Category Archives: Death

Rrrrrrrrrip … done!


That’s my Garland Yoke sweater. It took me a little over an hour to rip it out and re-ball the yarn, which I did while watching Project Runway. Enough time had passed between my finishing knitting the sweater and deciding that I’d never wear it so that ripping it out wasn’t painful — in fact, it was very satisfying. Perhaps it’s because I enjoy the act of knitting more than the creation of something knitted, if that makes sense.

I added an afternoon walk yesterday to my daily list of mood boosters and even though it was gray and stodgy outside, the fresh air helped and I was less moody by the end of the evening. Last night I slept well and deeply, so I’m going to take another walk in a few minutes. Today it’s crisp and bright outside.

I was going to post a photo of how Winston greeted us when O and I arrived home this afternoon, but on second thought, the photo may be disturbing to some. He had caught a mouse in the bathroom and couldn’t seem to understand why it wasn’t playing with him anymore. We called my husband downstairs to show him the great job Winston had done — Mr. Hail Britannia is not a big fan of cats, but he does respect a good mouser. Our previous cats have all been pacifists, much to his dismay. Winston is slowly earning his respect.

Oh my aching tooth

I decided last night that I’m going to post more regularly, if only to keep a record of my days, so fair warning!

This morning O woke up with his face red and swelled up. A closer inspection showed tiny blisters all over his face, arms, legs, neck, back, etc. so the culprit was determined to be poison ivy. He and his friends spend a lot of time in the woods climbing trees and building forts, so it was only a matter of time before he ran into problems with this noxious plant. (We since found out the friend he was with actually had to go to the doctor today as his poison ivy was even worse.)  Poor O was in misery, so I gave him some allergy medication, then headed off to CVS downtown and dropped $40 on assorted creams, sprays, and washes. Once he applied them he felt much better, and after a couple hours, the swelling and redness had been reduced significantly. In the meantime, I stripped his bed of sheets, blankets and pillowcases and gave them a good long wash in hot water, and also did the same with the clothes he was wearing while he was in the woods. Although the oils in poison ivy don’t seem to bother my skin, I know repeated exposure can cause a reaction, so I made sure to use rubber gloves. That’s all I need, a new medical condition!

So … we had to cancel O’s hair appointment this afternoon, and instead he headed off to a friend’s house for a sleepover. I guess he was feeling well enough to go see Jurassic World with him tonight.

Tomorrow I have an appointment to get a new crown on one of my back teeth. My dentist told me the old one needed to be replaced, even though it wasn’t bothering me. I grit my teeth (no pun), shelled out the $1200, and last week went in to get a temporary crown put on … and darn, wouldn’t you know it, but I’ve had a toothache almost every day since then. I’m hoping when the new crown goes on tomorrow that the pain will go away. Tooth pain makes me exceedingly cranky.

We’re planning a family reunion for July 11 up in Vermont that I’m very much looking forward to, along with a memorial service for my Aunt Pam, who passed away in January. I started a private Facebook group to keep everyone posted about times and gathering places, and wow … almost 40 family members have joined! I often hear people complain about family reunions, but I love them. Part of it is I like knowing that I belong to a tribe, but it also makes me feel connected to family who have passed away and who I loved very much. Those memories are precious, and I think it’s important to keep memories and stories alive, moreso as I age.


I finished knitting a feather and fan baby bonnet last night/early this a.m. (I couldn’t sleep because of said tooth) and plan to give it to my knitting group friend K for her daughter’s Girl Scout project (sending knit caps and mittens to Syrian refugees). I knit one a couple weeks ago with a pink ribbon, so this one I’ll festoon with a blue.

Feather and fan bonnet

I’m between knitting projects, except for a pair of “vanilla” socks, and am itching to cast on for a sweater. I did some swatching last week for an Amy Herzog/Custom Fit sweater (“Charlie’s Cardigan“), but haven’t yet mustered the energy to do all my measurements. Plus, I’m still waiting to see if anyone from my Thursday a.m. knitting group wants to knit along with me. Now I’m toying with the idea of knitting Meg Swansen’s Garland Necklace Yoke sweater. I have a bunch of cream Paton’s wool, and was thinking a delft blue wool would look nice as a contrast.

Last night during my late owl web surfing on eBay, I ordered two vintage 1960s Reynolds knitting pattern books I’ve had my eye on for some time. When they come in, I’ll do a review.

As for sewing, there’s nothing to report. Still giving Melody a wide berth. My husband left a pair of chinos and two shirts for mending on the back of my chair. (I love to mend/fix/repair stuff … it’s in my frugal Yankee nature.) These tasks don’t seem so daunting so I’ll get on them after my dentist appointment tomorrow.

Speaking of mending … I noticed that Jean Miles had ordered a new book called Sequence Knitting, which sounded interesting. About five minutes later, I stumbled upon a comprehensive interview with the author, Cecelia Campochiaro, on Tom of Holland’s mending blog. I think this is the Universe telling me I need this book. Sixty dollars is a lot but I like how the author put her book together, with a lot of care and detail.

Another goodbye


Yesterday we said a sad goodbye to the last our cats, Phoebe (1998-2015). She had been struggling with thyroid issues for the past couple years, so we knew her time with us was coming to an end. I had told myself that when she was having more bad days than good ones, it would be time … and this week was that week. Very sad but she had a good long life and passed away peacefully while getting her ears rubbed. She was in heaven even before she got there. 🙂

I’ve had to euthanize a few pets in my lifetime. It’s a decision I hate making, but a necessary one as I feel suffering is even worse. I would much rather know that my pet died peacefully and without pain, surrounded by people who loved her than … well, the alternatives. We’ll just leave it at that.

Of course, it was sad waking up this morning without an animal to feed, walk, or water for the the first time in 30something years. On the other hand, for the first time in awhile, I did not wake up in the middle of the night needing to puff on my inhaler. When I was a child, I was terribly sensitive to cat dander … by the time I reached my teens, the irritation seemed to disappear. Now my asthma is back full-force and it occurs to me that the allergens that used to bother me — dust, cat dander, dairy products — are back in play. We shall see.

When we were talking to the vet before Phoebe’s passing, he noted that she was polydactyl, that is, double-pawed, and asked us if we were aware that meant she descended from the Mayflower. He said that a double-pawed cat was brought over on the ship and thus double-pawed cats today are all descended from that cat! I did a bit of journalistic research, and while I couldn’t find specific evidence that polydactyl cats descend from one specific Mayflower kitty, I did learn that polydactyl cats were introduced to New England through ships coming from England and they’re more common here than they are in other parts of the U.S. Through my father’s side I descend from a number of Mayflower passengers — I’m something like a 16th or 17th generation New Englander! — so it’s quite fitting that our beloved cat was a real Yankee, too.


My long-lost Scottish grandfather

Before O was born I got sucked into researching my family, thanks to my mother, who used to spend her weekends researching our Norwegian ancestors at the LDS library near her home in Connecticut. Since my mother’s side of the family was covered, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about my father’s family. When I was in my early teens, my paternal grandmother shared many stories about her childhood, replete with servants and one nanny whom she adored. She had some framed photographs of my great-grandmother, a beautiful blonde-haired society girl named Lulu. One of the photos was of Lulu’s enormous wedding party, dressed in their Edwardian finery. It was definitely not a budget affair.

While certainly not poor when I knew her, my grandmother wasn’t living with servants like she did as a child, so once I asked what happened to all the money. The distant look in her face faded away and she said, “My father lost it all.” She seemed annoyed by my question, so I dropped it. Knowing that my grandmother was born in 1918, I assumed the family fortune disappeared in the Market Crash of 1929. Further questioning on my part was fruitless. No one in the family wanted to talk about my grandmother’s father; my own father knew very little and, in fact, had never met him. All he could offer was that his grandfather had died “downstate.” My father is a Vermonter, so anything south of him is “downstate,” including Brattleboro, the Everglades, and South America.

I got a few more clues from my great aunt and great uncle in the late 1990s. My great-grandfather’s name was John “Jack” Forrest and he’d worked as an executive for Remington Typewriter. That was enough to get me started. I eventually found out his full name was John Prescott Forrest, and he was the youngest child of a prominent Canadian minister and scholar, the Reverend John Forrest. Rev. Forrest was president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served until shortly before his death in 1920. His wife, Annie Prescott Duff, had come from an equally prominent Canadian family; her father, William Duff, was a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister like her husband.

The only thing I knew about Reverend Forrest’s parentage was that his father, Alexander Forrest, was an M.D./surgeon and Scottish immigrant. Back in the late 1990s and early 00s, I spent hours scouring microfiche and computer screens at the New England Historic Genealogical Society searching for info on Dr. Forrest, but to no avail. The older members of my family were interested in my research and gave me as many clues as they could, but eventually I had to put the research aside and focus on other projects — one being the birth of my son in 2001. Since then, my great aunt and great uncle passed away, taking with them any last clues. Or so I thought …

Fast forward to last week. Every now and then I type my gr-gr-grandfather’s name into Google to see what pops up. I was surprised when one of the top hits was a blog that had mentioned his name. My mouth just about dropped open when I started reading the blog and figured out that one of my cousins, C–, had gotten into genealogy and done an enormous amount of research on the family. I quickly added a comment to one of the blog posts and within minutes he e-mailed me.

If you’re at all interested in the Forrest family of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I urge you to check out C–‘s well-researched blog — I don’t want to repeat what he’s written there. Today I just want to talk about my gr-gr-gr-grandfather Alexander Forrest, the Scottish surgeon.

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Some months ago I blogged about a movie called Burke and Hare starring Simon Pegg, a film based on the true story of two Irish graverobbers who murdered and sold their victims’ bodies to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. (Cadavers were hard for doctors to obtain, so they often relied on unscrupulous sorts to get them the bodies they needed for dissection and study.) I speculated that Dr. Forrest was probably studying medicine in Scotland about the time of the West Port murders, although I suspected he studied in Glasgow. C’s research confirmed that Dr. Forrest studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1823 to 1825. However, he then went on to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1826, and obtained  his medical license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in December of 1827, the same year Burke and Hare started selling bodies to the University. Yikes, I was closer than I thought!

Dr. Forrest opened a private practice soon after graduation, and also served in the Royal Navy, before marrying my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Barbara Ross McKenzie (a Highlander!) and leaving Scotland for Nova Scotia around 1832.

It’s fascinating to learn that my ancestors played parts in history. Now I have a (tenuous!) family connection to an unsavory crime that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act in Britain, which provided legal access to human cadavers for medical study. I have family who fought in the Revolutionary War, others who were chased out of Boston for being British sympathizers, a gr-gr-grandfather shot and killed by Irish nationalists, a cousin who was the American ambassador to Germany shortly before Hitler grabbed power (letters reveal he was not impressed with Adolf), and a gr-grandfather who was friends with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The stuff you find out just by digging around! I’m so happy to learn more about my Scottish ancestry, since I already know quite a bit about my British, Irish, and Scandinavian family. How about your family? Any historic connections or wild factoids?


Muddling through

What is there to say about the last few days? I have remained fairly strong and avoided the news as much as I can. It’s not that I can’t face what happened in Newtown, but more that the media coverage bothers me, the need for some of these outlets to report on a development first, even if that development is based on hearsay and ends up being completely wrong. So right now my thoughts and prayers are with the families in Connecticut who have suffered unbearable losses one can hardly comprehend. My watching or listening to the news doesn’t change anything.

It was a quiet weekend around here, needless to say … lots of snuggling with O, and a nice visit with my brother, who came up from Staten Island, where he was doing relief work, to finish up his classes here in Boston before he leaves for three months in Arizona where he’ll be learning how to leap from puddlejumpers and put our fires. Yeah, he’s a stud. His visit coincided with our buying some “new” dining room furniture on Saturday, so he was kind enough to let us borrow his truck (and muscles) to get it all inside. Big reveal TK after I finish organizing.

Then yesterday O and I went for a walk in the snowy woods to collect greenery for swags and garland. We ended up finding the best winter greenery in our own backyard — Norway spruce and holly!

Today I’ve been mulling how much cellophane tape one family needs:

Cellophane tape attack!


Last week, after some fits and starts, I earnestly dug into my big project for the winter, an aran sweater:


Candide aran

I’m hoping that the knitting of this cardigan will give me an injection of self-confidence. I’ve been feeling very talent-less for the past year, even though I’ve done lots of knitting and completed some lovely projects. This sweater tests my abilities, I can assure you. But even I can see the improvement on this back panel. My knitting just past the ribbing is uneven in places, but as I gained confidence in following the pattern, my stitches have evened out. (Of course, I know that with blocking, the knitting will look 1000x better.)

Other things I’ve learned:

  • How to knit without a cable needle. Oh. My! Learning this skill will save me hours of time knitting this sweater. I was spending up to 30 minutes on some of the more complicated rows — now I can finish a row in about 10 minutes, and my time improves with each knitting session. Cable knitting is a lot more enjoyable, for sure!
  • Notetaking is not for sissies. I learned this the hard way. I had to rip back a few times before I got it through my thick skull that some projects need thoughtful planning. Once I worked out some of the trouble spots on paper, it wasn’t such a trial following a confusing pattern.
  • I really, really love charted patterns. This pattern is not charted. But it’s pretty so I shall persevere.

How has your weekend been?


November, November


November is not my favorite month. After the autumn colors of October, it feels so stark and dreary to me. Even the word November sounds cold and lonely, maybe because it rhymes a bit like “woe” and “slow” and “snow.” I also struggle with seasonal affective disorder thanks to my northern European genes coupled with living in the northeastern U.S., and November is when it seems to hit me the hardest.

I have high hopes for this November, though. I’m focusing on all the wonderful things about the month. First, it’s my birthday month. I used to dislike celebrating my birthday, but the older I’m getting, the more I appreciate every year I have on earth. There’s still so much I want to do and see. Two years ago when my doctor told me I had cancer, the first thing I thought was, “But I still have so many things I want to knit!” Silly to say, but that thought pulled me through some dark moments, and today it guides me toward a more productive life day after day, whether knitting, writing, cooking, or traveling.

It’s also my son’s birthday month, and he LOVES his birthday. His enthusiasm is always contagious.

November delivers some great books and movies. This year it’s a new Bond film and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and while it came out in October, I’m eager to see Ben Affleck’s film Argo. As for books, I have new releases from Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan to enjoy.

All the great produce is gone from the supermarkets, but November has some food gems. I’m happy to see the nuggets of candied fruit for fruitcakes, large bins of mixed nuts, peeled chestnuts, bags of fresh cranberries, and tiny orange clementines piled high in the stores. O and I can begin looking for Candy Cane Joe-Joes at Trader Joe’s. And closer to Thanksgiving, one can start looking for stollen in the bake shops.

Unlike summer when it’s light out until 9 p.m., I don’t have to feel guilty about plopping myself down on the couch to knit an hour or so before bedtime. In the summer I spend my knitting time fretting about dozens of garden tasks I should be doing while it’s still light.

November is a month for slowing down, no permission needed. Taking a nap on a summer afternoon always feels so indolent to me, but during a chilly Saturday, tucked underneath a down comforter? No one raises an eyebrow.

Any other sweet spots in November?

I leave you with this picture of O and his best friend L from last night’s Halloween festivities. O went as a medieval ninja, and his friend is a scary book character whose name I can’t recall. I was very impressed with L’s costume, though. When O and I arrived at their house, his parents were madly tacking on strips of ripped fabric to his clothes. L had forgotten the costume he’d planned to wear at school, so this was improvised. I think they did a fantastic job! (P.S. I couldn’t stop giggling at the size of O’s feet. He’s at that age where his feet are humungous and his body hasn’t caught up.)


Deep romance?

A couple nights ago, my son and I were watching television and my attention was drawn to this commercial:

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “A cheap necklace to commemorate the sinking of a ship, which resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 people?” (The Sterlington Collection, the purveyors of this fine silverplate necklace — and if you order now, a ring, too! — calls them “souls aboard.”)

The commercial is ridiculously hilarious — from the photocopied Titanic tickets to the watery background behind the jewelry being showcased. What is romantic about a steamship filled with passengers sinking in the middle of the night in the cold north Atlantic? I think they’re thinking of Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet smooching on a soundstage. And frankly, I didn’t think the movie was all that romantic. I’ll take a Merchant Ivory production, thank you.

Perhaps the Sterlington Collection has a long-term plan to develop jewelry to commemorate tragic events in human history. What’s next? A bracelet called Waves of Desire, which honors the people who perished in the Boxing Day tsunami? Towers of Power, a faux onyx brooch that recalls the deadly September 11 attacks? Or maybe they see the romance of Pearl Harbor? Perfect, because they don’t even have to think about the right fake jewel.

So yes, I will be passing on the Deep Romance necklace, matching ring, and photocopies of the doomed Titanic’s last menu and a boarding pass, thus depriving my descendants of this classic heirloom. My loss could be your gain, though.

Stop me if you think you’ve seen this before

My friend Jenna sent me the link to this film over the weekend. Being the huge Smiths fan, I’m embarrassed to admit I’d never seen this homage to Morrissey till now … and indeed, while watching it, I had the weirdest feeling that it was a joke (“that joke isn’t funny anymore”) because Morrissey — MORRISSEY — wouldn’t sanction something so self-congratulatory, would he? But it looks like he has, and despite its worshipful tone, it’s a pretty good watch.

Three things I didn’t know till I saw this film:

1. Morrissey has relocated to LA.

2. He’s friends with Nancy Sinatra.

3. JK Rowling is a huge Smiths fan. (Hey, on that last one, you’ll have to forgive … I’ve yet to read a Harry Potter novel and I guess she thanks the Smiths in her acknowledgments.)

The one really bad thing about this film? Bono a/k/a the tiny windbag. I’ll never forgive the New York Times for letting Bono loose in their editorial pages. The New York Times should promise never to sing Sunday Bloody Sunday, and Bono should promise never to pen editorials.

That is all. Enjoy!

That Woo-Woo Thing

On Monday, I drove out to Northampton with my son and a new friend and her daughter. A and I had recently discovered a shared enjoyment of knitting, and since Noho has one of the biggest yarn stores around, I figured we could take a road trip with our kids during school vacation week.  Despite it being a tough trip attention-wise for two 9-year-olds who aren’t crazy about sticks and string, we had a fun day.

But was a long day, and there was a  two-hour return trip to push through on the Mass Pike. Even though we were both wiped out, conversation rambled easily from subject to subject. We somehow got on the subject of astrology — we call b.s. — and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which we’ve found to be very useful throughout our lives. I’m an INFP — introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving — or “The Healer.” It seems to me that INFPs are the most, shall we say, “woo-woo” of the 16 personality types, somewhat spiritual and otherworldly. Throughout my life, friends and strangers have claimed I’m an old soul; my English/Irish relatives say I’m fey and remind me that one of my Irish great-grandmothers had The Gift of Sight.

Now, anyone who knows me really well knows that I’m hardly the one to sit around gazing into crystal balls, and indeed, my husband would roll his eyes were he to read this and remind me that I’m nowhere close to figuring him out after 15 years together. But I do often sense things that most other people don’t notice, and in my routine life, it comes in pretty handy — from avoiding bad work situations to making new friends. When I started dating my husband-then-boyfriend, he showed me around his apartment where there was this one room downstairs that felt like it was cloaked in grief. I avoided that room while he lived there because the feeling was so oppressive. I simply mumbled something about the decor not being to my taste; “I sense dead people” isn’t a phrase that bodes well for a budding romance. Months later when we decided to move in together, he mentioned that his landlady might have a tough time renting the place out because the tenant before him had committed suicide.

“In that room downstairs,” I said.

Yup, that Woo-Woo Thing.

Another weird thing that happens to me, which I’d also mentioned to A during our drive, is that people like to tell me their secrets. I often feel like the village priest, which amuses me because I’m also a professional writer, and you know writers … they’ll sell out their grandmothers for a couple lines of copy. Sometimes I get very inappropriate confessions, like the one from a new neighbor who told me within five minutes of meeting that she was battling a very itchy yeast infection. Most times, though, people tell me wild and amazing things, usually unprompted.

This trip was no exception. We’re about ten minutes away from her house, and A says, “We have a ghost.”

“You’re kidding,” I reply. I’m not sure where this came from or why it came up, because we’re not on the subject of paranormal phenomena. I glance in the rear view mirror at O, who looks back at me a little saucer-eyed. O won’t read Harry Potter and refuses to walk past those moaning skeletons in store aisles during Halloween season. Anything remotely spooky or mysterious scares him, ergo the wide eyes.

“We really do!” her daughter pipes up from behind me in the darkened backseat. Their television turns off and on by itself. They hear footsteps coming up the stairs at night. Pots and pans bang around and they’ve seen a glowing orb in the kitchen. I glance in the mirror again. O’s pale face reflects back at me. Crap.

“Oh, I don’t believe in ghosts,” I say authoritatively. But I’m lying. I do (sorta, kinda) believe in them. And I don’t believe in lying, either, except when it comes to preserving my son’s mental health. Do I really want to spend the next couple years checking closets for ghouls and assuring him that the creaks he hears at 2:30 a.m. aren’t from restless spirits? He just doesn’t want to Go There, and that’s okay with me, even if I have to fudge around with my true feelings on the matter.

Somehow, though, I furtively convey to my friend that I’m not exactly doubting her. So even though we’re all beat, she invites me inside to check things out and although I’m exhausted and asking myself, “Do I really want to chase ghosts tonight? I’ve got a bag full of new yarn in my trunk, a kid who needs his PlayStation, and a glass of wine with my name on it at home,” I’m out of that car like a shot, with assurances to O that I’ll be back in a few minutes.

A leads me all around the house, a late-model Colonial, and dear reader, I don’t feel a thing. Maybe it’s a little chilly, but it was also pretty cold on Monday night. Later on at home, I kept thinking about ghosts and pots and pans that move by themselves, and I idly wondered if a loud creak in our cozy Cape heralded the visit of an annoyed and restless spirit. Still, that part of myself that feels things remained unmoved.

Then it struck me last night. I used to be terrified and hyper-aware of things that couldn’t be explained by rational thought or science. Now I feel like, eh — big deal. You know what keeps me up at night? Events that can be explained away by cold facts: a world where a soldier can be walking on patrol with a buddy one minute, then bleed out from a sniper shot the next. Or your child is playing with a friend in the livingroom, runs into the bedroom to get a toy, and cracks his head so hard on the corner of a wall, he loses his vision for a few minutes. How can a ghost or poltergeist compare? I think they’ve lost their hold over me.

I realize this post is over the place, but I’m curious: do you have That Woo-Woo Thing? How do you use it? And what do you think of paranormal phenomena? Crazy stuff or a possibility?