Monday, December 31, 2012

Countdown to 2013

2013 is hours away and I am excited. The total toll of 2012 was rough, but it left me with two things: improved physical condition, and a better heart.

Back in the spring, an $11 per month gym caught my attention. Just five minutes from my house and open 24 hours per day, every day of the year, it overcame all of my barriers to exercise.  When I began I chose a few minutes on the treadmill and a few strength-building weight machines.  I gradually worked up to 20-30 minutes on either the treadmill or recumbent bike, and a regular sequence of upper and lower body weight machines. It only took a month of twice weekly visits for me to notice an increase in leg strength.  My endurance increased rapidly, too. I had to stop for a while in late summer and early fall due to a series of skin Candida infections, but I didn't lose the benefits. As I finish the year, I can climb stairs using both legs without relying on the handrail, I can go down stairs without a rail to check my balance, and I get off the floor much more easily.

This conditioning was the basis for my ability to work more frequently at the market. It takes strength and endurance to load and unload, set up and take down all the equipment to make my store each week. In the past I could only do it with a significant amount of help. Now I can go to market alone and handle all my equipment, and a day of working in my store doesn't make me take to my bed for the next three days.

It still remains that my illness can crop up at any minute and change my plans and keep me down for weeks, but it doesn't deplete my strength to the point that I must start from scratch and feel so disabled for so long.

The other benefits are probably obvious - I can get out more with friends, do household chores and run errands, and the additional strength is a confidence builder.

This other thing-the better heart-is a trickier concept. First, let me say that I don't believe that "What does not kill me, makes me stronger".  I don't know what Nietzsche was talking about, but I rarely see anyone who damn near died feeling stronger, at least not for a long time. So I don't mean that the crap we were mired in this year left me a stronger person. Instead, the ring of loving people around me helped to protect me from the pervasive crap, and with that protection, I was allowed to grow and do some good and not sink into the mire. Having that special ring of friends and family is a palpable thing for me-in my mind I can feel their love and support, and I know they wish me well. They buoy my daughter and me, share their own strength and heart, so I am not depleted. God is also there, making us all better than the molecules that form our flesh. She infuses us with the desire to stay alive and make life count, to stay connected and be part of that caring circle, feeling and supporting and giving, communing, and altogether radiating something lighter and better.

2013 is for that lighter, better thing. Peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The End of the World

I anticipate the coming of every new year, usually because I expect it to be the best yet. I must admit that 2012 was very difficult, and I look forward to 2013 mainly because this year will end.

The major problem this year has been our financial strain. It is no secret that the recession (read major depression) of 2008 depleted my nest egg to a level that changed our standard of living. We adjusted our budget, sold the big house and moved into town and into a small but comfortable place that should serve quite well for one or two people. That seemed to work until medical bills began to pile up. Having two chronic illnesses in a family takes its toll. I've been reminded again and again that the USA is unique among western nations in failure to provide adequate health coverage (read universal health care) for its citizens. 

For most of the year I lived with the strain of knowing that if this country elected a Republican candidate, things were likely to get much worse. With the measures the GOP planned, I would need to sell my house and move to an apartment, it would end of my daughter's opportunity to complete a college education, and we'd suffer a lack of access to the expensive drugs that keep our household running.

Having a daughter who is a young woman now, I also dreaded the almost daily announcements coming from Republican lawmakers who were pushing to take away her right to equal pay, adequate preventive health measures, and her right to determine for herself when it was right and healthy to have a child. Politicians from the far right were calling her nasty names for being a woman and preventing fellow women from standing up to protect her-even women who were elected officials. 

I felt all of this as I came to the realization that being African-American in this country was not as safe as I had come to believe. The racism was palpable during President Obama's entire first term, but worsened and became more open as he campaigned for a second. 

The election is over, and we have breathed a collective sigh of relief - those of us who wanted good common sense and adherence to the principles this country was founded upon...those who accept diversity and abhor hatred...those who understand that basic services and rights for all citizens make a more productive, fair, prosperous nation. 

The thing is, removing the immediate threat hasn't brought me back to my usual unstressed normal. At times it has felt like the end of the world, and the fatigue that follows a period of severe fear and anxiety doesn't recede with a single night's sleep. 
So...I hope that the physical and mental exercise of writing "2013" will be therapeutic for me. 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Evaluating a New Treatment

Often I am asked about the latest new miracle cure someone has seen in the news or on the Internet. I give the same basic information. There are certain criteria that you can use to evaluate any treatment you encounter. The following is a reply to a friend who asked me about a "cure" for fibromyalgia. I have fibromyalgia (in addition to lupus) and I know it to be a debilitating, painful condition, although not a fatal one. It doesn't surprise me that a patient would search tirelessly for relief. That makes it even more important to think twice when you come across a newly acclaimed therapy. Desperation should never make you fall for a hoax.

Dear _____:

Here's the deal.

Doctors in practice like positive results. Everyone wants to make their patients better, with a minimum of side effects. If a new treatment is promising, and has good research to support it, most doctors will be using it. Anything that hasn't reached that use is because there is some solid reason: either it doesn't work, or it is too dangerous.

I checked out the information on line about Dr. St. Amand's treatment. A tell-tale sign of an illegitimate claim is that it disparages all other possible treatments. Dr. St. Amand's information clearly tries to discredit other treatments for fibromyalgia that have been shown to be effective and that are widely used.

I looked up guaifenesin in some medical references. It has no actions that would help fibromyalgia. It's action is solely on the formation of mucus in the lungs. Fibromyalgia is a disease that affects sensory nerves and the way pain is perceived in the brain. Moreover, guaifenesin is broken down in the liver. Many other drugs that are used to treat auto-immune disorders and fibromyalgia are metabolized in the liver, so adding to its work with another, unnecessary medication is not wise. In addition, guaifenesin is broken down to make lactic acid, a toxin produced by muscle work. What could be worse for fibro?

Don't forget that there is a placebo effect with any medication. I'm sure Dr. St. Amand could find a roomful of people with fibro who had a placebo effect on his regimen and reported feeling better. That doesn't mean the drug works.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Amigurumi Fever

I plead guilty to being AWOL for weeks and weeks. No excuse except the business of life. The busyness of life, too. Since I last wrote I have been 
A-advancing my health by going to the gym
L-living more fully in the spiritual realm
I-initiating a new line of products (more below)
V-very much into cultivating a new relationship (no more below)
E-ever so guilty about neglecting this empty space when I have plenty of words in my head


Amigurumi are adorable stuffed creatures first designed in Japan, more often crochet, sometimes knitted. They feature tight little stitches, oversized heads, and some degree of anthropomorphism (giving human characteristics to non-humans). Beyond that, different makers use different techniques that give their creations the characteristics that they prefer.

I have promised myself for years that I would start making amigurumi. I hesitated because I knew it would take learning some new techniques and I wasn't sure I would enjoy them. A classmate from high school asked me about making them during the holidays, and I put the task in front of me more seriously. I ordered a book on making the cute little suckers and wound up with some basic instructions for the typical body parts - head, trunk, legs. I developed my own ways of dealing with other anatomical features - ears, eyes, bent limbs, tails, hair. As I began to make them, certain rules took root. I didn't want to use plastic sew-on or stick-through eyes. I liked leaving my creatures relatively unadorned and naked. I wanted fantasy colors-a person could be pink or green or orange, and so could dogs, lizards, birds, and every other creature. My people would be unisex. Some creatures would be missing body parts, just like in real life. 

Enough talk. 

I've made dozens of these now. Every so often I take out all the unsold ones and set them up on a table and they have a little amigurumi party. It makes me happy.


Monday, June 4, 2012

A Vest Design

Okay, this is freaky. When I first began to design things to knit, I was excited but apprehensive. I wondered if my design instinct was intact, if my creations had any validity. I was aiming for some originality and whimsy, even in the things that were simply made. I wanted my work to be functional and comfortable but not boring, and as always, fiber choice was supremely important. I am still excited but less worried as time goes on, and today I saw something that totally validated my efforts (to me, at least).

Two years ago, in April, I drew a diagram (top photo) and sketch for a vest with crossing front panels and a solid back. Above is my diagram and notes in my stitch 'n bitch design journal. I wanted it to be a little loose and flowy.  Today I opened my Tahki Stacy Charles newsletter to find the photo above, which they call "Tokyo Vest". It is a free pattern available on their site.  The back of their vest is made from two parallel panels (extensions from the front) joined by a narrow band down the middle. Mine is a single piece with V-neck. My front pieces were made for diagonal knitting, not straight as those shown on the Tahki pattern.

Now I must make my vest a reality by finishing the design with the textured lacy panels I envisioned; it has to be knitted into existence. So cool!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blocking Again

I just finished knitting a shawl for my sister. She knits, but mostly garter stitch rectangular things. She purchased the kit in some distant passion for the rainbow of colors, and brought it to me when it proved to end with more than 1,000 stitches per row and require juggling eight or nine colors of yarn. It is the Merging Colors Adagio Shawl, which comes only as a kit from Strickwear and is sold at yarn stores.

I photographed the finished shawl in its "raw" form:
It has a lovely curved neck edge which should make it easier to wear. The ruffled bottom edge is quite a lot of ruffling (and bright yellow) to end at butt level. Just sayin'.

So, I Soaked it (yep, soaked it in Soak, my favorite for fine knits):
After the soak, I pressed out some water without wringing, then put the whole soggy thing in a bath mat and walked on it. No, I did not photographed the flattened sausage of bath mat and shawl.

My daughter gave me tremendous help with the blocking. It took my whole queen-size bed to provide a large enough-barely!-surface, and we covered it with blocking pads. Even so, the lateral edges at the front extended off the 4-foot wide blocking platform and onto the blanket below.  We began by placing a blocking wire through the center stitches from top to bottom. The rest of the blocking proceeded by pulling sections out to their full extent, matching them with their opposite side (mostly eyeballing and using the mat edges as reference points) and pinning them. There was lots of re-pinning as we pulled and shaped additional sections until we were satisfied with the entire shape.  It was a job so massive I ran out of pins. We saved the process by threading a yarn needle with cotton/linen yarn and taking large stitches in the ends of the shawl that we would have pinned. It pays to have a Girl Scout background. Do the best you can with what you have. I am a master at improvising and making do.  Here is the blocked piece:

Finally, a close-up of our improvised pinning method:

You can see that we were well off the edge of the blocking mats by then, so I was sewing my giant stitches into a couple of blanket layers.

Whew!  I will post one more photo tomorrow after it is dry, pins are removed, and it can be modeled.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Political Knitting

I feel like writing. Sometimes I consider why I want to write rather than have a conversation. There are practical reasons, of course. Sometimes there's no one available to talk, rather, the people I could have the intended conversation (specific topics supposed) are not available. But other times, it boils down to this - I want to speak my mind. I frequently hear the uninitiated say that they don't "get" blogging. Blogging at its broadest is speaking your mind publicly, and giving others the opportunity to respond. It is inviting the world into your head and opening your mind for others to join the conversation.

In open conversation about political topics, it seems that these days I encounter many people with "feelings" and not so many with "facts". It appears that our society is accepting "feelings" as a legitimate basis for action in preference to looking at facts. With my science training and rigorous medical background, I often have to seal my lips to avoid saying rude, intolerant things to these people who feel so much. For the purpose of any conversation that takes place here, in my own blogging domain, I won't seal my lips. Diamonds are hard - one of the hardest substances in the world. Your feeling that a diamond is soft, stated without valid scientific proof, will not be accepted.

There's lots of discussion about the GOP proposed budget. It has some provisions that are scary. As usual, the GOP seems to be peddling hypocrisy. The Center for American Progress Action Fund said this about the budget's proposed tax decreases on the rich: "To put these large and costly tax cuts in perspective, consider this: For the additional $3 trillion in tax cuts proposed by the House budget, we could prevent all the cuts that Rep. Ryan suggests to nutrition assistance, Medicaid, and other domestic investments for children, veterans, and struggling families—and still make a dent in our deficit. But because of these enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, the House plan still fails to produce significant real deficit reduction—one of their stated priorities."  This bit of hypocrisy lines up well with all the micro-managing of women's health. After all, the stated goal of decreasing the role of government in our lives is somewhat undercut by legislation controlling our use of birth control and abortion services.

These days my knitting has new significance. I am knitting for political reasons. I'm not talking about the issues I discussed in my recent blog post about knitting uteri for legislators. I'm talking about the fact that the income from my knitting has become crucial. Federal and state support for higher education is withering, and my daughter is in college. My health care is provided by Medicare, and the GOP budget proposes to radically change it (not for the better, of course). My daughter's chronic illness qualifies her for Medicaid (TnCare) health insurance, and the GOP will allow the states to gut that. Given these looming financial bombs, my Social Security check isn't going to stretch to cover a decent life. That provides tremendous motivation as my fingers work on the cute little handbags and soft baby blankets that I will have on my Market table and in my Etsy store. And the fingers WILL work. I can not afford to be sick.


Monday, April 2, 2012

No Politics Today

No politics today. I could go on about the effect this political climate is having on me, but suffice it to say that it is significant enough that I need periodic breaks.

No secret that I have spent some time on dating sites. Several have long lists of questions that you can answer in order to provide potential mates a clue into your personality, lifestyle and desires. You cannot see a match's answer unless you also submit an answer to that question, and vice versa. Some guys tire of this quickly, and you see one, six, fourteen questions answered. Others, like me, seem to put their hearts into it, both in hopes of revealing themselves and so that they can learn more about their matches.

I've been interested in the observation that some questions seem to draw the same answer from nearly all men-or at least the ones that are deemed "appropriate" for me by some matching algorithm from the dating gurus. For instance:

1. Almost all men answer the question "What animal would you like to be (four possible answers) with lion." I guess they want to be tough and protective and roar, but what about flying? My choice is bird.

2. Every man says "Yes" to "Would you like to have sex outdoors?" What about mosquitoes, ants and dog poop? Some of them mention the beach, but the thought of two grains of sand in my lady parts makes me writhe in agony.

3. Every man says "Yes, I'd love to date a 40 year old virgin" without asking "Why?" Only one stopped to think about what could possibly lead one to that condition.

4. All the men claim to make their beds daily, do laundry weekly, and they swear there's never more than one plate in the sink. Might I gently say "Liars!"

5. Each one says he would give up his dog for an allergic potential mate. Seriously? Who would want a man that would ditch his dog? There are plenty of good allergy medicines on the market.

6.  Every man seems to feel that if a woman has children his age, she is off limits. Sad for all those 80 year old chicks who want pre-Medicare partners.

7. None of these guys knows whether he talks in his sleep. Not one! Does this mean they've been sleeping alone all their lives?

8. None of them admits to swearing, except perhaps when they are alone.

9. They all say they are self-conscious in swimwear. Funny, I feel just fine about getting in a swimsuit.

I would caution you that this is a group of men hand-picked to be reasonably liberal, age 52-70, all ethnic origins and religions, from 5 ft to 7 ft tall. If they fall outside that range, I can't comment.

Peace. Nonpolitical peace, that is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Law and My Uterus

The Government Free V-JJ Facebook site is marshaling the efforts of hundreds of women who are knitting, crocheting and sewing lovely lady parts to send to legislators. The idea is to send that person one of his/her own to play with, so they will stay out of ours. You can't fail to notice the unending stream of anti-women health legislation being passed. There's everything from performing unnecessary ultrasounds and verbal warnings before pregnancy termination to instructing doctors to lie to their patients to refusing Planned Parenthood services with the consequence of cutting millions from a state health care budget.

I write letters and circulate petitions but I needed a way to be more active on this issue, which has my blood boiling. My lovely pink hand-knit uterus (a little lumpy to represent the family fibroids) is going to Senator Bob Corker. My letter below explains why:

Dear Bob,

You may be surprised to find the enclosed knitted uterus and fallopian tubes in your own mail, since you have not been a loud voice in support of attacking the health care rights of women. I have selected you as recipient for two reasons. First, you have been a consistent and vocal opponent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Fiscal concerns aside, the Act markedly increases access to preventive care, reduces the availability and cost of health care for women, and adds accessibility for those with pre-existing conditions, all good things for Tennesseeans. Second, you have not spoken out against the rampant proliferation of medically unsupportable, intrusive, misogynistic attacks on women's health care that are occurring with startling frequency in state and federal legislation. Surely, as a husband and father of two young women, you must dread the expansion of government into women's personal medical matters, especially considering that in a different political atmosphere this may set precedent for the legislation of procedures or care measures that are just as objectionable to you as abortion currently is.

I appreciate your focus on issues that are of great concern to your constituents, especially fiscal responsibility and jobs creation. I do hope you will, as one of the more practical, scientific-minded and reasonable men in your party, use your influence to effect a better attitude towards women's health care in your colleagues. The uterus is a reminder for you to do just that.


Essie Bruell, M.D.
Chattanooga, TN

Meanwhile, I am wondering where are the doctors? Aside from one anonymous soul who opened up in a blog interview on transv-ginal ultrasound, and a wonderful practitioner in Alabama who has drafted simple legislation to block these kinds of measures, I do not see or hear the expected outcry. We who are so vocal about our abuse at the hands of insurance companies are oddly quiet under the onslaught of this legislation. Where at least are the female doctors? Where is the army of Obstetrics & Gynecology doctors whose practices are solely to care for women? Where are the doctors with wives and daughters and nieces and grand-daughters, some of whom will most certainly be affected by these misogynist measures? Do we not see that if we can't reverse this legislation, we may be legislated out of existence? Think what a corps of physicians trained under the slippery slop of this legislation would be like. In Tennessee we're waiting for the Governor to sign a bill that will allow any teacher in public school to teach what he or she believes about science - Creationism, misinformation about health and family's it going to be when similar legislation hits the public colleges and universities, and forms the basis of medical training?

Yes, I know. It's easy for me to talk, because I haven't practiced in several years. I have systemic lupus (yes, primarily a disease of women) and I don't have to live by the hard decisions. But I fail to see what's hard in sticking with the mandate WE trained with: to first, do no harm. There is nothing more important than providing good medical care. We've got to pick up our pens and write the letters and sign the petitions and inform one another and be as perfect at civil disobedience as this legislation requires. We cannot let our patients down.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Knitting for Turtletots

I am knitting with acrylic yarn. Gasp, frown, sigh. I know. This is not my favorite material to handle. I have one project ordered for a mother of small children who needs easy, easy care and some balls of acrylic yarn let from one of my daughter's art projects. It is not as bad as the last time I used 100% acrylic, some years ago. These yarns don't squeak on my needles or have that unreal shine that screams "ACRYLIC". They even feel a bit woolly, at first. After working with them a few minutes, my fingers realize that there's no plush, malleable, live feeling to this yarn.  It is round, plied, lofty looking, but there's no squish to it.  It feels comfortable and non-scratchy, but I can't help thinking it would be better suited to a rug or mattress in its incompressible durability.

One of these projects will soon show up in the Turtletots store as a lime green child's sweater. It looks great as I am knitting, almost like the stitches are made by machine. Stitch definition is very nice, and all those decorative purl rows are standing out beautifully.  If only I could close my mind to the environmental horror of using all those hydrocarbons to make the acrylic, I might be completely satisfied.

I am in the middle of one of my famous all-winter-long flares. I had these before I was on Rituxan. I remember so clearly missing every single football game that my boys played in, and sometimes being unable to go to see family on Christmas day. This is the first one since Rituxan, and it may signal that the drug is no longer working for me. I've decided to tackle that from two angles. First, I am back on daily prednisone. If I need it, I need it. Period. Second, I've come back to reading Dr. Mark Hyman and I'm planning to jump on his newest group plan and stay on an intensive anti-inflammatory diet. My book hasn't arrived and his website will only open a preview of the plan, but I am predicting what it will be like from one of his earlier books, Ultrametabolism. My early interest in him was enhanced by the way he dove into the science of weight management. His suggestions relied on the latest studies and discoveries about the complex way our bodies take in and metabolize foods.  I'm hoping that this new one will incorporate the last decade of work, as there is much more to consider.

Meanwhile, I am knitting the pieces I mentioned as well as hats for nieces and adorable things for my Turtletots store. The pink hat and peach sweater are both organic cotton. I started making heliotrope flowers after my daughter showed me her extensive heliotrope crochet projects from class. I'm stocking this store with things I love and love to knit.

Lastly, an executive decision. No more boutique knitting if it requires me to put boutique prices on my etsy stores. I set out to make hand knit items accessible to most incomes, and I'm going back there. All the prices in my stores will be lowered by the end of the week. Whew! Feels good!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

After the First Treatment

Many years ago when I attended Baptist church, they listed the "sick and shut-in" members in the program every week.  Right now, I have made myself a shut-in for ten days to try and improve the success of my chemotherapy treatments.  I had a treatment last week.  It went well and I am already improving, seeing the flare dissipate.  In the past, sometimes I've had the second treatment delayed by minor infections and ailments.  I am trying to avoid that by staying home, away from foreign germs and out of trouble until the next treatment.  I only have to make it another eight days.  I went to knitting with my buddies two days ago and then realized that might not be wise.  I am pretty sure that getting off schedule with these treatment makes them less effective.  The cell killing has to take place at a certain time to hit the greatest number of them. 

It might sound like I am suffering in my isolation, home with no company, no fun.  Hah!  One of my sisters just left after hanging out with me for a while. We were on line looking for little Valentine's gifts for the teachers at a school where she volunteers.  After my sis ran a couple of errands for me, she picked up a turkey burger for my lunch.  Now I'm going to knit little heart pins to go in the teacher gift bags. has a pattern that works well if I use thinner yarn and size 3 needles.  

Anyway, I am better, the medicine is working, and that's how treatment should be.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...And So It Goes-More Disease, Less Romance

Could my topic be more depressing?  There's a reason I don't like to blog when I am sick.  I hate the lists of symptoms and complaints and canceled activities and extra doctor appointments and new or increased meds.  I figure others hate reading about it as much as I hate writing it.  But I have promised not to sugar coat this lupus thing, and the only way to adhere to that is to be true to the real battle.  So...

I had a long flare last November.  I had to take prednisone (corticosteroid treatment) for a whole month to get it calmed down.  I had previously been able to stop prednisone altogether, and the weight was melting off me like an icicle in June.  The big dosing and long taper stopped that.  When I saw my doc again, 5 of 16 pounds was back.  That same visit, just a few weeks after ending the big prednisone, my sacroiliac joints were showing some inflammation.  They hurt like hell whenever I stand or walk if they are inflammed, and direct injections of steroids into the joint area is the only effective treatment for me.  So I got injected-one big needle at the top of each buttock-in December.

The first three weekends of December were the only Chattanooga Market sessions I could attend, but they were the holiday markets and I enjoyed them immensely.  I seemed to have some respite from my symptoms as I interacted with customers, friends and market folk.  I knitted during the market hours, went home and produced as much as I could before the following weekend.  My stock of fingerless gloves seemed to disappear at each market session, and I was making up to ten pair per week, rising at 4 a.m. to buy some extra knitting time.  By this time, those gloves were made without planning or diagrams or notes.  I have developed a consistent way of building my gusset (that triangle that makes room for the thumb base) and I use designs that can be easily read, so I can make sure the second glove looks like the first.  I had a lovely time with all the ribs, intricate stitch patterns, columns of lace, cables and spirals that came from my head without much thought.  I knit in every weight from sock yarn to chunky, and every pair but one had a real gusset and thumb base, rather than just a slit for the thumb.  If I had to pick a favorite yarn for fingerless gloves, it would be Aslan Trends Bariloche.  Or Koigu Kersti.  Or Karabella Aurora 8.  Something like that.

Christmas fun truly started with the markets and continued as my daughter came home, my son made a drive-by, one-night visit, and we had our first Christmas in the Woods house without Mama or Daddy.  My sister did a remarkable job of getting a bunch of family together, amassing mountains of great food and keeping things festive enough to take the focus off the parental absence.  In truth, Christmas hadn't been truly a family event in that house for a few years, as the parents became weaker and less able to tolerate company.

Somewhere in that December whirlwind my relationship ended.  It was an amiable parting, sad but inevitable.  And that's enough of that.

January is doing its best to remind me that I have lupus and that lupus ain't pretty.  The sacroiliitis that quieted with previous injections came blazing back.  I cannot stand for three minutes, and my slow, labored walking is hampered by the feeling that my lower back is made from brick.  Because of its severity, my doc has agreed to move the rituximab treatment up by a month.  Tomorrow I will go have my long day of tests and IVs, and hopefully next week I can sing a brighter tune.