Friday, October 16, 2009

Better Lucky Than Good

Or maybe I should title this post "Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop"...

Since I last wrote, I've had chemo treatment #1 and #2. And I have to say, I feel okay. Shockingly so, all things considered. Now, I by no means feel normal but it certainly could be much worse.

As I sat through my first treatment, my fabulous sister Betsy at my side, every horror story I'd ever heard or read about the side effects of chemotherapy played through my head. I wondered when It would kick in- would I feel bad right away? That night? The next day? How sick would I be? And the honest answer is not yet and not very.

Please note, I just knocked on every wood item in my sewing room.

So far I have been very, very lucky. I'm tired. My appetite is about 2/3 what it normally is (not necessarily a bad thing) and I feel nauseous from time to time but by resting, napping and using the anti-nausea medications my oncologist prescribed I have been able to get through it in an almost normal fashion.

And I am so very grateful. I know the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, getting worse as treatment progresses so to be able to start in a place that is not-so-bad is definitely something to be thankful for, even if it does, in some monstrously perverse way, make me feel like a bit of a chemo-fraud: "Hey look at her, thinks she's a chemo a patient! Why, she hasn't thrown up once."

I'm weird, I know. But this whole cancer episode has such a feeling of unreality for me I think maybe I am looking for some physical touchstone to say, yes, this is really happening. I don't know... Or maybe I am just weird, worried I don't have the right cancer street cred.

If I do lack cancer cred, I have my wonderful oncologist to thank. He's put me on treatment protocol where I have treatments every week for twelve weeks. Most breast cancer patients have treatments every 2-3 weeks. The thinking is that with more frequent but smaller doses of the drugs, the side effects can be somewhat minimized. So on Fridays I go in and get an infusion of Adriamycin and then I take Cytoxan daily orally (pill form). When I am done with this twelve week treatment I'll do 4-6 treatments of another drug- the name escapes me right now.

You'd think that I could simply be grateful the plan seems to be working and that I feel pretty good so far. But no. I worry. I admit, I'm a worrier. I wonder if I'll wake up tomorrow and just feel horrible. I mean, I have Cancer for goodness sakes!!!!! Shouldn't I feel wretched by now? If you read more than two or three posts on almost any breast cancer forum you'd think so... and so, as I mentioned at the beginning, I am sorta-kinda waiting for the proverbial other shoe to put in an appearance.

Yes, yes, I know. I should avoid the crazy forums. But honestly, even the forums you think are going to be normal and un-alarmist and possibly even educational dissolve before your very eyes into a puddle of crazy. I've lurked on a few breast cancer boards (yes, I know! I shouldn't Google... but really, it's Todd's fault- he Googles and sends me links) and frankly, I can't hang out there much. The Drama! Seriously. I cannot take it. I think this might be my own personal oddity again.

I know many (most?) people see cancer treatment as a battle, a fight for their life and I understand the reasoning behind that- you are after all, trying to save your life. Makes perfect sense. And I think that is where the drama stems from. After all, saving your life might be thought of as a Big Deal.


I just cannot get that worked up. Treating and beating my cancer has just become another task on my To Do list. A serious task, no doubt. Clearly a bit more pressing than say, taking out the recycling, but not as urgent as feeding my rapidly-descending-into-hunger-induced-crankiness kidlets dinner (and for the record, the last 5-10 minutes before dinner when you are fervently willing the food to Just. Cook. Faster! before your children really do turn into blood sugar deprived demons is clearly the Tenth Circle of Hell that even Dante was to afraid to explore).

Some days I think, What is wrong with me? Shouldn't I be more upset? Impassioned? Pissed? (Insert appropriate entry from the thesaurus here)? But then Matt grabs a toy away from Gwen or someone spills something or Gwen yells from the bathroom that she needs to be wiped for the 400th time that day and I have to get over it and move on with my life.

So yes, this Friday is treatment #3 and I'll probably feel a little (or maybe a lot) worse next week just as I felt not quite as good this weekend after #2 as I did after #1. But that's okay because I'll be able to check off another box on the To Do List. One step closer to checking off the really big box.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Better Living Through Chemistry

Throughout our marriage, when one or the other of us has been sick and needed to take some medication, Todd and I have always made some joke or statement about "better living through chemistry". I'm not sure where the phrase originated... I have a very vague notion that is was a tagline in a commercial for some chemical conglomerate at some point... you know, one of those ads where they show you all these things you use daily and then at the end there's a tagline and the name of some company you've never heard of that, I guess, makes some component of all those products. I've never really understood the point of that type of ad but whatever- it's their advertising budget.

But reminiscing about commercials of yore is not where I was going with this post.

Sound the trumpets, I finally have a treatment plan! I've actually had it for a couple days but I've been busy trying to get my ducks in a row and so the poor blog has been neglected.

As I believe I mentioned in a previous post, I am going to be bucking the usual breast cancer treatment trend (surgery then chemo or radiation or a combination of the two) and will be having chemotherapy first followed by surgery. For those of you who like to be able to throw around fancy medical terms, this pre-operative chemo is more properly called neoadjuvent chemotherapy.

And I start on Friday. Two days from now.

Cue small freak out.

Do you want all the nitty-gritty details? Hmmmm. I wonder if I can explain all this without heading into novella territory?

I'll try- bear with me.

So, if you were paying attention (see, I told you there would be a pop quiz!) you might have noticed that I called my cancer "triple negative" in an earlier post, but I did not explain what that meant. Let me do that now because it figures prominently in my treatment.

Triple negative means that my cancer is ER, PR, and HER2 negative.

Um, yeah. That makes it clear, thanks Katie...

Here's the translation:
ER - Estrogen receptor
PR - Progesterone receptor
HER2 - Human epidural growth factor receptor

Breast cancer can be positive or negative for each of these receptors. If you have ER+ cancer, for example, estrogen will fuel the growth of the cancer. On the other hand, if you are negative for a certain hormone sensitivity your cancer is unaffected by the presence of that hormone. In recent years, great strides have been made in developing new drugs that target cancers that are positive for these hormones. Drugs exist now which essentially block the cancer cells from getting access to these hormones which encourage them to grow and reproduce. These drugs are far more targeted than older drug therapies which go after any fast growing cells (your hair, the lining of your stomach). As a result, the newer targeted therapies have improved the chemotherapy experience for patients with hormone sensitive cancer (don't get me wrong, it's still unpleasant, it's just not horribly unpleasant).

Following so far? If you are, you might realize that I am negative for all three of these little receptor types. This is fairly uncommon, in fact, only 15% of all breast cancers are triple negative.

So what does that mean? It means, that instead of a "nice" targeted drug therapy I get to have what I like to call Bazooka Chemo. Take out everything in it's path, say buh-bye to your hair, hope you like feeling nauseous chemo.

Wheeeee! Fun!

Can you tell I'm looking forward to this?

Now admittedly, I am being a bit harsh. Even though I will be having some serious toxins pumped through my body these are not the bad ol' days of chemo. There are much better coping mechanisms available to chemo patients: anti-nausea medications for example, and white blood cell boosters to help prevent or lessen fatigue.

In fact, I thought the white blood cell booster sounded pretty fabulous until the nurse explained to me that it is a DAILY INJECTION!!!! Have I mentioned my fear of needles? Yup. Daily. So I can either go to the clinic every day or I can learn to give myself the shots.

Yes. This was the part of the appointment where I wanted to run screaming from the room, bury my head under the nearest pillow, put my fingers in my ears and sing "La la lalalalalalalalalala".

I shocked myself (and, no doubt my poor mother who held my hand through many a teary near fainting experience with needles in my childhood) and learned to do it myself. It took me three or four preps to do it but I did.

Admittedly, there was a third option: have Todd give me the shots but let's be serious, love him though I do, he is a bit of a bull in a china shop. No way in Hell is he getting in the same zip code as me with a needle.

But even armed with all of these helpful things to lessen the side effects, it isn't going to be a picnic. And while I am excited to be making progress toward ridding myself of all the nasty buggers I would lying if I said I wasn't apprehensive about the chemo.

Tomorrow afternoon I go in to have my Port-o-Cath placed. I'll be under conscious sedation for the procedure so I'll be pretty loopy the rest of the day. Hopefully I'll be too fuzzy to dwell on the fact that I'll be pumped full of some nasty chemicals the next day.

So, yeah. Treatment starts in less than 48 hours... kinda' freaky. And this time I'll really pushing the boundaries of better living through chemistry because, let's be brutally honest, for me, it's living through chemistry.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Making Strides...

Unfortunately, I don't mean that I am making strides towards having a definitive treatment plan, you know, the kind with starts dates and that kind of semi-important stuff, although maybe (pretty please with whipped cream on top) more information along that line of things tomorrow.

No, actually I am talking about the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. I guess events, plural, would be more accurate. Making Strides is a series of walks held across the country by the American Cancer Society to raise money and awareness for breast cancer.

My "baby" sister, Betsy, decided to participate in the walk in Raleigh this coming weekend (October 3rd) as her way to feel she was "doing something." I think it has been really difficult for her, being clear on the other coast and not really feeling like she can help. I know I would would feel much the same way if our places were reversed.

I've heard from many of you back in NC and I know Betsy would love to have some walking partners so I'd like to encourage any of you that have flexible plans for the weekend to consider coming out and walking with her (sorry for the last minute notice- I'm a bad sister and didn't get this written until now... twenty lashes with a wet noodle for me!). There is no registration fee to participate though you are encouraged to make a donation and/or raise funds.

If you cannot participate yourself but would like to make a donation Betsy (and the American Cancer Society) would love that as well.

Here is a link to her personal Making Strides page where you can glean a bit more information about the event, sign up to participate, or make a donation:

For those of you out here in the suddenly rainy PNW with me, there is a walk this weekend in Bellevue which I am considering participating in myself though I won't be making a final decision for a couple days (see above referenced lack of information from medical team making my life difficult to plan *ahem*). And for you Californians, there are several upcoming events during October depending on where you live.

Anyway, just something to consider as we head into Breast Cancer Awareness Month (holy cow! is it really almost October? good grief.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not Sick. Sort of.

Cancer is weird.

In so many ways, I am no different from that person I was four weeks ago when I stood in the shower and felt a lump where there shouldn't be one. Yet so much is different.

Medically speaking, I have a disease.

Disease = Sick

I don't feel sick. I feel perfectly fine. Well, not perfectly fine, I mean, let's be honest- the 30+ extra pounds I've been carrying around since hatching the kidlets isn't exactly making me feel like I can conquer the world but it only is a slight damper on things- I still feel pretty darn good. Certainly not sick. Just like maybe I-should-cut-out-the-late-night-snacking-and-climb-on-my-elliptical-every-now-and-then-for-goodness-sakes fine.

If I had say... bronchitis, could I get up tomorrow and go for a run around Greenlake? Probably not. I have cancer. Could I get up and go for a run around Greenlake tomorrow? Most likely, aforementioned 30 pounds and hatred of running not withstanding.

Cancer is odd in that (in many cases) the disease itself doesn't make you feel debilitated (at least at first, obviously late stage cancers are a whole 'nother kettle of fish). Instead it is the treatment that can make you an "invalid". For just a second, in your mind, imagine a cancer patient.

Got the picture?

Is your patient bald?

I know in my mind she is. Isn't that odd? Cancer doesn't make you bald. Chemotherapy makes you bald. Not everyone who gets cancer has chemo and yet that bald head remains as an icon of cancer.

Where am I going with all this? I don't know... just stuff that's been running around in my head this week. I had 25 minutes to kill yesterday while I was in the MRI machine- the mind wanders.

Ahhhhhhhh... she mentions the MRI. That is why you are all reading this- to see how the MRI went, right?

Well, all of you except for the few poor souls who might actually expect there to be knitting on a knitting blog. For you, hang tight, I'll have something for you in the next post assuming no medical bombshells between now and then. For my sake, I hope there is knitting in the next post. I've had just about all the medical bombshells I can handle for now, thank you very much.

So back to the MRI. My MRI and ultrasound did get moved up a day early- many thanks to all of you who sent cancellation vibes out this way, it worked.

The actual procedures are really very unexciting (MRI- cramped, LOUD, did not like the IV contrast as it felt really cold and icky going through my veins; ultrasound- gooey gel combined with fuzzy pictures you can't understand without silly amounts of school) so I'll spare you the gory details.

The interesting part is the results. And, at least at first glance, the results look good. The ultrasound did not turn up any oddities in my lymph nodes and the initial scan of the MRI images showed no new areas of concern. I still need to get a final read of the MRI but for now I am cautiously optimistic.

I won't lie. I was incredibly nervous going in yesterday. I'm not sure if I've ever been that nervous before... maybe when I auditioned for NC School of the Arts but I'm not sure. Yesterday was the first time in this process where the news was not worse than I expected, and that was a Very Good Thing. I'd like to say I'm excited but since I don't have the final-final read, I'll just go with cautiously optimistic for now.

And so, now I can move on to treatment. To chemo.

I can be that bald person.

Even though the prospect losing my hair Freaks Me Out...

(like a really, crazy all out of proportion freak out: please oh please God- I love my ponytail! you can have my boobs but leave me my hair)

Get a grip, Katie!! It WILL grow back. So I can be that bald person. I can even be sick. Because sick and bald mean I'm making progress and progress is what it is all about.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Patience is Not My Virtue

I am an impatient person.

Did you hear that? I think I just heard my parents snort in amusement/understatement on the other side of the country.

It's somewhat ironic because I am also a terrible procrastinator. If there is something I need to do, say the dishes or a paper or some other potentially unpleasant task, I'll usually delay before getting around to it. Not so if it is something I want to do. In that case, woe to the person holding me back.

I bring this up because I am now at the end of Day 2 of the Great MRI Wait. As I wrote in the last post, I had hoped to get squeezed in at the end of the day yesterday (Wed.) and as it turned out they did have an appointment for me. Unfortunately, there was a small insurance snafu and the clinic couldn't get authorization for the MRI.

NOW, before someone starts spouting off about the nation's health care system, let me say that this snafu was the result of someone not doing his job and no matter who runs health care: private companies, the government, Lollipop Guild or Martians- there will always be a moron in a cube somewhere not doing his job.

Thankfully everything has been cleared up and I am all authorized to go lay in a big loud tube and hold very still (not my strong suit) while people take pictures of my innards- wheeeeeeeeeeee. good times.

However, the imaging clinic is now fully booked for the week. And so I wait.




I am scheduled for my MRI and ultrasound next Wednesday. In the meantime, while I fidget and tap my foot, my coordinator is checking for cancellations every couple hours and will reschedule me if some thing opens up. I really hope there is a cancellation because I'm not sure I can make it to Wednesday.

I guess while we're all sitting around twiddling our thumbs I can bore you with some more medical stuff.

In the last post I told you that I'll be doing chemo first followed by surgery but I was too tired to explain the treatment approach, let me see if I can explain it now. Bear with me, I need to work through some information first...

... and take notes, there may be a pop quiz.

I think almost everyone is familiar with the term "Stage", as in, "She has Stage II breast cancer." Stage is based on the size of your tumor and how far your cancer has progressed or spread in your body starting at Stage 0 (a very small tumor or precancerous mass) to Stage IV (spread to multiple organs). A term you may be less aware of is "Grade."

A quick explanation before I explain Grade: breast cancer can be in Situ which means it is contained within the duct or gland it began in or invasive which means that it has broken through the bounds of its original duct or gland and is spreading into the surrounding tissue. If left untreated, an in Situ cancer can become invasive.

Grade is a term which is used to further describe invasive cancers. It describes how your cancer cells look compared to normal cells when under a microscope. The more closely a cancer cell resembles a normal cell, the less aggressive it is:
  • Grade 1 - cancer cells appear almost normal, are generally "neatly" arranged and are not growing quickly; my medical oncologist described these as "lazy cancer"
  • Grade 2 - the cells appear somewhat abnormal but still maintain some semblance or organization
  • Grade 3 - the cells look abnormal, are disorganized (my medical oncologist described them as chaotic), and tend to spread and grow rapidly

If you remember from my last post, my cancer is Grade 3- lucky me.

As a result, is is probable that there are already cancer cells elsewhere in my body right now. Mind you, these are cells, not tumors (don't freak out) but a few stray cells here and there, kicking back and waiting to be evil. I suppose, if I am honest, there is the possibility that there are other tumors- otherwise we wouldn't be doing the chest MRI and lymph node ultrasound- but for now we'll be cheerfully positive and assume there aren't.

One last key piece of information- have I lost you yet? In my last post I referenced my Ki67 "score". Let me quickly explain this measurement. Ki67 is actually a marker that is present in cells that are actively growing and dividing but is not found in resting cells. A Ki67 percentage or score tells you, if you are looking at 100 cancer cells under a microscope, how many of them are actively trying to duplicate themselves at any given time. In my case, it's 85- anything above 26 is considered high. I'm trying to explain to my cancer that it has no need to be such an overachiever but thus far, it is ignoring me...

As I am sure you have gathered, the combination of an aggressively spreading cancer and a quickly replicating one is not ideal (don't try this at home kids!). Thus, in addition to treating the actual tumor in my breast we also need to address the potential presence of cancer cells in other areas.

The only treatment option that targets cancer cells everywhere in the body is chemotherapy. Radiation and surgery both only target specific areas. In order to make sure all the cancer cells are wiped out, I need to have chemotherapy.

I am choosing to have chemo first because this approach gives any stray cell less time to decide to become active. If the little buggers are floating around I want them eradicated before they decide to join the party.

In addition, postponing surgery until after chemo will actually be helpful in determining if my treatment is effective. By leaving the tumor (for now) my oncologist can actually track it and see if the chemo is working- if it is, the tumor should shrink, or at least not grow. If that doesn't happen, we know the course of treatment isn't effective and we can switch to different drugs. If the tumor is removed, you don't have a benchmark to measure against and you are basically assuming (hoping) the chemo drugs are working. Personally, I'm all for having hard evidence, hence pre-op chemo.

So that's the plan...

OK, I suppose I should go at least pretend to try to sleep even if all I'm really doing is staring at the ceiling while sending cancellation vibes to the MRI gods.

Good night!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Long Day

I didn't sleep well last night so forgive me if this post isn't terribly coherent- it was a long day and I am really tired.

Before I jump into some details I just want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have expressed your love and support. It means a great deal to me to know that you are all behind me forming a web of support that stretches across the whole country. The fact that some of you offered to get on a plane to come help me blows my mind! As I said to a couple close friends of mine over the weekend, "I love everybody!"

As I mentioned last night, today we met with my treatment team at SCCA: medical oncologist, surgical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. We were there for five hours with a one hour break. It was long and we are awash in information. I'm going to try to keep this relatively short because a) I want to go to sleep and b) I don't want to put you into a medical-ese induced coma.

So to start, the good news is that as it currently appears my long term prognosis is quite good. The bad news is that the next 6 months to a year is going to suck. All things considered, I'll take a crappy year in return for a positive prognosis.

The Medical Details...

If you get your kicks looking at medical terms here are the details (if you don't, just try not to let your eyes glaze over too much):
  • Cancer type: invasive ductal carcinoma (about 80% of all breast cancers fall into this category)
  • Cancer grade: Grade 3, unfortunately this is the most aggressive grade of cancer
  • Cancer stage: as yet unknown (more on this later)
  • Other info: ER, PR & HER2 negative (also known as a triple negative)
  • Ki67 Rate (cell proliferation rate): 85, this is really high (scale 1-100) and means my cancer is aggressive and can grow quickly

What It All Means...

Basically I have an aggressive form of cancer but it should be very treatable. It appears that I found the cancer early and given the aggressive nature, that is, as Martha says, A Very Good Thing. I do say "appears" because all the data is not yet in. I still need to have an MRI and an ultrasound of my lymph nodes before they can determine my cancer stage. The physical exams today did not turn up any additional lumps or bumps but the imaging will help determine if there are any additional masses in my breast or if the cancer has spread to additional locations (left breast or lymph nodes). SCCA is trying to squeeze me in for an MRI and ultrasound tomorrow but if that doesn't work out it will definitely be Thursday or Friday. If they find anything odd with the imaging they'll do a needle core biopsy right away. Fingers crossed that that is unnecessary! Once this last bit of information is known the doctors will assign a stage to my cancer.

Moving Ahead...

While decisions are final until all the information is gathered, in terms of treatment, I think will be taking a slightly different approach to things. Instead of having surgery and then chemotherapy, I am opting to have pre-op chemotherapy followed by surgery. I'm also going to have genetic testing done to see if I have any of the three breast cancer mutation markers (they can currently test for) as that might also influence my approach to surgery (the how much to remove question). This will be done this fall while I'm having chemotherapy.

I was going to explain all the how's and why's and what's of my treatment tonight but I find I am fading fast... I need to prop my eyeballs open at this point. Instead, I think I'll say good night for now and get back to explaining tomorrow.

For now, suffice to say that I left my consult with a very positive impression. I feel I am in extremely good hands medically and emotionally I know I have all of you cheering me on... What more could a girl want?

If you want a bit more explanation of the gobbley-gook in the medical details section, here are a couple links:

Good night!

Monday, September 14, 2009


I'm not sure where to begin. I've rewritten these first couple sentences seven or eight times now.

They aren't getting any better with practice.

I wanted a nice lead-in, to break the news gently but words fail me and I can't.

I have breast cancer.

I was diagnosed two weeks ago after finding a lump the week prior.

And to answer your question, I'm okay. I am really doing alright. Shocked? yes. This was not something I really worried about much. Skin cancer I worried about since I am fair skinned and my grandmother had it. Breast cancer was a distant worry after a whole host of other medical conditions. After all, we have no family history of breast cancer and I am, in the breast cancer realm, fairly young. But overall, I am feeling pretty calm.

I had a little meltdown yesterday in church (hence the tweet for those of you who saw it on twitter or facebook) but I am feeling better again. I have been overwhelmed by the expressions support and love I have received, I am so grateful for the kind thoughts and prayers.

I don't yet know the extent of the cancer or what my treatment will be. I find out more information tomorrow (Tuesday) when I go in for a five hour consult with my treatment team.

I anticipate writing more regularly as I go through whatever this journey brings me... after writing a bazillion emails and messages this past week to various family and friends I appreciate the concept of a central location for information dissemination.

Fear not, my crafting friends, that this blog will turn into a medical drama... there is still plenty of knitting and sewing to be had... and, frankly, medical terminology makes me squeamish.

So, yeah. That's my news. Sorry to be a downer. But it's going to be alright. It will.

And ladies? Make sure you are checking the girls!

PS. I know I owe a follow-up post regarding the malaria net fund-raising ($1400!!!!!! Y'all are A-Mazing!) with pictures and the giveaway winners but I was waiting for Father Crispin to return so I could have the whole story. He was supposed to be back two weeks ago but ironically, Fr. Crispin contracted malaria while he was in Kenya so he only just got back. I ask you to be patient for a little while longer and I will share everything about this awesome project soon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Absolutely Stunning!

I don't have time for a real post today but I wanted to stop in for a moment to say


Our little malaria net fundraiser has been successful beyond our wildest dreams. We have raised $1255.60!!! That is 251 nets. Unbelievable. Our priest was stunned and overjoyed when we saw him on Saturday and we told him the total (at that time "only" $1000).

I am overwhelmed by your generosity and concern. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

More later but right now I have to go intervene before the little ones bring the house down around our ears!

Friday, July 17, 2009

My New WIP: Preventing Malaria

As you know, I try my best to keep this blog fairly light. I rarely tackle anything remotely hard-hitting preferring instead to attempt pithy comments and amusing banter. However, something has come to my attention recently and so, here, in my first post after a long absence I am going to do something serious, something I actually HATE doing. I am going to ask you for money. Not much money, but money nonetheless. Believe me, I know this is a tough time to open your wallet but I hope the you will read on and you will help. I know it's a long post, please indulge me :)

My husband, Todd, and I are trying to raise $500 in the next week to help our parish priest and native Kenyan provide 100 families in rural Kenya with anti-malarial mosquito nets for their children. Right now, when times are tough economically you can still help, even a small donation of just $5 - roughly your daily triple, non-fat, caramel machiatto - can buy a mosquito net that will keep children safe from malaria carrying mosquitoes.

Much has been made throughout the blogosphere of the generosity of the knitting and crafting community. I am hoping many of you choose to donate $5 for a net (and hopefully more), but please donate what you can, any amount puts us closer to giving a family a life saving tool. It’s important to note that 100% of the money we raise will go directly to buying the nets. No overhead, no wasted donations. Just money to save the lives of poor children in rural, western Kenya from malaria.

Why Are We Doing This? A Little Background

Todd and I belong to St. John’s Parish here in Seattle where a year ago Fr. Crispin Okoth, a village priest from Kenya, became our parish pastor. Fr. Crispin has been a wonderful addition to our lives. Listening to him preach and share stories of his life in Africa has been touching and a powerful reminder of how privileged we are to live in the United States. He is a joyful man, an even humbler priest and a selfless humanitarian. The last is not surprising given that Fr. Crispin hails from the rural, poor village of Bar-Kowino in Western Kenya outside the town of Bondo.

Father Crispin at St. John's School

Bar-Kowino has a little more then 4,000 residents, not a single paved road, and only a simple medical clinic in the nearby town of Bondo without a full time doctor. According to Fr. Crispin, the average “house” is a hut where all the kids of the “house” sleep together on the floor on mats.

This is a poor community that can use all the help it can get and where a little help goes a long way.

The Kenyan Goes Home - to help his Mother and Village

Fr. Crispin’s mother is ill and so he tries to go home as much as he can which, given the cost and distance, is only once or twice a year. When he has the chance to go home, Fr. Crispin likes to not only help his mom, but also do what he can do help his village. Fr. Crispin is well aware that very rural areas are often over-looked by the Kenyan government and international charities due to the logistics of getting to remote locations. So he takes it upon himself to cut through the red-tape to bring whatever assistance he can to his village.

One of the things that is near and dear to his heart is the fight against malaria. Priests are often surrogate care-givers in rural, poor areas of the developing world. And, as such, Fr. Crispin has done his fair share of acting as a medical proxy. Unfortunately that has meant holding way too many children in his arms as they suffered and died from malaria. All told, more then 50,000 (!) children die form malaria in Kenya every year. For comparison, there is a global swine flu epidemic that has dominated news cycles and public attention yet has killed less then a 1,000 world wide. How is it that we yet overlook the tragedy of malaria, horribly deadly but easily preventable? No one should die from malaria.

When the subject of malaria came up in a recent homily, Katie & I were both struck by the horror of so many children needlessly dying. One of the most effective ways to prevent malaria is to have children sleep under medically treated mosquito nets. And even better they are cheap solution- only $5 each! It truly only takes $5 to keep mosquitos form infecting and possibly killing a household of children because, as Fr. Crispin told us when we asked, all the children can sleep together under one large net on their sleeping mats. Both of us had heard of large charitable efforts like the one run by the NBA to help provide malarial nets, why did that not have a greater impact? The answer is two-fold. First is simply the scope of the need for the nets, Africa is, after all, an enormous, highly populous continent. The second reason is logistics. It is simply easier to distribute nets in more urban areas. The further from a population center you are, the less likely your are to have a net. Sadly, you are also far more likely to have less access to health care as well, not a good combination.

After several dinner table discussions, Todd and I agreed that we would try to help Fr. Crispin help his community back home by providing him with money to buy nets for his village. We set a (we hope) reasonable goal of raising $500, enough money to purchase 100 nets. And now we need your help. Your donations will have an immediate impact. Fr. Crispin leaves for Kenya on July 26th and will be distributing the nets to the neediest families as soon as he arrives. We need the donations by the 22nd so Fr. Crispin can order the nets in Nairobi for pickup when he arrives. Again, all the money donated will be used to purchase the nets. So please, help us help the children of Bar-kowino.

Remember, $500 = 100 families protected. $5.00 is not very much money and here is a situation where you can truly get a lot of bang for your buck.

And, if the knowledge that you are saving lives is not enough reward for you, I am sweetening the pot. If you donate, I will put your name into the hat for a yarn giveaway. Not a knitter? Don't worry, non-knitters who win will be gifted a handmade item. Here are the details:

  1. Head over to the little Chipin widget on the right hand side of my blog.
  2. Donate! (THANK YOU!!!!!)
  3. Email me (dancingsheepnw [at], pm me on Ravelry (dancingsheep) or comment and tell me you donated (I'm not sure how much tracking Chipin let's us do so this will let me know who's donated). When you donate, your name goes in the proverbial hat.
  4. After the donations close I will hold a drawing and give away the following:

For Knitters, 4 prizes:

  • 2 skeins ShibuiKnits Sock in Pagoda plus a notions pouch made by me
  • 2 skeins Blue Sky Alpacas Organic Cotton in Sand plus a notions pouch made by me
  • 3 skeins Malabrigo Worsted in Emerald plus a notions pouch made by me
  • 1 skein Malabrigo Lace in Cuarzo plus a One Skein project bag made by me

For Non-Knitters (3 prizes):

  • a handknit hat and baked goods (TBD based on the winner's preferences)
  • a pair of fingerless gloves and baked goods
  • a cosmetic bag made by me and baked goods

I hope you all can help us with this new project.

Thank you for your help and consideration,

Katie & Todd

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lighthouses and Pink Cadillacs

What's been on my sewing table recently?

Napkins & Placemats.


I made my mom a set of mix & match napkins and placemats for Mother's Day. I found some fun fabric from Robert Kaufman with lighthouses and another with sailboats on it.


I thought they would be perfect for my parents to use down at the beach condo. I added a coordinating fabric for the backs of the napkins and used tan flannel to back the placemats. I was really pleased with the final product and my mom seemed to really like them. I am a little annoyed with myself for forgetting to take a picture of the lighthouse placement though... oh well.

What else am I making? Bags. Lots of bags. (this is probably self-evident but just in case you've been under a rock for the last few weeks...) Here's one I finished up last night:

Yellow martini AB Bag 2
Yellow martini AB Bag 7

I used some stashed Amy Butler Midwest Modern fabric for this bag and while I am not normally a big fan of yellow but I find this quite pretty. (which makes sense since I did purchase the fabric after all) I put this bag up on Etsy this afternoon so hopefully someone else will find it pretty, too.

I have also been lucky of have to have gotten a few commissions from several friends to make some new bags as well. Three of these are still in the planning/cutting stage (to be sewn this weekend) but I have one that is finished. Sort of.

MK Pouch 2

This is a cosmetic pouch I created for a friend of mine who reps Mary Kay and it is only "sort of" finished because I need to make another four. Apparently the bags that MK makes available to its reps are really small and not terribly useful so we came up with this instead.

MK Pouch

My friend will be using them in gift baskets and as a gift with purchase- I hope they work well for her. I am happier than I expected with results- I really like the clean lines and the contrast of the hot pink and black and white polka dots. The buttons definitely were needed, it looked a little naked before they were added. Yup. Makes me happy.

But what really makes me happy is the opportunity to work in this way. To have someone say to me, I trust you, here's an idea or some fabric, have at it. I really appreciate being able to exercise my creative muscles. So thanks you guys for giving me the opportunity!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Penguins & Playtime

I hope everyone had a fantastic time over the long weekend. We managed to get out and enjoy the sunny weather.

We headed over to Woodland Park Zoo to check out their new Humbolt penguin exhibit. It is really fantastic. The new exhibit represents a coastal fishing village in Chile or Peru and includes tide pools and nesting areas for the birds.


It's no longer just penguins swimming around either, there are all sorts of interactive parts to it:


Here's Gwennie the penguin warming the eggs in her nest.


And the whole thing was built to be green, using geothermal heating & cooling and filtering its own water for reuse.


Did you know there is a little playground at WPZ? I didn't. I must have walked past it a hundred times! Todd and the little ones introduced it to me on Monday. Very cute, all the activities are based on animal homes or habits.

Gwen enjoyed pretending to be a spider.

Both kids channeled their inner turtle for Aunt B.


And much time was devoted to running in, out, through, and over this burrow.



Typically Todd takes Gwen to the zoo while Matt naps on the weekends so it was nice to all get out together.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Hat Therefore I Am

A quick perusal of my projects page on Ravelry lead me to an interesting conclusion earlier today: I am not a knitter, I am a Hatter. With a capital H.

Of the 32 projects I've finished this year, a full 12 have been hats (that's 37.5% for those of you who are into math). You might think 12 hats is a full complement for a year. It is after all, one hat per month.

But no.

I have EIGHT (!!!!!!!) more on the needles. There is no other single category of knit items that even comes close to the dominance of the hats. Mitts are a distant second with 3 FO's and 4 WIPs. Or, if I combine scarves & cowls for a Neckwear category I have 2 Fo's and 7 WIPs.

Doesn't really matter. In my world of knitting, Hats Rule.

Ergo, I am a Hatter.

Who knew?

Still with me or did I drive you away with such minutia?

At any rate, I guess I like knitting hats. My kids certainly like wearing them:

Nottingham, Size Medium (Child)
Emerald Blue Malabrigo Merino Worsted
Size 6 Addi Turbos and Prym dpns

Toddler Republic Hat
Blue Surf Malabrigo Merino Worsted
Size 6 Addi Turbos and Prym dpns

I did cast on an extra ten stitches for the Republic hat as I was worried about it being to small.

The kiddos like them well enough. Now to put them away until it's hat season again.

So that's all the knitting for now. I also finished a square for a wedding blanket I am contributing to but I let it leave the house without taking a picture, oh well.

I need to work out some kind of balance between the sewing and knitting. As I do more sewing I get antsy about the knitting I'm not doing. Maybe once the shop is a bit more established I'll be better able to strike that balance.

In the meantime I've made bunches of zippered pouches like these:
Zippered pouches 2

And today I added a whole new bag style to the shop.
Project bags

More of these project bags to come as the weekend progresses.

Until next time, enjoy the long weekend and have a fun (and safe) Memorial Day.

Oh, and, Happy Birthday Todd!!! (a day early but he doesn't read this blog anyway... but just in case...)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Le Sigh

I've been wanting to post all week but I live in dread of the Pictureless Post. I mean, who wants to read? We just want pretty/cute/funny or, ok, adequate pictures to gaze at. And for some reason I just have not gotten a photo of Gwen in her new hat... Or of Matt in his newly finished hat either. I have pictures of something but until my mother confirms she received it I cannot reveal it here as I don't want to ruin the surprise... Come on, Mom, tick tock. Baby needs a new blog post. :)

But if I'm honest, it isn't the picture thing that is preventing me from posting, that's just an excuse. The real reason I am suffering from posting ennui is my blog. I very much want to change the layout, the colors, the banner, um, everything. I need to update the sidebars. Have you glanced over there? Dreadful. My project lists are as out of date as a 1968 Farmer's Almanac. And my book list? Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaah. We've covered a considerable number of works since that was refreshed.

I just need to suck it up and do it but I suffer from Do-It-All-itis. As in, I feel the need to have it all be better, fixed and perfect all at once. Now. Heck, yesterday. I have no patience for taking things one step at a time... so, until I reconcile my personality with my lack of time to devote to beautifying Ye Old Blogge I will just have to be content to grumble.

And while I'm grumbling, let me take on Blogger's comment system for a minute.

I hate it.

There. I said it. It sucks. I love when people comment here and it would be so nice if there was an easy way to respond. But there isn't. Unless you considered stalking easy 'cause that's the only way you can track down some of the commenters.

Blogger? Would it be so difficult to give us an email? Really?

And so, to Becky, who recently commented on an earlier blog post about my Irish Hiking hat and the changes I made: Yes, I will be sharing the info here- soon, I promise. I know I was actually able to recover that file off my hard drive so I'll put it on the list for next week.

Pictures next time, I promise.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Bottom of the Barrel

I've got nothing today.

Well, that's not exactly true. I've got stuff.

Like this:
Mar 4, 2009 005

Mar 4, 2009 004
Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret (for me)
Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Vaa

Or this:
Kristen's hat blocking

Deja vu! The second one was for a friend of mine. Still Malabrigo but the colorway is Taureg. This one is blocked, mine isn't. A nice knit. Obviously, or I wouldn't have made it twice no matter how Kristen might have "begged."

But really, the muse? She has left me and I just can't get motivated to try to say anything even remotely clever or amusing.

(note: if you don't feel that I am normally even remotely clever or amusing, please do not burst my bubble... I like my little fantasy world)

I want to share. I have lots of things percolating in the brain but sitting down to type? No appeal. I blame my laptop. It gave up the ghost a week ago and I haven't been the same since. Which is odd. I despised my laptop. It made me crazy (slow and cranky it was!). But. It was mine. And now I am forced to squat on my husband's old MacBook.


Not the same. I miss you cranky, slow, infuriating HP!

Anyhow. More soon. I made a hat for Gwen which is quite cute- I just have to get her to take a picture in sans that awful Fake Smile she has going right now.
Mar 6, 2009 012

Bleh. No good pictures unless I ambush her and that is hard to do if you want her to model something. She might be three but she's no dummy. "What? Oh, I know it's 65 degrees Sweet Pea, but I think you should wear this new hat Mommy made you anyway..." Uh huh. Like that's gonna fly.

And, Thank you! to everyone who has said nice things about my little enterprise. Everyone has been supportive and I've even managed sell a few things. I'm working on a few things and hope to have some fun new things to share next week. (I wonder if I could work "things" into this paragraph again? Oh look! I just did.)

And (last item I promise) in case I get all wrapped up in life and forget to post before Sunday: Happy Mother's Day to all my mommy friends and most especially,

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!

I have no idea how you did it and every day I grow more in more in awe of you (and Daddy, too) for the way you raised the three of us- thank you, thank you, thank you! Love you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Anybody been wondering why I've been such a busy little bee of late?


Well, too bad because I'm going to bore you with all the details anyway.

Last Friday I finally opened my very own Etsy shop: dancing sheep (of course!).

Right now I'm featuring a variety of little things but I have much more up my sleeves and hope to continue adding new products as inspiration strikes.

Zippered Pouches


Magnets (no idea why this photo changed direction, stupid Blogger)

And today I am giddy as school girl to have shipped out my very first order!

So exciting!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Step Away from the Self-Portraits and No One Gets Hurt

I'll be the first to admit that photography is not my thing. I have been blessed in many areas but holding a camera and making it take the picture I want isn't one of them. Unfortunately, as a knitter and crafter who aspires to have a semi-decent blog, I have to take photographs.

Most of the time I muddle through and by virtue of taking a zillion pictures, I come up with something usable.

April 20, 2009 020

This is the Infinite Monkey Theorem approach to photography. It works for me. Mostly. Unless I have an adult item I want modeled. Then I am forced, by virtue of a husband who, love him though I do, would surely roll his eyes at me if I asked him to photograph me wearing a newly completed knit, to employ the Dreaded Self Portrait.

April 20, 2009 007

Oh I know. I could set up a tripod and set the little 10-second timer and then I would, perhaps, come out with a picture that is somewhat more, well, photogenic. But let me be honest. Not happening. I barely get photos done as is. The extra steps would prove a barrier and I'd never take any pictures.

April 20, 2009 005

Hmmmm... Not really a great deal better.

So imagine my joy when, as I was wandering though Display & Costume a couple weeks ago, I stumbled across a cheap Styrofoam mannequin head! It is a small head, better suited to children's hats but for three bucks who am I to say "no"? I'm keeping my eyes open for a full sized head. No doubt I can easily find one with a quick Google search.

Whew, much better!

April 20, 2009 001

Malabrigo Chunky in Brisa
Size 10.5 Addi Turbo 16" circulars & dpns

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Daughter, the Tulip Killer

Over the years there have been times when I've asked my mom a question about my childhood and she's turned to me and said, "It was a good thing you were cute." This statement puzzled me. Huh? What did being cute have to do with anything? I just didn't get it.

Well, Mom, I get it. I understand. It only took the acquisition of two adorable but mischievous (intentionally or otherwise) children before I heard your words playing in my head, "Aaaaaaaarrrgh. It's a good thing you're cute..."

Any mother will tell you that no matter how much you love your children, sometimes they behave in a way that Just. Makes. You. Crazy. And then, indeed, it is a very good thing they are cute.

Case in point:
My poor tulips

Gwen loves flowers. To Death.

I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of my tulips since they were planted last fall. I love tulips and eagerly looked forward to the day when I could step outside, cut a few blooms and bring the colorful vibrancy inside with me. It is not to be. At least in the backyard where Gwennie has shown herself to be even more eager than I am to enjoy the flowers. Poor things were plucked from the ground before they could bloom.

Thank goodness for the fence that prevents her from ravaging the flowers in the front yard.
April 15, 2009 009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Successful Hunting

Egg hunting that is. Saturday we took the little ones to the Bunny Bounce at Woodland Park Zoo.


Gwen moved up from the Toddler area to the "Big Kid" area so I was a bit worried she might have trouble holding her own.

I need not have worried.

Everyone had a good time and we topped off the egg hunting with a turn on the carousel.

I haven't said much about it here but I have been doing a lot of sewing. Here is my favorite creation to date:
Simplicity Pattern 2674

Gwen's Easter dress. Cute blue (her Favorite color) "Baby Bunny" fabric is from Lakehouse Dry Goods.

My only modification was the placement of the ribbon, not a big deal. I thought the pattern was well written and explained. My only criticism would be the lack of detail for setting in the sleeves... That was the hardest part and had virtually no detail... or it could have been my lack of sleep catching up with me. At any rate, I am pleased with the dress and Gwen loves it so all is good.

Even if she is a total goof ball.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

But What Exactly am I Doing?

I don't know about any other moms out there but I feel like I am busy All. The. Time. Which is to be expected, I guess, when you are trying to take care of a couple little ones and yourself and the house and the cats and meet your outside obligations and manage take care of your husband and all the other myriad things we need to do. Busy is okay. What bothers me is that I don't always feel like I have anything to show for it. How can I be so tired at the end of the day and feel like I never stopped and yet, if someone were to ask me, "What were you doing?" I'm not sure I could come up with an answer. I look around, and yes, the kids are fed and (mostly) happy but my house is a mess and I have to scramble to find clean clothes in the morning... I don't know. I'm sure this is a common feeling (don't burst my bubble if it isn't!)... I guess if I gave up knitting, crafting and the other little things that keep me sane I could have an organized house but then I wouldn't be much fun to live with so for now, until a resident house elf moves in I'll just have to deal.

So, yup. Busy, busy, busy. Just don't ask for the details.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Spring has Sprung?

Mother Nature is ignoring my (not so) silent pleas to end the cold dreariness and bring on the sun, already. Damn her. I am so very ready to don some fresh spring togs and enjoy the sunshine. At least today we have not had any of that lovely slushy mush that greeted us yesterday morning.

It has occurred to me that Mother Nature is perhaps withholding my spring until I perform a Spring Cleaning of some sort. Little does she know who she's playing chicken with... Bring it on Mommy Nature!

In lieu of any real spring I have been trying to manufacture one instead, or at least some springy items.

Mar 2, 2009 003

Cherry Garcia by Adrian Bizilia
Malabrigo Chunky Merino in Brisa
Size 10.5 - 16" Addi Turbo Circular

This was a super quick knit: one day, cast-on to bind off. In the Malabrigo Chunky the cowl is super soft and squishy. It will definitely keep the winter (or spring) chill away.

Zune Cozy

Zune Cozy by Michelle Mooney
Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Vetiver (green) & Paris Nights (navy)
Size 5 & 7 dpns

So admittedly not as springy as the cowl but it does house my happy pink Zune so that counts right? Another quickie knit (I am clearly in instant gratification mode), I think this took me a couple hours at knit night so under non-distracted circumstances I'm sure it could be cranked out lickety-split.

Now here is something genuinely springy:

April 2, 2009 006

Flowers! I adore fresh flowers and wish I could afford to have arrangements in my house all the time but alas... perhaps when I win the lottery. I made the above arrangement yesterday at my MOPS meeting (Mothers of Preschoolers). I had such fun. Normally I indulge in a riot of color when I put together a floral arrangemnet but yesterday green was speaking to me and I decided to try the monochromatic/tone-on-tone look. Pretty darn good if I'm allowed to toot my own horn.

That's Beezer the Cranky One in the background. She is a floweraholic. I have to make sure to put any and all flowers out of her range or they become a kitty snack. And I do mean Any and All. She has been known to consume silk flower arrangements in their entirety. Yup. Silk flowers. Not quite the brightest bulb, our Beezer.