Monday, February 25, 2013


I had never owned a cashmere sweater before I started digging through piles of second-hand sweaters in search of wool to felt. I don't think I had ever even felt a cashmere sweater until I found my first one, mixed in a pile with lots of other sweaters of various fibers, but when I felt it I knew that it must be something special. Cashmere is the unexpected luxury bonus of shopping for second hand wool: I now have seven wearable cashmere sweaters, and Dear Husband has another two. Tayta has one too, along with a silk/cashmere "sweatshirt" that she wears around the house. I've blogged about the a few ways I've used recycled cashmere sweaters: lining mittens, lining hats, and winter scarves. But, making a cashmere blanket is what I've dreamed of.

I have a Rubbermaid tub full of cut up cashmere sweaters, but I did not deem all of them worthy of playing a part in my dreamed-of cashmere blanket. Cashmere connoisseur that I am becoming, I've noted that all cashmere is not equal. Some cashmere is extra soft--"like a cloud", Tayta describes it. A few weeks ago I found two more large, like-a-cloud cashmere sweaters and hoped that I would now have enough to begin my blanket.

My blanket is made from my collection of  five like-a-cloud cashmere sweaters. I decided I would not concern myself with color coordination. This blanket is all about feel. I left pieces as big as possible so as to maximize the amount of cashmere I could use from the sweaters and make the blanket, really more the size of a throw, as big as possible.

Laying out the blanket was sort of like working a puzzle. The key was to arrange the pieces in rectangular blocks which can then be pieced together. At a glance the arrangement of rectangles might not be evident, but if you examine the layout you will see the rectangles of different sizes, first smaller, then larger.

And though I would never have planned  a color scheme of  red, black, navy, ivory, and pastel mint green, I like it. I'm finding one of the fun things about working with recycled fabrics is its limits, and sometimes limits force a kind of creativity that I wouldn't otherwise discover.

I've made two other recycled wool throws: one was pieced by butting together the edges of the wool and sewn with zig-zag stitching, and the other was overlapped and sewn with a double straight stitch. Since cashmere doesn't really felt the same way that wool does and because this was to be my dream blanket, I wanted to try yet another technique to piece/stitch this quilt together, a technique that I thought would be more secure. Cruising along Pinterest Avenue, I've kept my eyes open for different seam techniques and recently learned about the traditional Korean pojagi method on Victoria Gertenbach's inspirational blog. I simplified the method in the tutorial to accommodate working with wool rather than woven fabrics, and I was very pleased with the results. I anticipate using this seaming method for future blankets.

Per below, you can barely distinguish the front side from the back side--so it is in person as well.
To create this modified pojagi seam, I sewed two piece of wool together with a 1/2 inch seam, using my longest straight stitch. I then turned the sewn pieces to the back side, and zig-zaged first one side, and then the other, of the seam allowances flat, using a fairly long stitch length. I didn't even need to press the seam--I just held it down as I zig-zagged it. After sewing each seam, I used my quilting ruler, cutting mat, and rotary cutter to straighten up my pieces at the seam, as wool tends to stretch a bit when it is sewn, even if it isn't pulled.

front side

back side

After finishing my quilt, I experimented with this seaming technique using some felted Shetland wool, and again, pleasing results. As with the cashmere, the difference in the front and back is barely discernable.

front side

back side

Though I haven't bound my other wool blankets, I felt the cashmere needed it. I used the saved ribbings from the sweaters to create the binding, which I attached just as I do bindings on regular quilts. I had to use a scrap of cashmere to make the binding long enough, so the ribbings aren't enough, regular cashmere/wool scraps can be used as well.

I have (and will) share my cashmere blanket when I'm not using it, but its home is on my favorite reading chair.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Surgery Scheduled

We've been praying and planning, and this week we confirmed the date for Tayta's revision surgery--June 20th, in Madison, Wisconsin.  Last night I hit the "confirm" button, booking our airline tickets to Chicago. Since Madison just happens to be an only three hour drive from Chicago, we're able to fly to Chicago and stay a few days with our favorite grad student, Oldest Daughter. We're already planning a trip to the Chicago Art Institute and a visit to Chinatown.

This recent picture of Tayta shows how well the tissue transplant is doing--the only problem is that there is too much tissue. But this was the plan from the beginning, and thus, the revision surgery. The surgeon, Dr. John Siebert, will remove the extra tissue, sculpting it (that's the best word I could think of but I don't know if it's the right term to use) to normal proportions. He also plans to build up her lower left lip, where she has experienced tissue loss. We've been told by the mom of another PRS patient that this second surgery is a piece of cake compared to the first surgery, a free-flap tissue transplant. This surgery will take only a couple hours, compared to ten hours for the first surgery. It may be outpatient or Tayta may stay one night in the hospital. We'll remain in Madison for the week for Tayta's post-op appointment.

Meanwhile, Tayta has a number of entertaining episodes to recount of  how well-meaning people in Jordan have reacted to her oversized cheek. Strangers are not shy about asking, "What happened??" I've observed Tayta handle these situations with aplomb, always trying to put the the inquirer at ease. Hmm, that would make a good blog-post when we have some time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Active Son's Birth Day

During one of my last prenatal visits before Active Son's birth, my OB reminded me that I have "precipitous labor" and directed me to call him at the first sign of labor, contractions or otherwise. If Oldest Daughter came so (relatively) quickly and easily, Active Son would likely enter the world even more quickly.

I guess that was good news, but it made Dear Husband and I a little nervous. We had recently moved to a new apartment and though we were settling in, it was the middle of winter, the Winter of '92, Jordan's worst winter for snow and ice storms in over 50 years. Not accustomed to harsh winters, the people survived from storm to storm as the extreme weather paralyzed the country. People lost power and water, and the civil defense was called on to transport women in labor to hospitals when the roads were impassable. We prayed that Active Son would make his appearance between storms, and thankfully, he did. Though riding to the hospital in a tank would have trumped the broken down delivery station wagon that transported me to the hospital for Oldest Daughter's birth.

My water broke just a couple hours after going to bed on the night of Februrary 19th, and we immediately called my OB, along with our good friend, Bruce, to request his offered ride to the hospital. It's a good thing the roads were clear or Active Son might have been born on the way to the hospital. My OB arrived just in time to deliver Active Son, and welcome him into the world after my quickest and easiest childbirth experience.

Here's Oldest Daughter visiting us in the hospital. Along with my new son, I acquired a new identity in Jordanian society: 'Um Active Son, or Mother of Active Son.

Two (or three) days after Active Son's birth, the biggest snowstorm of the winter blew through Amman. Everyone was tucked snugly in their beds, but we could hear the wind howling and the thunder crashing all through the night. We woke to an amazing amount of snow: three feet had fallen overnight, with drifts even higher. 

Oldest Daughter on our back (walled in) patio

Thankfully, we had power, heat, water, and food; we lacked only a phone connection.We enjoyed a very cozy, peaceful existence for a few days--just our little family.

This next picture, Active Son's newborn "portrait" reminds me of how woefully inept we were at capturing those precious, poignant, adorable, timeless, newborn moments that now proliferate Facebook, Pinterest, and blogs. And I only have a few newborn pictures of Active Son--maybe ten?  That would probably constitute child abuse these days. I remember thinking that our chair cushions would make a pretty neat backdrop. It was definitely too cold to even think of doing any au naturel shots. Those would have to wait until summer.

Though many miles separate us, Active Son, you are never far from our hearts. We love you and pray for you daily, trusting you to our Heavenly Father and thanking Him for  your life. 

Happy Birthday, Active Son!

Friday, February 15, 2013

{edit on cookie recipe below}

"Mom, you made an error on the chocolate chip cookie recipe. It should be 2 egg yolks instead of 1." Noted. I hope my error caused no inconvenience and that any cookies made from the recipe I posted last week were delicious despite my error. I've corrected the recipe below.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity

I came across this book by Kindle accident, when it showed up as a daily special. The word "Gaza" in the title caught my eye and caused me to look at the title of the book more closely. I read it first in November of last year and re-read it in January when our family choose it to be the first book of our Kindlings monthly book club. (We thought our name so clever, but of course, we weren't the first to think of it: The Kindlings.)

I Shall Not Hate is a powerful title and is matched by the powerful and inspiring story of Gazan doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish. Raised in poverty in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Dr.Abuelaish overcomes many obstacles to become an Ob-Gyn, specializing in fertility issues. He earned a masters degree in public health from Harvard University, and became the first Palestinian to join the staff of an Israeli hospital, all the while working for understanding and peace between Palestinians and Israelis entangled in a conflict which spans his lifetime. His story, which is told with patience and grace, dispels the popular media myth that all Gazans are hateful people who fire missiles into Israel despite the fact that Israel has removed Israeli settlers from Gazan settlements.

Abuelaish's choice to refuse hating "the other", but rather to work patiently for peace is all the more powerful when one learns that Abuelaish's family home was bombed during Israel's 2009 Cast Lead operation, killing three of his daughters. The courage of Dr.Abuelaish prompted me to look into his story for clues of why he acted as he did, as he lived out his belief in the possibility of peace to which he holds so tenaciously.

First, I noted the strongest guiding influences during his childhood and teenage years. Abuelaish was the oldest child of his father's second wife. His mother, raising her family in poverty and always working to keep the family from starving, pushed her children very hard. They must study and they must work to provide for the family. While his mother's methods of encouraging her children toward these goals were not always healthy, Abuelaish credits his mother's strong spirit of survival and hope for her children in helping him to achieve his goals. Special school teachers also played a significant role. Recognizing Abuelaish's  love of learning and academic ability, they encouraged him when he began school, and then later when he nearly dropped out to work to support his family.

The care and hospitality of an Israeli family who employed him, even though they were "the other" made a defining impression on Abuelaish and was a catalyst for him to commit himself to the role of active peacemaker.

"Yet it was from inside this home, built on destruction, that I was able to reflect on the second milestone in my life. The paradox between the warm hospitality of the Israeli family who had employed me that summer and the brute force of Sharon's Israeli soldiers made me recognize that I had to commit myself to finding a peaceful bridge between the divides."

Abuelaish believes "Medicine is the tool to help people better understand the problems of one another, to better communicate, to help us live together..." and so this is the path he committed himself to.

Dr. Marek Glezerman,  speaking in the foreword of his colleague, notes that Izzeldin Abuelaish doesn't generalize the injustices he experiences so as to blame all Israelis. He continues that many of the Israeli and Palestinian people want peace; it is the leaders of the two sides which continue to perpetrate conflict by the hardline politics they promote. (How these leaders become leaders is another story altogether but when I think about how disenfranchised I feel by both the Republican and Democratic platforms in the US, I can understand this point.)

Returning to the rubble of his home after his daughters were killed, Dr. Abuelaish realized he was faced with two options: he could choose "darkness, poisonous hate and revenge" or light, thinking of the future and his remaining children. His conclusion: "Peace can only come about after an internal shift--on both sides. What we need is respect and inner strength to refuse to hate. Then we will achieve peace."

One small aside: a few comments made by Abuelaish in his book may sound as if he is justifying a fatalistic view of violence: oppression of Palestinians yields retaliation. "What do you expect?" "How would you behave?" I'm still working this out, but I think there is a difference between identifying causes and effects and justification. While retaliation is not required of oppression, it is not hard to see that this is an effect evidenced throughout the world and throughout history. I don't think that Abuelaish is justifying the retaliatory violence of the Palestinians, rather he is trying to explain it. It is not required. However, I have heard the justification argument more than once and I do think it can be a slippery slope from explaining cause and effect to justification.

Having lived on the edges of the Israeli Palestinian conflict for many years, and having read a lot on the history of the conflict and the current feelings about it from many sides (Arabs, Israelis, Americans, etc.) I am not surprised that Dr.Abuelaish has been criticized by for being too soft on the Israelis by some and too soft on the missle-firing Gazans, by others. The conversation, such as it is, is that polarized. Abuelaish, with his message of peace backed up by his life of activism (His foundation, Daughters for Life, promotes education, health, and leadership for Palestinian and Israeli females, and is supported in part by Abuelaish's speaking fees) is an important voice in this conversation, and one to which more people should listen.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Our New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

These are our new favorite chocolate chip cookies: Browned Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Ambitious Kitchen.  Actually, these are our new-favorite-cookie-of-all-time, and that is saying a lot, especially for me, for whom chocolate chip cookies weren't even in the top five of my favorite cookies. Dear Husband has taken to making tally marks on the kitchen white-board so that he can be publicly accountable for his cookie consumption. These cookies are that good, and since the recipe has already been requested a couple of times, on to my blog it goes.

Tayta and I have modified the Ambitious Kitchen recipe, but Monique gets all the credit for coming up with this great combination of tastes. Our modifications include: using full fat but not Greek yogurt, adding walnuts, using only brown sugar, using only semi-sweet chocolate chips and slightly reducing the quantity of chocolate chips--we're used to that, living in Jordan where a bag of chocolate chips cost a little over $5--on a good day, when they are in the market. And, we make a larger batch.

Brown Butter, Brown Sugar and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies
 (Dough needs to chill)

4 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt (fine)
2 cups unsalted butter
3 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
2 Tablespoon full-fat yogurt (but I'm sure lowfat would work fine, too.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 12 oz. package of dark semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 to 11/2 cups chopped walnuts
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

--Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, 175 C.
--Melt butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium. Once the butter begins to foam, continue whisking the butter just until it begins to brown  and gives off a nutty aroma. Remove it from the heat and transfer to a mixing bowl right away so that the butter doesn't continue to cook. This extra step of browning the butter is very worth the effort! Think toffee-flavored cookies. Monique provides a great pictorial tutorial for this step. Let the browned butter cool for before continuing.You can do this quickly by pouring it into a separate bowl.
--Mix butter and sugar with an electric mixer until well blended--I use my Bosch. Beat in eggs, yolks, vanilla, and yogurt.
--Add the dry flour, baking soda, salt. When all is well blended, stir (or mix) in chocolate chips and walnuts.
--Chill dough in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
--We used a small cookie scoop to size our cookies, but you could roll them into balls. Place dough on a cookie sheet and press down slightly to flatten. I use the back of a flat spatula. Sprinkle the cookies with just a little bit of sea salt.
--Bake the cookies about 10 minutes--our gas oven isn't well regulated so we check them regularly. The edges of the cookies will be firm and the cookies will be golden brown when they are done. Since the recipe calls for all brown sugar, the cookies will be a little but darker (see picture above), but they are chewy, rather than crisp.
--Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Oldest Daughter's Birth Day

As I anticipated Oldest Daughter's birthday last week, I found myself missing her more than usual, far away as she is, reminiscing about her childhood, and especially that memorable day of her birth. I've told her birth story many times, but I've never recorded the event in writing. Here's to posterity and to my lovely Oldest Daughter:

The end of January 1990 found Dear Husband and I finishing up our third term of Arabic study in Amman Jordan. I was distracted, looking forward as I was to the birth of our first child, a daughter: due date, February 20. We lived in east Amman and studied at a school on the edge of west Amman, depending on public transportation and good 'ole walking to get to and from school: first a shared taxi, a 15-20 minute walk through the city, and then another shared taxi up the hill to language school. There were gentle signs that January day, a full three weeks before my due date, that prompted me to urge Dear Husband to help complete my nest feathering. I insisted we purchase the hanging rod for a quilt I had cross-stitched for Oldest Daughter's nursery--I had finished the quilt the night before, probably when I should have been studying Arabic. So, after school, we walked to the center of the city (about a mile) to buy the rod, then took a private taxi  home--the long curtain rod required it and spared us walking to the shared taxi station.

Our neighbors stopped by for an evening visit, and while serving tea I had to take a few moments in the kitchen to breath through contractions. They weren't too bothersome, so I carried on. Our neighbors, a family who had adopted us into their family and had helped us with everything we needed during our first year in Jordan, reminded us to be sure to call them if we needed a ride to the hospital that night.

Since my due date was still three weeks away, Dear Husband was certain my contractions were false, and so he determined to finish his Arabic studies after our neighbors left, leaving me with the dishes. He would be going to school tomorrow, so of course, he needed to finish his homework.

At some point in the evening Dear Husband, being the good quantitative management/statistics major that he was, began recording my contractions, the duration and intervals. According to Sheila Kitzenger, the author of our lone pregnancy and childbirth book, real labor contractions would increase in duration and intensity while the intervals between contractions would decrease. That seemed an easy enough guide to follow. My stats showed that while contractions continued, they didn't follow this specified patterns, at least not consistently, which meant I must not be in labor. Conclusion: time for bed.

I think I slept awhile but by around 1am I was up by the side of our bed breathing through, and still faithfully recording, my contractions. My stats still weren't conclusive, but I was now questioning my false labor enough that I thought I better wake Dear Husband--who informed me that my breathing was keeping him awake. Poor guy!

We were still too unsure of ourselves to call our neighbors, knowing that they had to work in the morning and the hospital was across town. And how embarrassing would it be if I wasn't really in labor? But how to get to the hospital?

Dear Husband hit the street, looking for transportation, a lone taxi perhaps. He found the neighborhood asleep, except for a few young men who were closing up the bakery. They were willing to give us a ride in their old (no shocks) flour-covered delivery station wagon.

When we arrived at the hospital, we went to the maternity ward and I approached the desk. "I think that I may be in labor" I said, timidly, still unsure if this was the real deal. Upon checking me, the nurse assured me that yes, I was most certainly in labor, and she hoped that the doctor would arrive in time. Oldest Daughter would soon be making her appearance. I was prepped and in the delivery room when my doctor arrived, just about 15 minutes before Oldest Daughter was born.

I briefly held Oldest Daughter and then the nurse whisked her away to be bathed. I practically ordered Dear Husband to follow-that-nurse, and not let Oldest Daughter out of his sight. We had heard stories of nurses insisting on feeding newborns sugar water from a bottle right after delivery and I determined that my baby would not be subjected to such abuse! The nurse showed Dear Husband how to wash a new born under the sink facet and Dear Husband became the designated newborn bather. His hands were larger than mine better for cradling those delicate little heads and necks. 

When the nurse and Dear Husband brought Oldest Daughter to me in my room, I was in awe of this little person who had come from us. How could it be? Could it really be? 

Our Arab friends told me that the first child is known as the one who opens the womb. Oldest Daughter is the one who also opened our hearts, first to her, and then to the children to come after her. Imperfect as it is, that love has only increased and deepened through the years as we discover and continue to discover the person that God has created her to be.

 Happy Birthday, Oldest Daughter!