More Things I Forgot to Remember

During my medical training, attendings reminded us again and again to treat patients with dignity:  simple things, such as addressing them by title and last name, keeping them properly draped during physical examinations, sitting down at eye level when possible. The physical nature of the relationship between doctors and patients does not always bode well for that injunction:  there is no dignity in the rectal exam, or in dropping an NG tube, or in any of the many invasive things we do to patients during the acts of healing.  Nevertheless, there are certain things we can do that serve as reminders that our patients are adults, and that their bodies and minds deserve care with compassion and dignity.

So I had forgotten with my father.

“Dad, please eat the last few bites.”  I feed him.

“Dad, you need to take a shower.”  I undress him, I put him in the shower, I soap, I wipe, I dry, I redress him.

“Dad, time to brush your teeth.”  I put toothpaste on toothbrush, fill the cup, watch him brush.

“Dad, wash your hands.”  I give him soap, or hand sanitizer, and I watch to make sure he cleans his hands.

“Dad, please don’t use the stairs by yourself.”  I sleep on a makeshift bed, a human barricade on the staircase landing so that he cannot go downstairs in the middle of the night.

All these things that I think my father need to do, but that he refuses to do on a regular basis.  They are for his own good, right?  Why would he refuse to take care of personal hygiene, or to eat, or to get out of bed, or to do any number of other things that any reasonable human being does, as he did do for most of his life, but has stopped doing since Mom died?

My father is his own person, with his own reasons, making his own choices.  Who am I to try to force him on a course he doesn’t want to take? He wants to be with Mom, and as a thinking being, he is doing something about it.  And it’s about time I remembered the lessons of compassion and dignity.  No question it is a hard thing to watch my father dying, and to let him go on his own terms.  I choose to believe that is his gift to us:  that we are not his parents.

Conversation of the Month:

Me:  “Could you make sure after guests leave Mom and Dad’s house that you clean the                     toilets?  They were filthy after _____ stayed for 8 days back in May, and I had to                     clean them when I got here, 5 months after the fact.  Not fun.”

Brother:  “I did check the toilets, they were fine!”

Me:  “Did you flip the seats up and look underneath?”

Brother (in bewilderment):  “Why would I want to do that?”

In the Autumn of My Life

When white American men get angry and scared, they elect someone who is all they think they want to be.  He is white, he has gobs of money, he is a taker of women, money, property.  He is a racist, he is anti-intellectual, he is apparently amazingly potent — look at the much-younger beautiful-but-thick-as-a-brick wife, the many kids!  He would turn back the clock for all these angry and scared white men to a time when everyone knew where people of color belonged, where women belonged, where there were no such things as LGBT people (let alone rights for them), where Americans were home-grown and had a special relationship with God, where American military-industrial complex governed the world.

As a citizen, an immigrant, a woman, an intellectual, a believer in the rationality of science, a basically ethical human being, I am saddened by the election.  As a historian, I will take the long view, and I know America will survive this.  I don’t believe in American exceptionalism, but I do believe in American resilience.  I am happy to live in a state that did NOT vote him in, and I will do something I never really did before: pay attention to state’s rights.  As a doctor, I am glad that Colorado has become the 6th state to allow right-to-die measures for the terminally ill.  It was a sad election day, but with bright spots and hope intact for the future, for the next four years I will do my best to take care of my little corner of America.

In that little corner, I have other things to think about:

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It’s not just any old knife:  I coveted this knife for the last two decades, and almost two years after Mom died, I brought her knife home.  Today I took it to Jim, my favorite knife sharpener.  He has been retired for years, but he sets up his tools every year during the summer outside one of our local grocery stores, and the rest of the year he sharpens knives and tools out of his garage.  Every time I bring in my other Mac knife (swiped from Mom years ago), he tells me how much he loves these Japanese knives.  Dad took care of Mom’s knives the old-fashioned way, with a whetstone.  This knife was Mom’s everyday/everything knife, and in the last few years, Dad stopped sharpening it for her, much the same way he stopped doing various things around the house for her.  Since her death, he has also stopped doing things for himself.

Dad is down to skin-and-bones now; he can barely get himself out of bed, he needs help bathing, he has a walker he hates to use but has to because he fell and broke his wrist.  Dad was a skinny kid and a skinny young man.  After he came to America, he finally developed a belly.  That belly would go up and down a bit and up again, and when it got too Pooh-like, Mom would put him on a diet.  For 50-something years, he had that belly, and he lost it all in the last year.  I help him bathe, and I am shocked by all he is now.  No fat, no muscle, just skin and bones.  He is so brittle.

I wait for Mom to take him home.

Knitting: Dresses for the Winter

Wisteria2.2
Wisteria dress

Years ago, I knitted the Wisteria in its original sweater form: https://opiegp.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/wisteria/

It was beautiful, but the yarn I used was wrong for the project.  It was too soft, the sweater grew, and I never wore it.  I finally frogged it this past spring, and a couple of weeks ago I decided to reknit Wisteria as a dress.

Pattern:  Wisteria, by Kate Gilbert, from Twist Collective Fall 2008.

Yarn:  A DK weight merino/cashmere/silk yarn from Lambspun of Colorado.  This yarn has been a few projects and has held up beautifully over the years.

Modifications:  The pattern converts into a dress without fuss.  I added some bodice darts at the back to prevent “poofing” under the yoke, added darts in front and back (along with those at the sides) for smoother skirt increases, and shortened the sleeves to 3/4 length.

Thoughts:  The yarn was perfect for this project; it is light, and the dress conforms without clinging.

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Bryn Mawr dress, version 2

I knitted my first Bryn Mawr dress also with the wrong sort of yarn: https://opiegp.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/knitting-for-the-fall-vortex-street-pullover-bryn-mawr-dress-halliard/

Again, the yarn was too soft, and the dress was incredibly clingy and picked up static like crazy.  But I loved the pattern, so I reknitted the sweater this past spring.

Pattern:  Bryn Mawr dress, by Alex Capshaw-Taylor, from Interweave Knits Fall 2013

Yarn:  Sport weight mule-spun Elsawool in undyed medium grey.  This is a cormo wool, and I love it as much (if not more) than merino wool.

Modifications:  I opened up the neckline, and did not bother with the skirt hem.  I knitted the sleeves on from the top using short rows to shape the caps.

Thoughts:  The pattern was as fun to knit this time around as last time.  More important, the dress fits well without cling, and the cables still show up even with the darker yarn.

Henry James: The Awkward Age

One of my rituals when visiting Santa Fe was stopping off at Nicholas Potter Books; unfortunately, he had to close his bookstore a couple of years ago.  There are a few used bookstores scattered around Santa Fe, but I have not found one quite like the old Nicholas Potter Books.  I mention this bookstore because while I have the complete Henry James on Kindle, tablet, and iPhone, I still like to read him in book form.  About 5 years ago, I found a Pantheon’s The Novel Library edition (1949) of The Awkward Age.  It has teeny-tiny print on very thin paper, and is just a tad too big to fit in my pocket.  When I started to read the book, I did not need glasses . . . .  I finally finished the book last week, and am currently on my second prescription for reading glasses.

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Henry James, 1910. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, George Grantham Bain Collection, Digital ID ggbain.04703

My favorite Henry James novel is The Ambassadors: it is his most approachable late work, the least elliptical, and with the most sympathetic lead character.  The Awkward Age is not in that league, but I can see the progression from that book to his final works.  The short version of the story is that of two girls, Nanda and Aggie, the former too much exposed to a corrupting society, the latter cossetted to the point of imbecility, and how each breaks out of her awkward age.  Surrounding them are mothers and guardians and friends, each with his/her own set of beliefs on the role of society and the moral code, and each acting ultimately not for the girls’ good, but for his/her own benefit.  The tale is told almost entirely in dialogue, and that made it a difficult slog.  Without a lot of clues about the people populating the play, I was left to my own devices about how to feel about the whole arc of the story.  All the characters talk … and talk … and talk … and it is never clear exactly what they are talking about and how they actually feel about anything, or anybody, in their lives.

I think I tried too hard the first few years to read every word, mull over every sentence, with the result that I would put the book down for a while, then have to reread from the beginning.  The trick to reading this particular book is to pretend you really are in the drawing room with the characters, and just “listen” semi-attentively as you would at a cocktail party populated by people you don’t particularly like.  You know you are going to miss some things along the way, but really, does it matter if at the end of the night, you do in fact get the gist of it all?

A random conversation between Mrs. Brook and Vanderbank:

“I called Nanda in because I wanted to.”

“Precisely; but what I don’t make out, you see, is what you’ve since gained by it.”  

“You mean she only hates me the more?”

Van’s impatience, in the movement with which he turned from her, had a flare still sharper.  “You know I’m incapable of meaning anything of the sort.”  

She waited a minute while his back was presented.  “I sometimes think, in effect, that you’re incapable of anything straightforward.”  

Indeed.

A Maker

Just recently, a couple of weeks in fact, I became aware of the term “maker” as applied to crafters/artisans/diyers . . . .  I like it.  I am a maker of things useful and otherwise, interesting and otherwise, beautiful and otherwise.  I make.

Cavy On
A Floor Mat for the Guinea Pigs!

Pattern:  The letters are from the Moda “Spell it with Fabric” blog hop, reduced to 3/4 size.

Fabric:  The blue background fabrics are from Amy Butler’s “Daisy Chain” collection; other fabrics are stash scraps.

The Cavies (aka guinea pigs Tula and Chia) live in the basement in the summer; their house is at the bottom of the staircase.  I made this floor quilt for the landing in front of the cage, partly for The College Kid’s amusement, but mostly because I have never made fabric letters.  The backing fabrics are Joel Dewberry home decor weight scraps, the batting is also made up of scraps from other projects, and the binding is made from one of Mom’s nightgowns.  This was a fun project, and the letters were addictive to make.  I also sewed a whole set of letters at full size for one of Emily Dickinson’s pithy poems . . . .  that one is a “someday” quilt.

A Lesson in Quilting

Chain Link front
Chain Link Quilt

A few years ago I entered my “red-and-grey” phase and bought a bunch of — you guessed it — red-and-grey fabric collections.  And then I couldn’t figure out a good pattern for them, so they all sat in the stash.  Last year, I ran across a vintage block pattern from the 1930s that formed the basis for the Chain Link Quilt.  The pattern appeared as part of the “Nancy Page Quilt Club” series, a Depression-era creation of an enterprising home economist named Florence La Ganke Harris (1886-1972).  In the original pattern, the block finished at 10.5″ square, but of course the size is easy to manipulate by varying the width of the patterned strips.  The block is easy to assemble, and as the author commented in the advertisement, the “over and under effect is both good and unusual.”

I broke into my Etchings by Three Sisters jelly roll, and began to assemble the blocks.  And then I got bored.  This is why the finished quilt ended up with patches of bright blue, greens, and yellows, most of which came from Mom’s housedresses.  She was, after all, born in the early 1930s.

Pattern:  Chain Link Quilt, from Florence La Ganke’s Nancy Page Quilt Club.

Fabrics:  Etchings, by Three Sisters; various red and greige scraps from the stash; patches from Mom’s housedresses

Modifications:  I used 2.5″ strips, so the finished block was somewhere around 14.5″ square

Thoughts:  

1.  I should have planned better for the over-and-under effect, but I piece the same way I knit, more or less on the fly.  Oh well.

2.  I know some people say that you are not a REAL quilter unless you actually quilt your own work.  Well.  Fighting words, right?  I learned TWO new skills with this project: (1)  Quilt-as-you-go, and (2) actual quilting.

For the QAYG, I wasn’t thrilled about any one method out in blogland, so I came up with a combination method that involved a fair amount of hand-sewing.  Since I have more than a touch of OCD, it’s all good.  As for the actual quilt pattern, I probably should have gone with something curvy/flowy, but at the time I was quite enamored of Anne Bright’s “Square Dance” pattern, so that’s what I went with.

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The back, as well the batting, were all scraps; the purple is part of a sheet (c. early 1980s) from Mom’s linen closet.

I love the border fabric.  I love all the hand-piecing and hand-sewing I did on this project.  And I love Mom being part of this quilt.

Travel Diary: Amsterdam

August 4 Sunday

Took a carriage and drove about the city and about the locks.  Went through the royal palace.  The large [] hall is 1 hundred feet high and very handsome.  Then went to the [Rijks]museum and saw some of the pictures.  Saw one by [Rembrandt] which is very fine called the Night Watch.  Then went to a very nice cafe and took dinner.  Then went to the Zoological Gardens which one of the finest we have seen.  The houses here are all built in blocks and have hooks in the attic to haul things up by.  They are very homely and some of them old.  We saw one marked 167-.  They bend over on back and all most all are out of the perpendicular.

August 5 Monday

Took a drive to the Zuider Zee and saw them building sluice ways.  The water of the Zuider Zee is 30 feet higher than Amsterdam  The carriage left us at the diamond cutting establishment and we went through it.  First they split the diamond and then cut it and then polish it and there is a great deal of work in it.  There are over 10,000 people in the diamond work in Amsterdam.

Then we went to the old silver shops and I wanted to buy some thing but everything is very expensive.  Passed by the Beurs where there were a great children playing.  They allow the children to play there a few days in August and September because in the 17th century some boys that were playing there found out a conspiricy against Amsterdam by some Spanish.

Some of the women here wear very queer head dresses and wodden shoes.  Some of the headdresses have a metal piece behind and a white [muslin] cap over it and gold ornaments on the side of their face.

Miss Mary’s diary ends here.  According to a local notice in May,  Dr. J. B. Andrews had taken a three-months leave for an European vacation, so I am assuming Mary had a second booklet to continue her travel diary.  The last few pages consist of items she bought (and their prices!) as well as a list of gift recipients.  Dr. Matzinger made the list, although at the time she finished this diary she had not found a present for him.  

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It has been an interesting journey for me:  I have been digging around in the attic, so to speak.  The diary is not historically important or personally revelatory — Mary was only 14 years old, after all.  But I appreciate her naiveté and the assumption of American exceptionalism that peeked through even in her mind-numbing recounting of destinations.  I would love to know what she looked like.   I hope a family portrait exists.  Mary and her mother were both prominent members of the Buffalo Historical Society (at some point they presented the organization with a portrait of Dr. Andrews), so I think somewhere in the archives is a picture of her.  The Racist Salon Owner accused me specifically (and historians in general) of being a snoop.  Perhaps.  But I do in fact know where the line is, and I do know when to stop.   I stopped digging around the time I figured out who left the diary at the bookstore.  The diary is now making its way to one of Mary’s other descendents.  I already miss her young voice.