Monday, November 24, 2014

Mostly on hold, so PIE!

My life, that is, is mostly on hold. My surgery was a big success, though it turned out that I had a double-lobed fatty tumor, with one branch the size and shape of a large banana reaching from the back of my neck under the muscle, around several nerves, and compromising the esophagus; and the other reaching over the muscle out to the shoulder and impinging on the nerves there. But it wasn't really growing through the muscle tissue much, so it was easier and less damaging to extract it all than it could have been. The problem for me is that I still have a lot of neck and shoulder pain two weeks out post surgery. I can't lift anything over a couple of pounds, can't turn my neck easily, can't lift my arm above the horizontal plane of my shoulder with any strength, and driving leads to pretty intense pain afterwards. But I have yet another doctor's appointment tomorrow and can follow up more then.

Today I am making pie.

I saw a tutorial a few weeks ago on making cinnamon-sugar swirl pie crust, and loved the idea. Naturally now that I'm ready to make pie I can't find the recipe. So I improvised. I used my regular recipe for a double pie crust (because I almost always do--I'd much rather have a little extra to discard when all it is is flour and shortening than have trouble getting the pie crust big enough and perfectly shaped), and I rolled it out into a big blob:

Then I gave it a very little big of oil and a LOT of cinnamon sugar, and started messily rolling it up:

I cut it into thin slices and put them in the pie pan, then when I had them all in I pressed them in to make sure there were no holes:

And finally in went the filling:

And the finished pie, baked and cooling:

This, obviously, is pecan, but I can see this being delicious with apple or pumpkin pie, or many other choices too. There's no reason why you couldn't do it as a pre-baked pie shell for a chiffon or meringue pie as well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Parshas Sarah Imeinu

Every now and then I take a little religious interlude here on the LeesyKnits blog, and this post is going to be one of those. So if you're one of my many beloved fiber friends, just skip on down and I'll talk to you soon, this post isn't going to have any wool or even alpaca content :)
Dedicated to the memory of my holy grandmother, Ilse Gutmann z"tl, the embodiment of the strength of moral character of the Jewish woman of the twentieth century

Last week on Shabbos we read Parshas Noach, all about the famous flood, Noach's behavior before during and after it, the family he created, and the repopulation of the world by both humans and all species of animals, both through peaceful means (general dispersal and wanderings to find ideal sites) and non-peaceful ones (the aftermath of the attempt to build a tower in Bavel).  We finish with the many genealogies of the families of Shem, Yaphet, and Ham, and the departure of Avram from Ur Kasdim.

Parshas Lech Lecha, the one we read this week, begins with a commandment to Avram to depart from Canaan entirely and to wander where he will be shown en route. Much is made of Avram's willingness to follow G-d's command and how this is one of the tests he is given. But wait. Avram did not depart alone. He took his household, including his nephew Lot (for whom this was a great opportunity to find new land to acquire) and his wife Sarai. We know Sarai herself had equal navua (prophetic ability or sense) to that of Avram, so did G-d tell her likewise what was commanded? Or did Sarai herself pass an even greater test, by following Avram based on what he explained to her of G-d's will, without herself hearing it directly? Furthermore, the Tzena Urenah points out that Mishlei (13:20) says, "Yeroa holech et hachamim yechakam vroeh chsilim," "He who walks with the wise will grow wise, but a companion of fools will suffer no harm." Whom did Avram take as companions? Lot, who apparently spent his time far from Avram himself based on later discussions directly in the parsha, and Sarai, whose inherent modesty would keep her near her husband. Logically then it is Sarai who is the wise woman giving wisdom to Avram.
We know that when they approached Egypt, it was Avram who feared because of Sarai's great beauty and not she herself. He tried to hide her, he tried to twist the truth; Sarai herself merely remained silent and obedient to his wishes. Ultimately, Pharaoh treats her well out of fear of Heaven and respect for her (not out of respect for Avram); and indeed it says (12:16), "He treated Avram well for her sake." Tzena Urenah as a source cites Bava Metzia, Perek HaZahav, "that a man should always treat his wife with respect, for the blessings come upon a home because of her…Rava used to tell people, 'Respect your wives and you will be wealthy.'" Indeed, the Jews' claim to Goshen in Egypt comes from this moment, when it is among the gifts given not to Avram but to Sarai to possess.

After the commandment of bris mila is given, we are told G-d takes the letter "yud" (which has a numeric value of 10) from the end of Sarai's name, and split it into two "hays" (each with a value of 5), one to rename Avram as Avraham, the other Sarai as Sarah. There is a medrash that the yud in fact complained at being taken from the name of a tzaddekes, and rather being divided between a tzaddekes and a tzaddik! The yud was consoled only on being promised that it would be re-constituted a second time as the additional holy letter that would later turn Hoshea's name into Yehoshua to allow the whole Jewish people to enter the holy land.

Of course throughout their travels Avram and Sarai, then Avraham and Sarah, taught the men and the women of fear of Heaven, holy Torah, halacha, and Noachite law. But what do we know about teaching? Despite the prevalent thought that teaching boys must have primacy, we know both historically and practically that in fact it is teaching the girls and women which is most important to perpetuate Torah in both practice and values. Twentieth century responsa are very clear about the critical need to educate girls and women in the the written and oral Torah. There are those who have said that if a community wishes to have separate schools for boys and girls and can only build the schools one at a time, they must build the school for girls first; for the boys will surely be taught Torah and if not they can be taught later; but the girls might not be taught Torah and might later not be caught up and then their whole lives, households, and families will suffer their lack of knowledge.

But now I will turn everything around and revisit last week's parsha, which ended with the generations after Noach leading to Avram and Sarai. For there we hear much of Noach's son Shem, and hear of his (I believe but am not running to look up right this second, correct me if I have the relationship wrong) great-grandson Eiver. Those names are familiar, for in Parshas Lech Lecha it is the Yeshiva of Shem and Eiver to which references are made. Shem and Eiver just like Avram were teaching the word of G-d, though only to men. Shem, after the departure from the ark, functioned as G-d's priest. But then why, if Shem behaved perfectly throughout the flood, in the situation in which his father Noach lay uncovered after drinking wine, in establishing a yeshiva from which to teach G-d's word, in functioning as the priest, why is he not the father of the Jewish nation? It can't be because he had unworthy sons among his descendants, for Avram had Ishmael, Yitzchak had Eisav, yet that didn't disqualify them. What did Shem not have that Avraham had? Shem had no Sarah. 

Certainly, he had a wife! We know this. And presumably she was virtuous for she merited being saved on the ark. But she was no Sarah. This week's haftarah comes from Yeshayahu. Passuk 41:1 "Be silent and listen to Me, you idol worshippers living on the most distant islands, who claim that I cannot redeem Bnai Yisroel from exile…", Passuk 41:5, "See, island dwellers, what a miracle I performed for Avraham and be afraid." The midrash states that "the islands" metaphorically invoked are Shem and Avraham, equally strong, equally stable, equally in service to G-d. In fact in relationship to the second passuk above, the midrash states that after the war of the four and five kings, Avraham and Shem were equally concerned for their mutual relationship; Avraham feared he had killed so many of Shem's descendants, while Shem was ashamed he had given rise to so many lines of evil men who would confront such a tzaddik as Avraham. They truly rose to equal heights in their yirat Shamayim. So again, what was different?

Avraham had Sarah.  For the haftarah ends, 41:13, "For I, Hash-m your G-d hold your right hand to make sure you do not fall, saying to you, 'Have no fear, for I will help you.'" This is obviously only symbolic, but think truthfully; who would in life actually hold Avraham's right hand? No one but Sarah, the physical embodiment of G-d's gifts and strength.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gout socks, Round two

They look very funny, like doing some strange lobster greeting with the toes, but they're extraordinarily comfortable.

I used the same technique as with the last pair, of knitting the big toe separately at a much softer gauge. This time though I started at about the point where I was 2/3 of the way down the foot (not including the toe) in using the larger (size 4US) needle for the 22 toe area stitches while keeping them contiguous with the foot, to accommodate more generalized swelling and tenderness. Hopefully I'll never need to find out how well they work during an acute gout flare, but at least now I have 2 pairs of socks ready if I need them.
And when worn in shoes, as of course they would be, they look and feel perfectly normal.
Sock pattern is "Classy Slip-Up Socks" by Betsy Lee McCarthy. Yarn is Colinette Jitterbug.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gout Socks Ideas, Round One

I'm a little addicted to sock knitting as some people may know. There have been years when I've knit 35-40 PAIRS of wool socks. I rarely wore wool socks myself until recently, preferring hose for style reasons, so I just knit them for other people, mostly various female relatives who do like to have hand made socks for winter weather. They're washable, warm, dry, comfortable, and fun.

This last year I've developed gout in my big toe joint, the classic style (I'm nothing if not classic, right?). It's been so bad at points, with my entire foot swollen to twice it's normal size, looking like Fred Flintstone feet, that the only thing I could wear on my feet was old, stretched out flip-flops. That was more or less okay for July and August as I suffered the worst. My foot is almost back to normal and the last two days I've even worn real shoes for the first time since the first week in July.  It got me worrying though about the possibility of return flares in the same joint in wintertime.  First of all, it's important to keep gouty feet warm at all times to prevent the blood vessel constriction that comes when extremities get cold. Even more so, though, I simply can't remain indoors for months just because it's cold and/or wet out all winter.  So I decided that for every problem, there must be a knitting solution.

This is just going to be a simple tutorial on adapting a 72 stitch sock pattern of your choice to accommodate a gouty foot.  The idea here is to first of all allow the gouty toe joint plenty of room with no agonizing constriction, while at the same time providing warmth. These socks can be worn with flip-flops if needed, but even if the wearer can comfortably wear more enclosed, better winter weather shoes, the spacious big toe section is still more comfortable than the standard constricting sock.

So to knit the perfect gout sock, I worked in pattern (this sock pattern happens to be Brigit by Monkey Toes, available free on Ravelry, but any sock worked over 72 stitches which is common for most men's socks and many women's cabled socks will work the same) until I got just to the base of where the big toe meets its fellow toe. Not right where the skin begins to meet, but where you've knit to empty space.

I'm beginning rounds in my instructions at the beginning of the sock half representing the bottom of the foot, the sole; the second half of each round is the top of the foot or instep.

For the left sock:

K1, SSK, K22, place the last 11 stitches on waste yarn for the big toe and add the first 11 stitches of the other half so that 22 total are on tied off waste yarn to work the big toe later
K22, K2TOG, K1

Knit the next round joining the two halves again leaving aside the big toe stitches to be worked later

Work 10 more rounds alternating between rounds when you decrease on the top and on the bottom at the far left side, and rounds working plain knitting. This is just like you would normally do in a sock except you're only decreasing on the pinky toe side and not both sides evenly.
Work 3 rounds of decrease rows after that.
Work 3 rounds the way you would normally decrease at the toes: on each half, K1, SSK, knit to the last 3 stitches, K2TOG, K1
You now have 10 stitches (hopefully) on the top and 10 on the bottom. Use Kitchener stitch to join them and weave in the yarn end.

Now put the 22 toe stitches on a needle; a much wider diameter needle!  I worked the majority of the sock on size 1 needles and then used size 4 for the big toe.
Join yarn. Don't weave in the end; it will be useful to have it right where the big toe section meets the rest of the toes' section to close up any gaps or holes. Knit around the 22 and pick up two stitches at the gap (you can pick up more or less as comfortable, but make it an even number). 
Work 10 rounds even (try them on at this point if possible and make sure that they come all the way to or past the end of the big toe--if the knitting doesn't yet, work a few more rounds in stockinette until you're sure it does).
Work 3 rounds decreasing at both ends in each half of the toe, top and bottom: K1, SSK, knit to the last 3 stitches, K2TOG, K1
Use Kitchener stitch to join the remaining stitches. Weave in all ends.

This is a lot of words to say very little. If you sort of do it, you'll see what I did.  The right sock is obviously worked exactly the same, but reversed, with the big toe situated on the far left of the top side of the sock. Once you do the left sock, you'll know exactly how to work the right one.

Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I'll have a similar set of instructions for 64-stitch sock patterns. I also want to work out the best way to accommodate swelling extending down the inside of the foot from the toe join; when I was at my worst the whole area was purple and swollen for several inches so it would be beneficial to be able to loosen that area up as well without compromising the structural integrity of the sock.

Please let me know if you have refinements, better ideas, or other suggestions!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Gout socks, the game begins

As I have mentioned, I have been laid low by one of mankind's most familiar diseases, gout. Inflammation in my large toe has meant my foot swollen to twice its usual size, with no possibility of wearing regular shoes or hose or socks due to the extreme sensitivity of the affected joint and the whole surrounding area.
I've talked to people in gout-sufferer groups, and no one has a good solution. There are people who have spent years staying indoors for much of the winter because they can't go out in the ice and snow (or the cold for that matter, which is terrible for gout) when they can't wear any existing socks and the only shoes they can put on are flip flops, which is pretty much all I have been able to wear for two months.
So I figured, hey, I'm a sock knitter. And I know from copious experience when I started out teaching myself to knit socks just what happens when you knit at a loose gauge and make certain "mistakes" or changes.  And I can put that to good use to knit up a sock for myself that I can actually wear to keep my foot warm in the winter AND to wear with flip flops too.
This won't solve the problem of cold rain, snow, sleet, or ice.  But at least it might deal with the plain cold weather.
And so it begins. I'm using the pattern "Brigit" from Monkey Toes, available free on Ravelry, as a base to work from for some patterning. The changes I'll make don't need to happen until mid-foot.  The yarn is Tracks from The Buffalo Wool Co. in Spruce.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guessing Game

Okay, not really. It's a beautiful lap blanket/throw from a Mountain Colors kit of four differently textured yarns. It's drying on my bed at the moment. All that's left is to trim the tassels, and it will be ready for its new home at The Yarn Spot.  It may have taken all summer but I did finish something.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In a Rare Moment of Quiet

I'll check in at long last.

I certainly dropped off the face of the planet at the end of June. Not coincidentally, that's when school ended here for all my kids who were enrolled. Much Chaos Ensued.

The child who was in and out of the hospital since mid-November continued…and was just discharged today from the most recent out patient program following yet another 2 weeks inpatient.  So that took some time.  She's not returning to school and is hopefully going to go work. However, staying at a job will require her to not continue to demand hospitalization regularly. I'm honestly not holding my breath and expect another hospitalization within a few weeks when she realizes her new job is boring. She already had a tantrum today over nonsense.

The child who was just getting into supported housing took about 8 weeks to be willing to stay at her new home, and has since left her job (to go to nothing) and almost been evicted.  She did get her first level certification in childcare over the summer, but then didn't register for any class the second half of the summer nor at this point for the fall. I have no idea what she thinks she is going to live on with no job…but she's not coming back here.

Feivel has been himself over a long summer. He had two weeks of boy scout activities and camp, and two weeks of camp at Sunflower Bakery which broke our bank account but which he loved.  He is just impossible to have around though; every interaction ends badly between him and every member of the house. Yelling, hitting, fighting, talking back, if it's an option, he chooses it. I'm trying to force the county and state to provide any services, but so far it's like talking to a wall.

The others had a good summer at the pool, and we started at the very end of June with a trip to Williamsburg with my whole family. The kids loved everything and had a great time.

Which brings me to the other reason I wasn't brainy enough to blog at all. The day after we returned from that trip, my foot swelled to twice its normal size. I turned out to have a nasty case of gout which has since required two rounds of prednisone plus various other drugs and a lot of time to begin to resolve. At the same time, I was experiencing a lot of cognitive problems like short term memory loss, confusion, getting lost; and was undergoing a lot of testing and appointments. They can't really rule out any of the really bad possibilities except I definitely do NOT have any kind of tumor. But the early stages of other neurologic diseases really can't easily be tested for. So I'm just hoping it turns out to be silent migraines (which actually can cause these cognitive problems) and have had to adopt both an anti-migraine diet and an anti-gout diet. This leaves me with the world's most unsatisfying, boring diet for the rest of my life. But it's better than the pain of the gout attack.

So tomorrow I go for another test, this one for a growth on my neck. I'm just having so much fun.

I'm desperate, absolutely desperate, for school to start and the child who is at home and not going to school to find a full-time job ASAP. I need a little mental space to start getting any kind of real healing going and it's not possible for me to get it at all in the summer. Actually, I basically haven't had any mental space for 2+ years; occasionally, say once every 2 months, I'll have a day on which I'm the only one at home during school hours (8-2:30) and no appointments. But those rare 6.5 hour stretches are nowhere near enough for an introverted sensory defensive desperate person like me to heal her psyche at all; it's barely enough for me to start registering that I am actually getting a few hours alone.  Just thinking this is getting me crying now I'm so desperate about never having time to myself (and please don't suggest I take an evening every week…not only do we not have free evenings, but on the rare occasion we do you can count on a melt-down from one of the big kids with disabilities; and in any case again 2 hours here or there makes no impression, I'm talking having a few weeks of privacy, quiet, lack of interruption, peace from tantrums from a 5'10" 180 lb developmentally disabled teen).

So that brings us up to date, though I'm sure I forgot a lot. I'll add in. You probably won't be surprised to hear that I haven't been able to do any spinning with a hugely swollen, painful foot; and I have done little knitting except a project for the LYS where I work since I just couldn't focus or concentrate not to mention that I couldn't get time when I wasn't directly involved in whatever the younger kids or someone else was doing.  But the project I did for the LYS was completed today, so if I get to block it tomorrow, I'll get pictures and actually update again.