can hear the echo.
…you gradually take phrases of stitches off your lace pattern until you are knitting “slip 2, knit 1, psso, slip 2, knit 1, psso, slip 2, slip 2, slip 2”.
…you have to say the words aloud to keep track.
…you pick up your knitting and find that you are mid-row, spend 10 minutes trying to figure out your position on the pattern, then realize it’s the purl every stitch side.
…you seriously consider using chunky yarn and big needles to knit yourself a tent.
…you kill a fly on your knitting couch and can’t stop saying “dead fly, dead fly, dead fly” in your squeakiest high voice.
…you stop knitting to play air guitar on your needles.
…your green yarn suddenly reminds you of avocados, french green beans, pistachios, spinach, and every other green food you love.
…you make up stories about your stitches:  knit two together is two gay people getting married in California because it’s finally legal, a slip stitch is escaping and sets into motion a whole capture consisting of a knit stitch making it climb over the fence and lay down.
…you make up a new hummus recipe in your head and immediately go to the blender and execute
(garbanzo beans, olive oil, sesame tahini, salt and pepper, basil, lime juice, plain greek yogurt, grape seed oil Vegenaise).
It was an interesting morning.  I had a ball entertaining myself.  And the hummus was the best I ever made.  Even Chris the chef-to-be said so.  All the while, I was playing Cold Play’s new Viva la Vida, newly downloaded from iTunes.  (I believe in paying for your music and your books.)  The tunes are excellent!  Fabulous lyrics, new, fresh and ironic, but immediately singable:  “Those who are dead are not dead, they’re just living in my head; and since I fell for that spell I am living there as well.”   Love it. 
I saw my rheumatologist this afternoon.  He agreed to collude with me in denying that I’m in a flare for the moment.  He did point out several places where swollen synovium was/n’t really there.  He also showed me the joint fluid that could/n’t be swelling my knees.  We decided that unless I’m in worse trouble, I don’t have to increase my prednisone.  Worse trouble means leg stiffness, worse systemic symptoms, etc.  The idea is to hold off on another round of B-cell killing as long as possible.  I got labwork, as usual.  I have blood drawn monthly, since I take methotrexate and it can cause numerous side effects, some of which need blood monitoring.   I swapped stories with the staff, a group that I love, and headed home.
I have knitted all day.  (I think you could divide knitters temperamentally by whether they use the past tense “knit” or “knitted”.  Both are correct.)  I confined my knitting to the recently frogged green shirt for my daughter.  It’s going beautifully.  Another hour and I’ll be back to the decreases in the back.  The construction of the top is very elegant, with the bodice and sleeve being one piece, sewn to the slanted empire waist of the back and front.  I’m going to be a lace junkie.  Might as well accept it, I doubt there’s a cure. 
If you want to make the drunk knitting hummus, toss all the ingredients in the blender.  I used one 15 oz. can of garbanzos, about 2 TBSP olive oil and 2TBSP sesame tahini, and 1/4 c. each of Vegenaise (or mayo) and plain yogurt.  Season to taste.  Enjoy.