mariposa

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Pattern: Mariposa

Yarn: Marigoldjen Yarns Merino Silk Laceweight, 639 yards

Finished size: 76″ x 32″

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Hey! I finished something!

Mariposa took me 4 months and 11 days, which is quite a bit longer than my 5-week average for a shawl. Of course, there was a chunk of time in there where knitting was difficult or impossible, due to surgery. Mostly, though, I just found this pattern challenging to my attention span. I love leaf lace, so those charts were intuitive, and flew off the needles. The mesh parts were tough – lots of different directional decreases to keep track of – making it hard to get into a “flow” with the knitting, and those charts just dragged.

But hey, it’s done! And it’s beautiful! This yarn is straight-up awesome: soft and smooth, blocks well, beautiful drape. I’m delighted that I have about 240 yards left, so I can make a little something else with the leftovers.

My only regret is that I used needles a size smaller than I really should have. I realize this at the end of every shawl project I’ve ever knitted. When will I learn? ;)

a spot of vacation

As I’ve mentioned in the past, Michael and I have an ongoing quest to visit all 50 states. We were doing pretty well for a while, but life has decidedly gotten in the way over the past couple years. After my medical misadventures and multiple New Jersey jaunts for family affairs, and in the face of major home repairs that need to be done before the next snowfall, there was just no way to negotiate a real vacation this year.

Next best thing, we decided, was to revisit a nearby state: New Hampshire. He’d been there many times, but almost always to visit family. I hadn’t been there since I was 14, and that was also a family-related trip. Bonus:  Portsmouth is only 90 minutes from Boston, meaning that we weren’t losing 2 days to travel, nor having to board the dog for extra days because of it. So we packed our bags, for three days on a different part of the same coast.

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The Oracle House, built in 1702, is one of the oldest houses in New England.

We spent the better part of those three days walking in sunshine, being fanned by coastal breezes, as we explored a town that Michael hadn’t visited in about a decade. (It has changed unbelievably, he notes.) If, like me, 300-year-old buildings make you snap-happy, there’s plenty to see.

Unfortunately, a lot of buildings have been converted to things like law offices, and are locked up behind gates when it's not business hours.

Buildings have been maintained in authentic period fashion, even after being converted to things like apartments or law offices, right down to the narrow brick or cobblestone footpaths (not roads!) that connect them. 

'murica.

Americana.

We explored Prescott Park, with beautiful gardens that edge the waterfront, and Point of Graves, a small burial ground adjacent to the park, dotted with stones from the late 1600s and 1700s.

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Coolest stone ever!

Coolest stone ever!

We spent a lot of time wandering around downtown, where hand-drawn signs lure you in to buy spices, tchotches, jewelry, and microbrews.

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We spent WAY too much time drinking and eating on the waterfront (heh). I might have been fattened back up just a bit.

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The view from drinks at The Oar House deck.

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This is currently a restaurant called Dolphin Striker, with Spring Hill Tavern downstairs. The spring well that gave the tavern its name is still incorporated into the bar, and dates to 1761. The building itself is from 1802. Very cool place.

Finally, we ventured away from Portsmouth (just a little) to explore the remains of Fort Constitution.

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It wouldn’t be a trip to the New England coast without a picture of a lighthouse, right?

You can't actually visit the lighthouse, alas - it's part of an active Coast Guard installation.

The lighthouse, from the lookout point. You can’t actually visit the lighthouse, alas – it’s inside an active Coast Guard installation. 

One of our “major” plans for this minor trip was a steamboat cruise to nearby Star Island, which you can explore for an hour (or four) before heading back to the mainland. All cruises, however, were sold out. When we attempted to get on a river cruise – our second choice – their boat was having mechanical problems, and all trips were cancelled for the week. Bummer! It also meant a lot less picture-taking, because “from a boat” is pretty much the only way to actually see much of the water around Portsmouth. The town’s entire waterfront consists of the decks of restaurants… fabulous for lunch or a mid-afternoon cocktail, but not great for taking photos unobscured by awnings or yachts.

But despite that disappointment, it was still a fun little getaway, and a much-needed break from the chaos of this year so far… and the insanity yet to come.

never-ending adventure

Truly, I don’t even know what’s up with the past month of my life, haha!

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Onyx made a break for it last night. It was 100% my fault – I let her out, and left her unsupervised WAY too long – so I worried, I cried, I barely slept. This morning, as soon as Michael left for work, I threw on clothes and started wandering the streets, feeling more and more like I wanted to throw myself in front of a train with each passing dogless minute.

And then my cell phone rang. Long story short, animal control picked her up almost immediately after she wandered off last night, and she spent most of the evening charming the heck out of the officer, as is her way. So I hoofed it to the police station, where my precious pooch was happily hanging out in the garage, not missing us at all.

Dogs.

The nice officer finally convinced Onyx to say goodbye, I leashed her up, and off we went. Then it was even more of an adventure, because Mommy never walks me! (There is a reason for that, my friends. She is 75lbs and strong as a bull, as the officer pointed out. I am 118lbs and not.) She behaved, though, content to enthusiastically sniff all the things. But about halfway through our journey, she was finally starting to get tired, sore, and possibly a bit contrite, realizing that her wanderings had taken her so far from home.

We were about a block from the house when she started sniffing at something shiny.

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It turned out to be a brand-new nail polish – purple, my favorite color. She never, ever stops to sniff at things that aren’t either rotting or disgusting, so I have to think this was her way of apologizing for running off. I returned the gesture with a nice peanut-butter-covered (and painkiller-enriched) Scooby snack, because I’m the one who needs to be apologizing.

Now that we’re home, she keeps looking at me like, “I don’t know what the fuss is about! It was a nice night for a walk! I made new friends!! It was fun!DOGS.

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There was a small “benefit” to all my worrying last night: I was so anxious that I nervous-knitted the entire month of July in one shot. I probably would have done the first 8 days of August, too, except that my hands were killing me by then.

July introduced another color choice that I’m not thrilled about; I don’t think that my “90-99” red is distinct-enough from my “80-89” dark orange. But so it goes. Not buying different yarn now!

ONE MONTH TO GO!

luck that just will not quit

Earning my master’s and seeing Rush again aside, 2015 has really been a shitty year so far.

  1. Winter from hell.
  2. Anxiety/panic issues so bad that I finally was forced to seek professional help, which I’m STILL dealing with.
  3. Cervical biopsy – yes, that was December, but the follow-up was this year, and the trauma involved is something else that I’m still dealing with.
  4. Flu from hell, sick for a month, missed a solid 2 weeks of my semester.
  5. MAJOR house problems, which I haven’t even talked about here.
  6. Emergency gallbladder removal.

That’s enough, you know? Except that it isn’t, because the universe has it out for me.

We went to a fabulous wedding in New Jersey this past weekend. Honestly, it was probably “too soon,” from a recovery standpoint. (More on that later.) But dammit, I really wanted to go to this wedding.

So I did, and I had a FANTASTIC time. Beautiful wedding. It was literally the most posh event I’ve ever been to. The cocktail hour alone had a raw bar (complete with MOUNTAINS of oysters), several carving stations, a pasta bar, a sushi bar, charcueterie, empanadas, and probably more things that I never saw, because I was too busy wandering around the unbelievably gorgeous chateau.

the reception was in the 1910s Pleasantdale Chateau. UNBELIEVABLE place.

the reception was in the 1910s Pleasantdale Chateau. UNBELIEVABLE place.

We checked out of our hotel at noon, and headed to Morristown for some food. We ate copiously of seafood small bites. I promptly needed the bathroom. I assumed it was my ongoing surgery-related problems, and apologized to my husband at least 43984269 times throughout the course of the trip home, because I “ruined” our dinner plans by overdoing it.

I needn’t have apologized so much, because it turned out to be food poisoning, confirmed when Michael was so sick that he couldn’t even make it back inside when he was unloading the car.

So we had planned to cap off our little weekend away with a beautiful Monday spent together in the morning, then he’d get his golf game on in the afternoon. Instead, we’ve been passed out in separate parts of the house, occasionally waking up to sip water.

2015, you are not amusing me.

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But since we’re on the topic: severe digestive issues related to gallbladder removal.

For the first week after surgery, I could eat almost anything. No problems at all. Everything I read on reputable medical sites says things like, “You might have some digestive upset the first few days after your surgery, but it’s temporary and should go back to normal in a week.” Even most people’s personal experiences seem to echo that.

Yeah, right. All of my problems started on Day 8. Now I can’t eat anything. Well, okay – I can eat toast – but that is literally all, unless I drug up first.

The NP who saw me for my post-op appointment last Friday asked if my appetite was getting back to normal, and I said, “Yes, but everything I eat goes straight through me.” She asked if I was running a fever during any of this, and I said no, and that was the end of it. I get it – a fever is the sign of a serious complication – but how about some concern about the stuff that’s keeping me from going back to the “normal life” that you just cleared me for? Because, thanks to my commute, I can’t really go back to work until I can be away from a bathroom for 2 hours at a time.

How long is this supposed to last? Is this my new “normal”?

It’s frustrating as hell, because honestly, I feel so much worse in many ways than I did before I had the gallbladder removed.

little bits of big news

I finished last week with my post-surgery follow-up appointment. Clean pathology report – no cancer, no tumors. The largest incision still isn’t healed, but that wasn’t unexpected or unusual. I’m still supposed to take it easy for a while; no pushing, pulling, or lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk for another 3 weeks.

But generally speaking, I’m in good shape, at least from a clinical perspective. We promptly found an appropriate venue for a small celebration.

i will ALWAYS follow signs that point me to delicious bivalves.

i will ALWAYS follow signs that point me to delicious bivalves.

And as it turns out, being cleared for getting back to a mostly-normal life wasn’t the only cause for celebration.

I went to campus last Wednesday – ready or not! – because I had a big important thesis meeting. I thought I was “just” getting my committee up to speed on my research, asking some questions about my next steps degree-wise, and moving on with my day. I showed up wearing yoga pants and a T-shirt, cracking lame jokes and babbling in spots. I couldn’t even stand up for the full 30 minutes, so I apologized for my post-op weakness and cheerfully prattled on from my seat.

Well, I had no idea. I didn’t realize that the meeting was, for all intents and purposes, the oral qualifying exam that would determine whether or not I’m to be awarded a Master’s degree.

Yep.

And the committee’s decision was YES.

So, it’s official: I have earned my M.S. in Biology. It’s done. I still have to submit a report of my work (aka the manuscript, now doing double-duty) to the department, and I will have to give a public seminar sometime in the fall semester. After that, the work I’ve done since January 2013 is a chapter closed, more or less.

This isn’t exactly the way it typically goes – no defense, no massively long thesis written – but there’s a good reason for that, too.

I am also officially enrolled in the Environmental Biology PhD program.

I committed to it for real, you guys. Aaaaahhh!

This represents a “career change” for me. I’ve done the same research for 2 1/2 years. I’d gotten to a point where I feel like a legitimate expert in that narrow little field. My research for the PhD is a total 180. Completely different. Different approach. Different organisms. Different frame of reference. I am literally starting over from scratch.

Recognizing that this was the case, my PI wanted to make sure that I got “credit” for the [soon-to-be unrelated] work that I’d done already. He also wanted to see me have something in-hand, in case life intervened (oy!). Ideally, he wanted it to happen before the end of the summer, too, so I could be in the PhD program ASAP and get a pay raise for the fall semester.

Have I mentioned that I work for the absolute best boss on the planet??

So, he proposed an uncommon, but totally legit, solution: a non-thesis M.S. The committee agreed that it was a good idea. The department went for it. Graduate Studies said sure, why not…

And while I was recovering from having an emergency organ removal, I earned my Master’s.

What a summer!

slow-fast recovery, and the best internet friends ever

A week after my last post, I feel… almost normal?! What?! Really!

I mean, I’m still sore. It still hurts to stand up from sitting, to sit up from laying down, and I can only sleep on my back. I still can’t push, pull, lift, or carry heavy things (and my definition of “heavy” has also been redefined). I’m still easily tired. My appetite and digestion aren’t back to normal yet, and I’m 8lbs smaller than I was last Sunday. I’ve discovered that I can’t eat watermelon, of all crazy things.

But.

I’m cooking and baking, washing dishes, folding laundry, sweeping, taking care of the pets, sitting at my desk for hours at a time, and generally getting things done. The lingering dizziness from the anesthesia, which really did plague me for a solid 9 days after I came out of it, has finally gone, meaning that once I’m up and moving, I’m almost at my usual breakneck speed. For all intents and purposes, I’ve gotten back to a mostly-normal life already. Tomorrow I’m going to campus for the first time since July 6, because I have a thesis committee meeting (eek!) and I feel like I can handle it. (Though, to be on the safe side, I’m taking the rest of the week off, and next week remains on a “wait and see” basis too.)

i've even made progress on Mariposa! halfway through chart 6 out of 7!

i can knit again! i’ve even made progress on Mariposa! halfway through chart 6 out of 7!

My recovery has felt like slow torture at times, probably because I’m usually so active. Mom kept reminding me, “minor incisions, MAJOR SURGERY,” to help me maintain a little perspective on what happened to my body. Even routine gallbladder removal is still REMOVING AN ORGAN FROM YOUR BODY… and mine wasn’t routine, what with that infection and the swelling and all. So the idea that I’ve recovered this much in, essentially, a week (hey, a week ago, I could barely dress myself) is… pretty damn crazy.

What also helped keep me sane, other than Mom? The internet.

First and foremost, there was information. Every time I fretted about pain or some other symptom, Mom was on the case, looking up (valid) medical information on what to expect, what’s normal.

But beyond that, there was my little community of friends on here and Google+, which was more helpful than I could ever express. Because, you know, even the Mayo Clinic suggests that you can go back to work “a few days” after laparoscopy, and that was absolutely NOT my experience. So I worried, of course… until I started hearing stories about “not feeling normal” for weeks after the surgery, or a coworker with a similar infection who couldn’t return to work for a solid 5 weeks. I didn’t feel alone anymore, and most importantly, I stopped worrying so damn much!

Then there were the helpful tips, like the “cough pillow” that was suggested more times than I can count. And advice like, “Don’t plan on carrying a backpack/purse/tote for a few weeks,” which I never expected, and certainly would have regretted on my first day back!

After all of that, which was priceless, it seems almost trivial to mention that there were get-well, cheer-up presents. FROM PEOPLE I’VE NEVER MET. But there totally were.

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I was gifted with the pattern for Toorie, a fabulous hat by Carina Spencer that’s been in my queue-and-wishlist for years now. I wanted to cast on immediately (well, okay, after I felt well enough to sit up and knit!), but I don’t have yarn that works for it. As if reading my mind, I was also gifted with a Knit Picks gift card! So now I just have to decide on a yarn and color…

But really, this entire ordeal has taught me two very important things.

1. I am completely impressed by my body’s ability to heal.

2. I am surrounded by more love and support than I truly understood.

It wasn’t a stretch to expect that my mom would travel from New York for my surgery, but I never expected that she would stay for 10 days (while her house was being renovated!). I didn’t expect that she would wait on me hand and foot, and I definitely didn’t anticipate that she would scrub my house from top to bottom, do all of the cooking and dishes, and otherwise make sure that (a) I wasn’t even tempted to overdo it, and (b) Michael didn’t have to worry about anything except how I was recuperating.

and on top of ALL THAT, she and jay bought me flowers!

and on top of ALL THAT, she and jay bought me flowers!

I expected family to set aside personal differences for my sake for a few days. I never expected those differences to completely and immediately vaporize, more or less a non-issue. Mom lived here with us for 10 days, and there was no awkwardness, only laughs and love. I didn’t expect to have fun with Mom here, which means that I didn’t anticipate how much I miss her now that she’s back home. (As soon as I’m feeling better, a trip to NY is in order, methinks.) I think it’s natural to take the love of family for granted, a bit, but it’ll be a long time before I get to that point again.

I knew Michael would be wonderful, but the level of love and doting and pampering (and picking up where Mom left off, taking care of me and not letting me overdo it) has been beyond even those high expectations. My husband is truly the best. <3

I wasn’t surprised when I posted a quick update about my surgery on social media, and got an outpouring of well-wishes from friends and family. I didn’t expect that same level of support (or more!) from people I’ve never met. I also didn’t expect texts and phone calls from coworkers, with offers of help and words of support, and near-daily “status check” emails from my boss.

The gist of this ramble is that I’m blessed, and if you’re reading this right now, chances are that you’re part of what I’m so grateful for. My recovery wouldn’t have been so smooth and worry-free if it wasn’t for you. THANK YOU! <3

always an adventure over here

Last Saturday (June 27), I started having upper back pain that seemed vaguely like my gallbladder-passing-stones pain from years ago. But I emphasize “vaguely”; the other symptoms never happened. So I assumed that it was years of lugging too much crap to campus, finally catching up with me, and I switched bags again.

By the following Saturday, the pain hadn’t subsided. By Monday, it had gotten worse, and by Wednesday morning, I couldn’t sleep or eat. So, off to the local clinic I went.

They sent me to a hospital for an ultrasound. I hadn’t even left the hospital yet when my phone started ringing: go back to the ER and get some bloodwork done.

I was waiting for the bloodwork results when this happened.

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As soon as the cocktail flowing into my arm included morphine, I texted my mom and my husband and said, “I’m not going home tonight.”

It wasn’t just a stubborn gallstone that refused to pass. It was a massively inflamed, infected gallbladder packed with stones and sludge, including the one big pain-causing one that couldn’t pass.

This was my first surgery and my first hospitalization, and it was maybe not the smooth experience it could have been. Every step of the way was punctuated by some lack of communication, and dumb things happened because of it. Like, sitting in pre-op for 4 hours, waiting for the surgeon. Or the fact that the surgical team ordered stronger painkillers, an anti-inflammatory, and more antibiotics post-op, and those orders never made it to the nurses, so I never got them. Or, even before that, when I waited a full day, with no food or drink at all, only to be told, “Sorry, we didn’t have time to operate on you today.”  What?!

Oh yes, we got a patient advocate involved, and I’m sure that the letter my mother sends to Boston Medical is going to make eyeballs bleed.

my "not amused" face

my “not amused” face

But I think it all worked out for the best. I went under the knife Friday night. On Saturday, the surgeon came to talk to me, and said that – even after 2 days of antibiotics – my gallbladder was so bad that he was almost unable to do it laparoscopically. Had I gone in for surgery the previous day, I almost certainly would have had to be opened up. And if I hadn’t waited 4 hours in pre-op for that surgeon, I might also have gotten one with different limits for lap surgery, and he could have decided to open me up regardless. Either way, I’d still be in the hospital.

As it stands, I am not; I’m at home, recovering, doted upon by both my mom and Michael. I’m in pain, but it’s slowly improving. And since that is the case, I’m trying to push the chaos out of my mind. (Let’s face it: I’m a worrier, so ending up at the grittier BMC vs. the shinier Tufts made me IMMEDIATELY concerned that I wouldn’t be getting the best care, and the lack of communication didn’t help. But my nurses were all awesome, the surgeon was great, and I don’t have any real reason to keep doubting my care, so…)

Anyway.

Never a dull moment over here.