Thursday, October 16, 2014

Look what I have!

This is my mother's Singer sewing machine, vintage 1951.(Well actually this is the bentwood box it came in, but keep reading.)
I learned to sew on this machine, and thanks to my niece, as of Monday, it now belongs to me! A perfect Thanksgiving present.

I made jumpers, skirts, dresses, and even my high school graduation dress. I remember as if it were yesterday laying out patterns on my family's dining room table. I can still see the material of my first jumper.

Sewing was something my mother and I shared. She taught me to put in an invisible zipper, how to turn a cuff and a collar, how to line a dress.

She sewed everything on this machine. Curtains, drapes, suits, dresses, t-shirts. Everything. I think she even sewed a bathing suit once.

This machine only sews in one direction.
There is no back-stitch, no zig-zag feature, no multiple threads.

It goes forward.

That's it.

It is called a portable machine, but it weighs a ton! (ok, really 31.5 pounds, but still!)

It is beautiful.

And now it is mine.

This means I now own three sewing machines.

The one my mom gave me when I graduated from high-school - Baycrest circa 1973

My aunt's that I inherited: White circa 1948

And now this one.

She doesn't quite run right. I think the belt needs replacing, and she needs a good cleaning and oiling.

She is a keeper, all the same.

It was love at first sight.

NB: I discovered moments ago that I have the box with all the bobbins and the zipper foot that goes with this machine. It had been in my possession all these years. Now I have the machine to go with it.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 'c' word

I went to the hematologist today to discuss my blood work. I have my blood counts done every six months because eleven years ago I was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). At the time of my diagnosis my white counts where three times normal, over the past few years they have been back into the normal range.

Then eighteen months ago a new count was added to my blood work and it was not in the normal range. My GP didn't seem concerned, but I wanted to check in with the specialist anyways. Then in May my lymphocyte count was a little elevated.

I arrived for my appointment and he looked quite bewildered as to why I was there. He said looking at my blood work he would not consider me a CLL patient. He said, "we don't like to use the word cure, but looking at this report there is no indication of the disease."

He also admitted that all my files and tests that he had on me were in storage somewhere. No worries, I brought all my tests with me to the appointment (I am anal that way).

He was noticeably shocked when I told him he had diagnosed me in 2003.

2003, he queried?

2003, I replied.

2003, he asked again?

"Verified by a bone marrow biopsy". I stated.

Well, he said, we don't even consider treatment until your counts are in the 100s. (Mine is, like, seven.)

I asked what would explain my counts going down when the whole modus operandi of the disease is that your white cells never die. He could't explain it. But cautioned me not to look a gift horse in the mouth. (Who? Me?)

And the other count that was a little high? They changed the 'normal' range. It use to be high was over 5, then over 4, now it is over 3.5. (Mine is 3.6).

He also said to ignore the count that was new. "I have been trying to get them to take that off the tests. It means nothing."


Good to know our tax dollars are being spent running tests that doctors don't actually want to see or know about.
And weird they (the ubiquitous they) can change the normal range somewhat arbitrarily like that.

But, still, good news all around.

I am off his patient list. Just as well, he has the bedside manner of a gnat. (not to mention he doesn't know where my files are).

I still should go for blood tests every six months, (because that won't hurt, he said). Hah! He doesn't know my very sad and sordid relationship with needles.

So he doesn't want to see me anymore. Unless something changes.

And he won't use the 'c' word because of the genetic markers I have.

But he never said anything about not using the r word.

So I am.

Out loud.



I said it out loud.

It must be true.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mustard Pickles

I have my Grandmother's pickle crock,

and my son encouraged me to make her famous mustard pickles this year. My aunt taught me, my sister and my daughter how to make them about fifteen years ago.

I should have paid better attention.

I bought all the ingredients, and then shuddered at what I had talked myself into.

I finally began - skinning nine cups of pearl onions. Thank goodness for the internet for directions, but still I was overwhelmed with whether or not I was doing it right. According to the internet you just boil them, plunge them into ice water, cut off the end and then the onion slides right out of the skin. Not so much. Maybe I needed more ice. Maybe I needed to channel my aunt.

My dear husband, sensing my overwhelm no doubt, offered to help with the prep and in a very short time he had cut up two large heads of cauliflower while I finished the onions and chopped up the celery and cucumber.

Her recipe said one part salt to nine parts water for the brine, but of course no hint as to how big the parts should be to fill the crock. I grabbed a quart mason jar and used that. The angels must have been watching over me because it worked perfectly filling the crock just over half full of brine. By the time all the ingredients were added they came just to the top of the crock.

Then the next day I awoke to eleven pint jars, one quart jar, two half-pint jars, my canning pot and the recipe stuck to the fridge. The recipe is written in my dear Aunt Georgina's handwriting. I knew she was there with me, but still it was daunting.

Clearly this needed coffee and breakfast before the sauce could be made, and the jars could be sterilized.
Two cups of coffee later, I was ready to go.

So out came the canner and I sterilized the jars (without burning myself), while mixing the mustard paste, and boiling the vinegar.

I boiled the veggies for five minutes in the brine, fretting the whole time that they tasted too salty. I checked the internet to try to get the proportion of salt to water for brine but it only confused me more.

I heard my aunt's laugh.

I reminded myself to "trust the recipe", and I berated myself more than once for not paying better attention all those years ago when my sister and daughter and I gathered in my aunt's kitchen to make pickles for the last time before Alzheimer's stole her away from us in the horrible way that disease steals loved ones from loved ones.

I mixed the mustard paste into the boiling vinegar, working diligently to get the lumps out. To no avail. Then I thought about my wand mixer, and laughing at the thought of what my grandmother would say, I whisked those lumps away in seconds. New age meets traditional method!

So into the jars the mixture went, wiping the edges before placing the seals and lids on. Two batches of hot water processing, with only one oops as one of the seals failed and water leaked into the top of the jar.

I put the hot jars on the counter on top of a tea towel as my aunt had shown me and quite quickly the lids started to ping.

I remember as a young girl sitting in her living room, after a day of canning, listening to the jar lids ping and counting them off one by one.

I felt her presence as I listened and counted.

Twelve jars pinged! Two jars didn't, and they are in the fridge. Well, technically only one jar is in the fridge because my husband and I took one jar on our camping trip.

I woke up from a nap today with him exclaiming how great the pickles tasted.

Not too salty? I asked fretfully.

Not too salty, he replied emphatically. I love his enthusiasm.

I was happy. Happy for the jar in the fridge at home. Happy for the twelve jars on the counter at home. Happy for the one in my hand.

They tasted great as a side to my tuna sandwich, and they will taste great with tonight's moose stew. My husband thinks they taste great by the forkful out of the jar.

Thanks, Auntie Georgie.
Let's do this again, next year.
And maybe pickled onions too.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

New traditions

Thanksgiving Weekend is upon us. This will be the first Thanksgiving in years and years and years that there won't be a big noisy family dinner.

Instead I have bought all the ingredients to make my Auntie Georgie's mustard pickles on either the Friday or the Monday, and my husband and I have booked a waterfront campsite for saturday and sunday night.

We might bake a salmon for our Thanksgiving dinner, or we might just roast chorizo over the fire.

I am looking forward to the simplicity of it. I am taking my knitting and a couple of good books. I just checked the weather report and it calls for rain, but I like camping in the rain.

As I have said before in this blog, when I was diagnosed with chronic leukemia my husband asked me what I wanted to do.

"I want to camp in our camper, hearing the rain on the roof."

That was 11 years ago. There have been lots of camping trips, and many with rain on the roof.

It never gets old.

There have been many changes in the last few years. My nest is truly empty, and for the first time in a long time I feel like it is going to be ok.

I can learn things still, and enjoy the company of new and old friends. I can take the time to take care of myself, and I am beginning to say what I want, and not feel I have to do things because others want me to.

My 59th birthday is fast approaching. I will be in my 60th year.

I think it is going to be just fine.

This is what 59 looks like. New traditions and all.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Organizing my stash

Bet that title got your attention, didn't it? You and the RCMP.

But of course my knitting and spinning compadres weren't fooled for a moment. For you not-in-the-know-non-knitter-types I will explain.

My stash is all the yarn and fibre I have accumulated over years and years of knitting. Some is leftover from projects completed. Some of it is gifts or hand-me-downs I have acquired, and much was purchased just because it was so pretty and smooshy (yes, that is a word) and I couldn't resist. (The word or the yarn).

My stash is actually quite organized: the cotton is all in one drawer, the roving in another, all the yarn of the same weight is more-or-less in the same place...but here is the thing.

Even though I have ALL my yarn in a database - colour, yardage, weight, fibre content - I have no pictures of it and I am a very visual learner (as they say in Education 101).

So today, on this overcast, soon to be rainy, day I am going to photograph ALL my stash and add those pictures to the database on Ravelry. (If you don't know what Ravelry is and you are a knitter, crocheter, spinner, or weaver then you need to Google that right now). If you don't know what Ravelry is and you are none of those things, well, never mind.

So once those pictures are in the database, and I want to make a pair or socks (want...HAH, NEED) or a shawl then I can peruse my photograph-enhanced database and viola - easier decision making.

Or, I can just look at the pretty pictures from time to time.

Knitting friends of mine call this yarn porn.

Oh my, porn and stash in the same post.

The RCMP should be here is know time.

I had better vacuum.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

White Rabbit

The very fist practicum I ever did was at a kindergarten on the university campus. I started on the first of October. Why do I remember this? I remember because the teacher told me that on the first of every month the first words out of your mouth upon awakening should be 'white rabbit' and that would ensure good luck for the rest of the month.

I am not a superstitious person, but this one has stayed with me all of these forty years.

I rarely make it. Sometimes the first words out of my mouth upon awaking aren't even printable. And yet, every month I think about that teacher and those two words.

I often ponder about why I remember the things I do. Why some moments, small seemly insignificant moments, are embedded in my brain, and then other, seemly more impressive, memories are not.

Sometimes my husband, or sister, relate stories that I have been part of that I have absolutely no recollection of. Big moments. It is just weird.

I have often thought that at times in my life I check out, maybe going to an alternate universe.

I have strong memories of being in the upstairs bathroom in the house I grew up in and feeling odd. Like the room was disappearing, like time was passing very very slowly, like my brain was stepping outside of itself.

The only time I have had this experience as an adult was just before eye surgery when they had given me valium. Then I saw a giant snake moving along the floor, but those experiences in the upstairs bathroom? I have no idea what those were.

So why does 'white rabbit' stick in my mind, but not the first words I spoke when my first child was born?

Do any of you experience similar odd memories? Do any of you have superstitions you follow?

This inquiring mind wants to know.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


The summer I was 15 I took a sewing course at the University of British Columbia. I made a beautiful wool dress. I enjoyed the course so much I asked my mother if I could take the next level course.

She agreed.

I took the bus to UBC. The bus ride consisted of getting the Dunbar bus at Dunbar and 33rd, and then transferring to the UBC bus at 10th and Alma.

On the first day of class, as I was taking the bus home, a group of boys started to harass me. They catcalled, and then one came over and sat beside me and put his arm around me.

I was so scared.

I rang the bell and I got off the bus somewhere around 10th and Alma. I felt relieved they didn't get off at the same stop.

I walked home, afraid to get back on a bus. I realize now that the bus driver did nothing. Maybe he hadn't noticed, but he did nothing.

When I got home I didn't tell my mom what had happened. I was embarrassed. I somehow felt like it was my fault.

I simply told her I hadn't enjoyed the class and didn't want to go back.

I didn't go back.

I have never told anyone this story.

Until now. And now as I write this I am weeping.

I am weeping for that 16 year old girl that was almost date-raped, and as she was being driven home by the offender she kept apologizing. She. kept. apologizing. And she never told anyone.

I am weeping for that 19 year old girl who was bitten on the arm in the UBC pub as a group of boys challenged each other to bite the ass of any girl walking by. I put my arm behind me in self defense and he bit my arm. He left the mark of his whole mouth, top and bottom teeth. All of them.

I didn't do anything. I went back to my table embarrassed and horrified. One guy actually came over to my table to see if he had met his target. I don't remember what I said, but those marks took a while to disappear. I guess I am lucky he didn't break the skin. I didn't tell anyone. Not any of the women at my table. No one.

I remember walking down the street as a newlywed and a car full of boys yelled "YOU ARE SO FUCKING UGLY". I heard from others in that little town that they too had been yelled at with the same words. We laughed about it.

It wasn't funny.

I remember sitting in a bar one summer evening with my husband and a man sat beside me and grabbed my thigh and told me it was fat. I didn't tell my husband until we got home why I had wanted to leave the pub so quickly.

So to my 15 year old self, my 16 year old self, my 19 year old self, my 22 year old self I want to tell you something. I want to tell you that I should have yelled back, told my mom, pressed charges.

My daughter is organizing a #catsglareback event in Halifax that will take place in a few hours.

These are her words:

"For every time you've felt unsafe walking in public. For every time you've been barked at, yelled at, sworn at. For every time you've been grabbed. For every moment you've been told to be flattered. For every time you've been told to 'stop making a big deal out of nothing.' Reclaim our streets. Reclaim our voice. Reclaim our moments. ‪#‎catsglareback‬"

So because I can't be there to march beside her, I have reclaimed my voice and told these stories.

Because I don't want my nieces, and grand-nieces, and daughter and women anywhere to have to go through this anymore.

And I don't want my nephews and grand-nephews, and son and men anywhere to be painted by the brush of our experiences with men.

And I am still weeping.

But this is part of the healing process. This is what I need to do because I couldn't do it all those years ago.

This is my promise to myself that on my watch I will be silent no longer.

Cats glare back.

You bet!