A little something silly for Friday...Fanny works hard for her beautiful fur:
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Well, here I am! I'm at a benchmark place and feel it is high time I catch you up and share an allergy/health update. For anyone who might need the back story or want a refresher, you can see my full set of allergy posts here.
To recap, here a quick summary and timeline of what happened:
mid-June - get really sick with rashes, swelling, itching, exhaustion, pain, swollen lymph nodes and seem to lose the ability to regulate my body temperature
June and July - try to figure out what is wrong, go to my acupuncturist, my primary care doctor, an allergist, 2 dermatologists, do lots of research on my symptoms, am subjected to lots of testing and appointments and presciption medications that do not help or provide any answers. have short bouts of seeming to get better only to get much worse again.
August - hit my wall and accept a prescription for oral prednisone. it provides much relief but no answers. get on waiting list for an appointment with a contact dermatitis specialty clinic for testing
September to mid-October - taper off of prednisone in preparation for contact allergy testing, symptoms return
mid-October - contact allergy testing
late- October - get results from testing but healing does not begin due to negligence from the doctor
Ok, so I guess that wasn't a "quick" recap!
After getting my test results and subsequently being mislead by my doctor, I decided to do everything in my power to get better and to depend on myself to get there. I realized that giving myself the best chance at the quickest recovery possible was going to mean that I needed to become an expert STAT! I needed to understand (and limit/control, when possible) everything I came into contact with because any exposure to an allergen jeopardizes my recovery. Since I had been continually exposed to my allergens, I was told to expect multiple months of recovery time before my body finds a stable place.
Armed with my list of allergens, I hit the internet. Google, google, google away! I learned so much in such a short time! My biggest challenges included a list of allergens that are seemingly omnipotent and a lack of understandable/accessible information about products. I did a lot of trial and error with products at first. My allergens are found in nearly every personal hygiene product, laundry, cleaning products and medicines, so I tried a lot of DIY options. And, as I found out through trial and error, sometimes I react to products that don't contain my allergens. I think my body has become so sensitized through the months of exposure to allergens that it just can't handle much of anything right now. By January 2nd, I was done with the trial and error and had developed a set of extremely pared down products that addressed my (extremely!) basic needs.
For the last 2 months, I have exclusively used the following products:
Showering is where I was regularly dosing myself with allergens and thus has undergone the biggest transformation. My shower stall is bare! After trying a ton of shampoo/conditioner options including a ton of natural versions, I needed to cut it all out. I use water. That's it! I also installed a shower filter but I am not sure if it is making a difference. The only products in my shower are Dr. Bronner's Unscented Shaving Gel and a razor that I had to really work to find. I was not able to find ingredients for the moisturizing strip on my razor blades nor could I find that information out for any of the razor blades on the market. So, I searched long and hard for a razor and razor cartridge situation that did not involve any strips or soaps or fanciness. I'll be honest, it is not an ideal shaving situation, but it is getting me by.
Ok, so let me go back to my proclamation about my water-only showering strategy. Crazy, right? It turns out I am not the only one on this radical boat. A lot of people are turning to that option for the same reasons I am: medical ones. But, there are also a lot of people who are switching in order to avoid all of the chemicals and unknowns in the plethora of personal hygiene products on the market. It isn't easy, though. It takes a bit of an adjustment before your hair realizes it can chill out on the oil production, but it has been fine after I got past that stage. There is a ton of info on the internet about water-only washing for hair so I will not spend a lot of time on it here. Feel free to let me know if you have questions.
Also, I should mention that I have a bar of soap in the shower, but I found it isn't really necessary. Just scrubbing my body with water seems to have the same result, so I eliminated that from my routine for now, too.
As long as we are on the subject of my "just use water" campaign, I ended up going that route for laundry, too. I researched the best laundry detergents for people and for the environment and settled on one to switch to. I tried it out and my body hated it. Then I switched to baking soda only. That was worse! I tried to go back to my original laundry detergent I've used all along, but my skin was still dry and angry. So, in the spirit of eliminating as many variables as possible, I just use water in the washing machine and these wool balls in the dryer. We have some laundry detergent around in case there is a really grubby load of (usually dog-related) laundry, but have only had to use a few times and never on my clothes.
Interesting aside: I have noticed that since I have been almost exclusively wearing plant fibers that static cling hasn't been an issue. Paul has clothes made of synthetic fabrics and I've noticed his clothes come out of the dryer with static.
Allright! Here is the biggie. This is the set of products that I use to meet my daily needs. Before all of this allergy stuff, I was an eczema sufferer and I still am, so moisturizing my skin safely is of a top priority. I was able to keep using my tried and true Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion and have added coconut oil to my routine.
I have stopped using all lip balms and just use Vaseline right now.
As of the end of December, I was able to switch from prescription topical steroids to an over the counter one: Cortizone-10 (the one with no other ingredients except the steroid and petroleum jelly). Hooray for that!
For hand washing, I have a bar of Dr. Bronner's unscented soap.
I wear contacts and have decided to stick with Opti-Free Pure Moist multi-purpose solution even though it has some proprietary ingredients that I do not fully understand. I tried alternatives but they made my eyes burn and also had unknowable ingredients.
After many failed homemade versions and some unsatisfying special order toothpastes, I decided on Weleda Salt Toothpaste. I also have a salt crystal deodorant that I use sporadically. Apparently, I like salt in all its forms.
Although it is not a product, I included my fine tooth comb in the picture because it has become an essential for me with my water-only shampoo strategy. It helps to even out the sebum/wax throughout my hair.
You might notice there are a lot of things missing when you compare this to the average American woman's set of toiletries. No perfume (that wasn't hard for me), no makeup (I miss mascara!), no nail polish (I am allergic to many polishes and to polish remover) and no toner/facewash/scrubs (water only for this, too!). I wasn't much of a girly girl before this, but I do miss some of the frivolous products. I tried natural mascara and it was totally crap. Maybe someday I will reintroduce some of this stuff. For now, I am just grateful to be comfortable in my own skin. Literally. My skin was so uncomfortable that I was totally OK with giving up all of this stuff for the potential of finding comfort in my body again.
Another area that I had to consider was cleaning products for the home and kitchen. Once again, mostly water being used in this category, too! We have been making our own vinegar water (sometimes we add essential oil) for cleaning for a long time, so that didn't need to be adjusted. I changed our dishwasher detergent to Earth Friendly Products Wave soap after doing research on the ingredients and safety of these types of products. Scary stuff! We kept the same dish soap we had already been using for handwashing dishes: Seventh Generation Free and Clear. We also have baking soda for scrubbing and a container of liquid Unscented Dr. Bronner's Soap for tougher cleaning jobs but haven't had to use them so I left them out of the picture. Its amazing to see how truly little we need to keep around the house when it comes to products!
Ok, here I go...out farther on this limb than I ever thought I would. I am going to clue you into how these allergies have impacted my sex life. I wasn't super keen on sharing this part, but I also didn't want to omit this information in case someone else is struggling through the research, finds my blog and this information helps them along. If you want to skip past this part, go ahead and skim down to the part where I show naked pictures of myself. Wait! What has happened to my knitting blog?!
As I was doing my research on each and every thing that comes into contact with my skin, I started to research condoms. In the process, I talked with the lovely staff at Smitten Kitten and learned that the sex industry has very little to follow in the way of regulations. This has lead to a real lack of information for consumers. For instance, all of the condoms at our local Target store are lubricated and not a single one of them tells you what the lubrication is made out of.
We needed to find out what the product we use contains, so we figured we would just email them and ask. Nope, no email address to be found on the packaging or the website. How about calling them? Nope, no contact info listed for that either. We ended up finding a phone number for the company that owns Trojan, but the number was old and nobody answered it. The one and only way to make any inquiry was by mailing a letter to the company that owns the company that makes the condoms we used to use. I didn't even want to go that route since I had a strong suspicion it would be unfruitful.
So, we thought we would work around the problem by getting unlubricated condoms and buying a lubricant for them. First of all, getting unlubricated condoms takes extra effort and, according to what we found, most brands make these condoms out of a really thick latex. We eventually found a good solution that we ordered online: Life Styles Ultra-sensitive Non-lubricated. Second of all, buying a lubricant whose ingredients are listed, whose list you can trust and whose ingredients do not include my allergens was a challenge. Again, major thanks to Smitten Kitten. They helped us look through their many products to find options without propylene glycol. The winner: Ride - Dude Lube - Water-Based! It had the least ingredients and none of my allergens It is obviously not marketed to us what with the dude focus, but to that we say, "Yeehaw!"
I hope this marks the end of sex related content on my blog. I like to keep is family friendly around here, except for the occasional cuss words that make it through :)
So here is where the news gets happy! Guess what?! All of my research and strictness is working! Here are some before pictures that I took in the summer and some pictures from today. I am not totally better, but I am so much more comfortable now.
I have more to share about the other things I am doing to cope (food, furniture, the outside world!) and the other adjustments (how to get a haircut!) I have made to create safe spaces for myself, but I will save that for another day. I want to close this enormous post by saying that after having been through all of these ups and downs and having to let go of so much, I truly appreciate and cherish each day that I wake up and have a little bit more of my health back. I am about to go and do some really average Sunday afternoon activities like cooking, laundry and cleaning and I am so grateful that I have found a way to do it without questioning my every move and potentially making myself sick. Having your health is such a valuable thing!
Posted by Trinity at 2:05 PM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
I am working on finishing up two sweater projects, but needed something smaller to knit on the go. Enter: Yellow Brick Road and Inca Organic Cotton.
In the few days since I added the buttons to this cowl, I have enjoyed playing with different ways to wear it. It is versatile and reversible! Thanks to Paul for taking the 3 photos above.
The buttons are from Treadle Yard Goods and had originally been purchased for a sweater I have since given away. I had 4 of them on hand but needed a 5th one to finish the cowl. I bought them a long time ago (2 years?) so I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get one more. It was a close call; I bought the 2nd to last one they had!
Fanny thinks this is a cozy cowl, too. I found her napping on it when it was still a work in progress. I enjoyed working with this yarn and think I will likely make another project out of it. It is really comforting to knit with organic cotton that hasn't been dyed. That is one way to make sure my allergies won't be bothered: just remove most of the variables!
Ravelry project here
Posted by Trinity at 5:31 PM
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A bit of a catch-all post of randomness:
Frame stores are pretty! This one made me want to cover my whole wall in frames snuggled all up against each other at wonderful angles.
Happy Birthday to Jill! We celebrated with an art opening party, some music by The Cactus Blossoms and then some fancy donuts at Glam Doll Donuts. It was so fun to spend your birthday together, Jill!
Legos and rubberbands are VERY entertaining.
Part of my birthday present this year was a gift certificate for a monthly homemade meal from Paul. January, the first month, he made this gorgeous and delicious savory tart. It had beets and onions and dill and, of course, lots of eggs and cheese and cream. Definitely one to enjoy in moderation! He is already kicking my butt when it comes to crust texture and quality.
I am experimenting with a homemade version of Bee's Wrap or Abeego. For the unacquainted, these products are alternatives to plastic wrap made by coating unbleached cotton fabric with beeswax, resin and jojoba oil. I think I probably would have just bought wraps from one of those companies except for they both use an unspecified "tree resin" which may or may not be related to my balsam of peru allergy. I figured since I had a chunk of beeswax already, I would make a few test ones and see how I like them. So far, so good! I made 3 different sizes and have been using them with satisfying results. If/when I make them again, I will take some process pictures to show you how I do it. The hardest part is grating beeswax! I should invest in those pellets if I am going to make a large amount of these.
Do you know what is really good? Eucalyptus leaves in chai! Locals can experience this delight at Namaste Cafe. I am glad that my mom and I have plans to go there this weekend because I have been craving another cup of this chai since the day I first had it!
I forgot to show you my felted mitten drying trick: stuff it with newspaper and then stick it on a heating vent. It's really efficient and helps set the shape you want.
After realizing that the padding on my ironing board was so spent that I was ironing the metal pattern of the stand into my clothes, I sought to replace it. Since I didn't want to use any synthetic foam, I was grateful to find cotton batting at the fabric store. I cut a double layer and made pretty quick work of refreshing this old ironing board. I also bought a pressing ham. Just try to hold me back now! I'm an ironing maniac!
Posted by Trinity at 8:02 PM
Sunday, February 16, 2014
After an adjustment to the location and frequency, the Art Shanty Project is back! I haven't participated since 2011, so it was a fun treat to visit the shanties again. And, this time, it was a whole new set of shanties! In case you are new to the concept, let me share the mission of the project as they declare it:
"Art Shanty Projects is an artist driven temporary community exploring the ways in which relatively unregulated public spaces can be used as new and challenging artistic environments to expand notions of what art can be."What that amounts to is a collection of fun and interactive artist created shanties on a frozen lake outside of the city in the dead of the Minnesota winter. It brings people of all ages, from all over the place to the ice and creates a space for us to play together for a little while.
This year I met Jamie and her family for a morning visit to the shanties. Little Violet and slightly less little Sylvia were not so thrilled about the experience. It was pretty cold and windy, which might have contributed to their discomfort with the shanty experience.
Noah's Art was toasty warm inside and packed with people and the little clay animals they made.
The wind shanty (on the left) was quite appropriate considering how much of an impact the wind made on the "real feel" temperature that day.
A reflection shanty, literally reflective on the outside and figuratively reflective on the inside.
The music shanty had a lot of DIY instruments for people to play, which made for a cacophony of sound you could hear even before you went into the shanty!
Another shanty that announced its presence before entering it was the Dance Shanty. I think this was the only shanty that has been a part of the project every year I have attended. And, I am grateful for it! Dancing around a shanty helps get the blood flowing to your toes again!
My favorite shanty this year was Ice Ice Maybe.
"The Shanty’s primer high-end boutique specializing in the commodification of timelessness, Ice Ice Maybe offers the finest ice encased objects that money can’t buy."If you found something on the shop's shelves that you thought was essential to or representative of your identity, you could bring it in to the shanty and see if they will let you take it. I witnessed a few conversations at the checkout counter and loved how the questions asked of the customer were aimed at picking apart what purpose the item would serve, its meaning and potential usefulness to you. After you talked it through with the shopkeeper, she would let you know if she would let you have it or keep it in the shop. Apparently, I made a strong enough case for the spool of vintage thread frozen into an ice heart that I was only the 12th person this year to be able to take something home. That is significant because hundreds have tried and been denied the "thing" they desired. I even got a certificate of authenticity!
As someone who values functionality yet also values connections to the past and things with stories, I very much appreciated the line of questioning I heard in the shanty. I felt it was a great lesson in informing our own internal conversations around acquiring stuff. It reminds me of a William Morris quote that I love and find to be a guiding thought when I am in "purge" mode: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
Just as I was heading off of the lake, a snowstorm came through. It was beautiful! It made for slow driving, but since I didn't have anywhere to be in a hurry, I relished the scenery of the falling and blowing snow and the trees around me.
If you too want to check them out, the shanties are out through next weekend. Go and play, but be sure to bundle up!
Posted by Trinity at 2:40 PM
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Forgive me if I mention our Minnesota winter twice in a row, but man, it has been cold here! I wore through my pair of felted mittens, patched them and then wore through them again this winter. So, I decided it was time for a refresh. 5 years of constant wear out of that last pair seems like pretty solid longevity, so I stuck with a tried and true pattern by Nancy Lindberg for this next pair, too. I think I may eventually add a bit of embellishment to this pair, but for now, they are my everyday mittens. I doubled up with a pair of liner mittens inside these and immediately put them into use as soon as they dried!
Felting is such a fun phenomenon. You take a monstrous piece of knitting, add a little hot water, soap and agitation and you end up with a wearable, shrunken item that doesn't look knit! A little before and after spread for you to show some scale:
I named the project after the color of the Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport yarn I used: Limestone. I like looking at this color in the dead of winter because it reminds me that there will eventually be green in our outdoor environment again. Eventually.
Posted by Trinity at 8:04 PM
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Creativity is an asset when it comes to maintaining sanity through a Minnesota winter. Thanks to PopSoda, Walker Art Center, friends Missy and Jill, as well as a whole room full of other playful souls for bringing fun and energy into an otherwise grey and wintry evening last week.
We started with jars of heavy cream.
We added a dj and an awesomely clad organizer from the Walker.
...And a similarly awesomely clad aerobics instructor in front of a projected film of dairy cows.
Our dj and our instructor led us through a lot of shake-filled aerobics to thematically appropriate songs.
All that shaking resulted in containers full of butter and buttermilk!
We tasted our lightly salted butter on some delicious bread from Sun Street Breads and were allowed to take the rest home.
I ended up baking a caramel peach grunt with the buttermilk and shared it at my sister-in-law's birthday lunch. The butter has been being consumed in one of the best ways possible: thickly spread on sourdough bread.
If you have never made your own butter, I suggest you try it out. It is a lot of fun! Shake, shake, shake!
Posted by Trinity at 6:07 PM