Monday, December 30, 2013

A New Challenge: Diabetes

I went to see my doctor on December 2nd expecting to be diagnosed with arthritis in my achy, tingly toe joints, but that's not how things turned out. She decided to do some blood tests to rule out other possibilities. The test results started to roll into my secure message inbox late the same night.

Thyroid looked OK.
Kidney function looked within parameters.
Cholesterol didn't look so hot, but I'm a cholesterol skeptic, so that didn't worry me much.
Blood sugars. Not OK. Not even close to OK.

There's no known history of diabetes in my family, so I didn't know what to think other than that complications include blindness and losing your feet. Being me, that's the conclusion I leapt to immediately: that I would have to test my blood sugars a dozen times a day and jab a needle in my stomach before each bite of food and would eventually go blind anyway and that my feet would fall off.

I spent most of that week in a state of panic and despair. I stopped eating. I stopped drinking. Doug came down on his mid-week days off to help me back in off the ledge, but by the time I got back in for my counseling and education appointment on the next Friday I was a wreck.

High-tech glucometer and my sexy
new pill minder.
Reality was less catastrophically bad, I'm happy to say. I have to test my blood once a day, and the process isn't painful or even much of a nuisance. My prescription count has gone from one to four, and I don't really like that, but there's a chance that if I manage diet and exercise well that I can get off most or all of the new medications.

The sensations, at least the tingly ones, are probably from diabetic nerve damage and are likely permanent. Luckily they aren't too bad, and haven't progressed to numbness.

So, I'm learning to eat again, and cutting out most carbohydrates. I've already lost a few pounds and I'm going to go back to walking around Greenlake two or three times a week. My beloved recording engineer friend has proposed that we join a gym together, since he wants to get more active also to avoid this fate for himself.

And Doug, my hero, has been an angel through all of this. In his professional life he works one-on-one with deaf blind adults and has experience helping care for a fragile diabetic, so was ready to help right away.

A new challenge. A new phase of life, but not the end.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Project 31: Apprentice Robes

My godson turned nine this year, which was how old I was when I put myself on the path of the Craft of the Wise. A friend of my sister's called Lois gave me a little grocery store checkstand book called "Everday Witchcraft" and I was off and running. The story of my and my friends' self-guided education in the Craft is full of amusing stories, but perhaps another time.

I was determined that if my godson wanted an education in the Craft, that I would give him the one that I wished I had had. In anticipation of this birthday, I have been scooting him along gathering the necessary tools. Even if he decided not to pursue the path, what's the harm in having a cup, knife, stone, and stick around, right?

So, in deep consultation with his parents and with his own (enthusiastic) consent, we scheduled his first lesson for the first new moon after his ninth birthday. Learning the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual skills necessary to practice our religion is not a trivial task. There are many chants, incantations, and spells to memorize, complex visualizations to develop, lore to internalize, and personal development to undertake. I thought to myself that there has to be some fun involved too. Two things immediately leapt to mind: robes and cookies. This kid loves to dress up and is a major chow-hound.

I took him to the fabric store and he picked out a beautiful Kelly green corduroy and some pearly buttons. Made in the shade, right?

Two days before our first learning session, I realized that the commercial pattern I intended to use (McCall's 3789) didn't include the kid-sized pattern pieces. Duh. Several fabric store visits later I resigned myself to the task of drafting my own pattern pieces. Having no formal education in this science, I relied on my high school education in mathematics and geometry.

Wisely, I executed a muslin first and wound up re-drafting two of the pieces. The final result doesn't fit perfectly yet, but in about a year when this cycle of lessons is over it should be just right.

Oh. And the cookies. Oatmeal. Turned out perfectly the first time. I must be a Witch or something, since I can also fold a fitted sheet.

One technique that was new this time was not doing two-fold hems. I used my serger to finish the raw edges and folded once and topstitched. The result was perfectly fine and I think I'm steering toward getting a coverstitch machine because of it. We'll see once next year's contract is exercised and funded.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ding! Level 47

You know how people reaching a milestone often comment that they can't believe X amount of time has gone by? I don't usually feel that way. When I look back at my calendar at Birthday time, I often think "how in the heck did I do all that on one year?" This year is no exception.

Tonight, I don't want to just make a catalog of things that happened, I want to share some of the important things I've learned while 46.

In September, Doug and I took an impromptu trip to Maui for four days. It was my first trip to Hawaiʻi, but Doug had spent time there as a teenager with his parents. I was not prepared to fall in love as deeply as I did. There was just something about the sustained presence of beauty that uncoiled something inside me. I have had a lifelong love of Hawaiʻian song, and the trip motivated me to learn a couple songs in Hawaiʻian. It was a very good reminder of how difficult it is to memorize lyrics in a language you donʻt speak. We hadn't been home for a week before I was planning our next trip in July 2013. Eight days on the Big Island.

October saw my successful re-election to the Slighe nan Gaidheal Board of Directors. It was a contested election with more than 3 candidates for the 3 open positions. Contested elections aren't the norm for our little community, so we all faltered a bit while we figured out how to manage conflict instead of basking in our consensus. It became obvious during election cycle that there were people who wanted me off of the Board and I have been struggling to find a way to live with that. Part of the answer was realizing that I really am ready to retire. At the end of my current term, I will have given 18 years of my life to Slighe nan Gaidheal and I think that's enough. I'll spend the remainder of this term wrapping up loose ends, upgrading infrastructure so that my skillset in IT isn't necessary for daily functions, and handing work off of to others.

Me and Auntie Pat
Kimiko Sakai
Some more important things happened in October also. My beloved Aunt Pat died on October 6th. Doug came with me to her service, where we learned that my mother's best friend, Kimiko Sakai had also died three days earlier. I was raised calling her Aunt Kim, and thinking of her two sons and daughter as family.
Eric and I in Cleethorpes, October 2001
Then November came, and news arrived that I had lost my last uncle. My mother's brother Eric had passed away on the 29th. Eric was the black sheep of the family, meaning that he had spirit and imagination. My mother adored him.

December brought two sets of visitors to stay with me and go to the Tutankhamun exhibit at the Seattle Center. Doug and his best friend Sophia, and the much-loved Robins / Rawdah family from Portland. During one of my trips through the galleries when Doug was here, I had a revelation. I realized that I was surrounded by objects, most of whose sole purpose was to preserve the reputations of people into the future. I sank down on a bench and began to sob quietly. Doug knew what was moving me, of course, sat beside me, and leaned in close. He said "Your enemies will never be able to chip your name off every obelisk. They can't." No. They can't. Furthermore, someone who believes lies about me never was my friend to begin with.

Tacoma's Museum of Glass
The first quarter of 2013 saw lots of preparations for my first big out-of-town concert. Puget Sound Revels selected me to be one of the Salon Series artists and produced a full evening concert at Tacoma's Museum of Glass. I decided to ask some of the members of the Revels chorus to be my backup singers, and they agreed. The show came together splendidly, and it boosted my confidence to no end.

One of the most challenging things to happen this year was a change to Doug's schedule imposed by his employer unilaterally. He went from working Monday through Thursday, to working Thursday through Monday. No days off together at all. We started living for our next Hawaiʻian vacation at the end of July.

Our Saturday date-night destination, the incredible Mirchi Cuisine of India was sold. The Mom-and-Pop shop which had lost its Mom to undiagnosed cancer the previous July passed into new hands. It's hard to describe Mirchi. I used to say that it was the best Indian food I had ever eaten. Now I just say that it was the best food I had ever eaten period. We haven't been back since.

A typical Mirchi meal
I finally gave up on ever finding the time to do a big CD mailout on my own and hired to do it for me in June. I paid for 100 CDs to be mailed to radio stations and music reviewers around the US. It worked! I got some airplay at last. Probably more significant, though, was the airplay I got in Scotland on the BBC's Radio nan Gaidheal programs. There's a certain sense of approval that you get when you take your coal to Newcastle and can manage to sell a lump or two.

July arrived at last  and Doug and I made our second trip to Hawaiʻi together, this time to the Big Island for eight days. Well, at least it was planned for eight days. Tropical Storm Flossie wound up extended our stay a little!

Back to the subject of learning, I think the most important thing that finally sunk in, was that the people who deride me behind my back and try to undermine my position in my community are the ones with the problem, not me. There's nothing I can do to help the situation, so for the sake of my soul, I will stay on the high road and keep my eyes on my own goals.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Project 30: Dress Hoodie

There's something I find very appealing about the hoodie. The ability to just flick that hood up on your head and disappear, the convenient length, the moderate insulation, and the easy front zipper. The typical fabric, though, limits its usefulness for me. Jersey can be convenient and comfortable, but it's never dressy. Fleece is a little more structured, but very hard to find in natural fibres.

I decided to experiment and make a jacket with the silhouette of a hoodie, but in alternate materials. I used Garment Designer 2.5 to make the basic pattern shapes, then printed them out and made my plastic pattern pieces for the shell, lining, and facings from those.

If I had a tailor's dummy you could see the effect a little better, but alas, a hanger and your imagination will have to do.

It's about a half inch shorter than I planned due to a fairly dramatic construction error I made. I had to take the whole thing apart when I realized I had left the zipper only half installed the first time!

The shell is a medium weight suiting. It has a little stretch to it, but not enough to give me too many problems.

I quilted the lining pieces with some poly fleece for warmth. I read subsequently that you're supposed to quilt the lining before you cut the pieces out. That would have been a bit easier! As it was I had to mark the quilting lines, then carefully stitch to exactly the edge of the facing, then stop and pull the needle thread through to the back and tie it off. I did that dozens and dozens of times!

The facings do look pretty sharp, though.

I made a welt pocket on the inside for my iPhone. It came out the nicest of the three welts, I think.

On the outside, I made two welt pockets and finished them with snaps. In retrospect, I probably should have merged the bottom seam of the pockets into the hem seam for a little more security. As it is, the pockets can wiggle around and make lumps under the shell.

The hood is generously sized, and a little too pointy, I think. Before making another one I think I'll adjust that pattern piece a little.

I only ever intended this to be a practice run at the garment, but as it came together I liked it better and better even though it was made of pretty basic materials.

I think I'll make a few of these to figure out what I like best. I might make one out of coating wool with a simple lining next and see how I like that. I might also make another of these with the same construction and colors but with higher end wool and silk.

The most important thing I learned on this project was how to install a zipper in a lined garment. That's going to come in handy time and time again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Project 29: Aloha Shirt

Last September, Doug and I took a short, (too short) impromptu vacation in Maui. It was my first visit to Hawaiʻi, but he had spent some time there with his parents when he was a teenager. We stayed at one of the resorts on Kaʻanapali beach, which was absolute paradise.

We spent just a little bit of time souvenir shopping in Lahaina, and Doug wanted to get an aloha shirt. We looked at a bunch of them, but the ones that were well made were over $100. There were inexpensive shirts, but they just didn't look good.

 We continued our exploration of the town, and happened on a fabric store. We went in to have a look around, and lo and behold, they had a vast selection of Hawaiʻian prints! I got the idea that he should pick out one he liked and I would make him an aloha shirt when we got home.

Itʻs March. I know. The Autumn was pretty horrible in terms of stress and drama, and it took a great deal of the Winter to get back on my feet and caught up. But now, at last, the shirt is done. I used my trusty McCallʻs M4399 pattern, but extended its length a few inches. Doug is a bit taller than me, but our inseams are the same length. He gets his height from an elegantly long torso (lucky bastard) so a little extra length is needed in un-tucked shirts.

The only challenge with this project was the pocket. I did some reading about the evolution of these shirts, and one of their characteristics is that the pocket is cut out such that the pattern matches to the body of the shirt. This is another instance where Paulaʻs clear plastic pattern piece method saved the day. I placed the pattern piece on the shirt front and drew around the outlines of several of the flowers so I could cut the pocket out just right.

I found some flower-shaped buttons for an added touch of island-ness.

Iʻm not showing a picture of it, but there was one part of construction that didn't please me. Despite taking lots of precautions, once again when I attached the collar and self facing and turned it out, the end of the facing wasn't lined up properly with the shoulder seam on one side. Grr. I wound up unfolding some of the turned under end to extend it to just about reach. That made hand-sewing the collar closed even more annoying than usual.

During this project I reached some clarity about what my goals are as a seamster. I don't particularly want the clothes I make to be indistinguishable from manufactured garments. I'm cool with small irregularities that show a piece was hand-made. As long as it doesn't look home-made. Feel free to leave comments about that distinction, whether or not you like it!