Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I Haven't Closed Up Shop....

I've been a little MIA on the blog and in real life lately.  I normally don't talk about this on my knitting blog, but I feel like if you are a person who takes the time to check this blog with any regularity, then you deserve an explanation (and a reassurance that I haven't abandoned you completely!)

I have a chronic health condition called Ulcerative Colitis.  It's amazing how common it is...once I was diagnosed, people came out of the woodwork telling me that they have it, or have a close friend/family member who has it, too.  It's an autoimmune condition where your body attacks healthy tissue (in this case, the large intestine), and unfortunately doctors still don't really understand why it happens, and in some cases it's tough to keep a person in remission.

Right now, I'm one of those cases.  After my diagnosis 3 years ago, it seemed like this wasn't going to be that big of a deal.  I had to go on steroids and a UC maintenance drug to get the initial flare under control,  but they worked pretty well.  Within a month, I was back to my old self.  I stayed on the maintenance medication for about a year before I realized I was allergic to it.  For months, I had progressively been feeling more and more itchy, but I was blaming the cats (did they have fleas?), then I was blaming the fibers I was knitting with (but, of course, unwilling to give any of them up!)  The allergist wasn't much help, basically telling me that the trigger could be anything or nothing at all.  Apparently the majority of people who get hives never figure out what is causing it.  But mine were getting progressively worse.  At the beginning, I could control them by taking an anti-histimine pill each day.  A couple months later, I had to take one pill in the morning and one at night to get the same result  Then as time went on, we were combining two different types of anti-histimines and I still wasn't able to keep the hives away, and would randomly wake up with my eyes swollen, or a lip, or a giant spot on one of my arms.  It wasn't until I had to be picked up in an ambulance outside my son's school at morning drop-off because my lips were swelling up and I felt like I might pass out, that I decided to go off the UC medicine to see if that helped the situation.  Within a week, the hives on my skin were completely under control using only one anti-histimine a day, and the random swelling stopped completely.  I no longer sleep with a bottle of Benadryl on my nightstand, and I don't worry if I leave home without my epi pen.

Of course, being allergic to the UC medication is not ideal.  There's one class of drugs for UC that are considered "pretty safe" and that's the one I can't take.  The next step up is immunosuppressant drugs.  And they don't work for everyone, and they often have diminishing returns as time goes on.  Plus, I have two kids and I'm around kids all the time, so to keep myself in a state of having a constantly suppressed immune system is not the most attractive offer the medical community can give me.  I knew I probably wouldn't get away with not taking maintenance medications and avoiding a flare for long, but I didn't have any other good options on the table.  I think I made it about 3 months.

So since April, I've been sick.  My flares usually begin with crushing exhaustion, a sore throat, and some GI symptoms.  This time it took 2 months for me to get to the point where I was willing to go back on the steroid medicine to get it under control.  (Always the optimist, I think, "Maybe if I give it some time, my body can kick this one on it's own!"  But...not so much.)  Because of a series of screw-ups and bad communication, I didn't get on that steroid for another full month, and by then, I was in a bad spot.  I was in Canada, so we had to cross back into New York just to get to a US pharmacy that my doctor could prescribe from.  But I was glad to finally be getting treatment and thought things would start looking up.

Unfortunately I was too far gone.  Once home, it didn't take me long to realize that something was going on in addition to the colitis flare.  I ended up in the hospital and found out I was experiencing a complication.  The tissue was too weak, the flare had gone on for too long, and I had a lot of healing to do.

There was a lot of pain associated with this complication for about 2 weeks, then I had a couple days where it seemed to be getting better.  Then on Monday the pain was back, but in a different spot.  I saw my doctor and he sent me back to the surgeon who had diagnosed the first complication.  He said that this time, he thought I had an abscess that would need surgical care.

Back to the hospital, back under anesthesia, the surgeon decided that nothing needed to be done after all.  She said the pain was still coming from the first complication.  I'm not sure I agree, but it's good to know that nothing is infected.

So, in all, I've been in the hospital 3 times in the past 3 weeks.  The remainder of the time, I am hanging out, mostly in bed.  I can't really sit, and it's difficult to stand or walk.  Because I have to mostly lay on my side or stomach, I can't really even knit.  At first I thought, "Maybe this is my big chance to do all those pattern layout updates I've been wanting to do on my older patterns!"  Then I realized that between the pain medication and the muscle relaxers I'm supposed to take, I'm not mentally able to do things like, "read words" and "write coherently" most of the time, much less edit a pattern!  Right now, I'm at the tail end of a pill cycle, so I'm pretty alert, but I won't be surprised to read over this post and find it riddled with mistakes.

So right now, life is kind of on hold.  I'm so, SO excited to send a new sweater pattern out into the world, but I've purposely waited until now to take the pattern photos because I wanted to use a location that wouldn't be just right until the end of the summer, and, obviously, not being able to walk or drive is kind of getting in the way of that.  So I hate having to delay that release.  I would love to at least be writing a blog post every few days just to keep myself busy, but, well, no life means I really have nothing to write about right now.

So if you're a healthy person, send a little gratitude into the universe for that tonight.  If you deal with a chronic illness, know that you're not alone and that you and I will both get through it.  In some ways, I'm thankful for the experiences I have had because of this illness.  It has shown me how strong I am, how willing my husband is to step up when I need him, and it has taught my kids some important lessons in responsibility and empathy that they would have had a hard time learning through other means.   Having a chronic illness makes priorities crystal clear, and really helps you focus your energy on the things that are really important to you.  And I am infinitely grateful that I am the one who has to deal with the illness instead of having to watch someone I love go through it.  I truly think it would be much harder to be the mom of a sick kid or the wife of a sick husband than to be the patient myself.

And I know this won't last forever.  Here toward the end of week 3 with no real "end game" in sight, it kind of seems like it's dragging on far too long, but I know I'll get healthy again.  Prior to the flare that began in April, I had had such a good stretch of healthy months that I was 15 pounds heavier than I had ever been in my adult life.  I had been working out and gaining muscle, plus my body was finally able to absorb my food and nurture my body with it.  Now I understand why my doctor advised me, "If you ever find yourself gaining a few extra pounds, just let that happen."  I think I'm down 12 pounds from the past 3 weeks of not being active (lost muscle), and limiting what I am eating (less in means less out, which means less stress on the area that needs to heal.)

If you're the praying sort, I'm always happy to be included.  If you're the "thinking of you" sort, I appreciate that, too.  I believe in positive thinking and knowing that people are rooting for you is really helpful in a situation like this.

So that's why things have gone dark around here lately.  I promise to be back as soon as I possibly can, and I hope you will stick around.  I promise much more good stuff to come!  If you feel like leaving a comment, I'd love suggestions for two things: 1) easy but fun knitting patterns - something I might be able to do even when I can barely read, 2) book suggestions, especially comedy books.  I've been using books by David Sedaris, Mindy Kaling and Jim Gaffigan to get me through the tough spots and I could use another book in this vein because I just finished Gaffigan's book this morning.  They are very easy reads and the comedy really helps me take my mind off the pain and off of reality when I need to escape.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back to Toronto

My yarn shop time was limited while we were on vacation, but I did manage to squeeze in a quick trip to Romni Wools right in the heart of the city.  I had posted an inquiry about "can't miss" yarn shops in Toronto and mentioned that the only thing I was specifically looking for was a line of fingering-weight non-itchy yarn that came in a wide enough variety of colors that I could pick 3 shades of the same color.  Brilliant Raveler Iammo recommended I visit Romni Wools and said something along the lines of "If it exists, you will find it there."  

She wasn't kidding!  First off, this place is big.  Like as big as as the Big Box craft store in my city big. Plus, once you've gone through the whole shop and you think you're done, you realize that there's a basement that is also stuffed to the gills.  And that brings me to the one drawback of this shop.  It is stuffed to the gills.  I am by no means a neat freak, but I did get have the uncomfortable feeling of having stumbled into a real life episode of Hoarders when I entered this place.  They may very well have an organizational system at this shop - I was just too overwhelmed to figure it out.  And I actually didn't see much of the thing I am most likely to buy - lovely skeins of unique sock yarn.  (I have no doubt that it was in there some where....I just didn't have the fortitude to find it.)  They did have every weight of yarn under the sun, and probably every fiber, and I did find exactly what I was looking for as far as my specific need goes.  But the place is really, really overwhelming.  Even more so when you know your family is waiting patiently for you in a coffee shop down the street and you want to get in and out in well under an hour.  

 My goal for souvenir yarn shopping was to focus mostly on things that I couldn't get in the United States.  Guess what.  The world is a very small place, especially the world between the US and Canada.  The vast majority of the yarns I saw at Romni were the same things I see in yarn stores across the Midwest.  And that's not a bad thing - they are lovely yarns!  But I was a little surprised that I didn't see more differences in the selection.
 One thing I did notice was that Romni offered a much larger selection of non-wool fibers than I usually see at any yarn shops around here.  Obviously, their shop is so big that they offer a bigger selection of ANY fiber than the smallish shops I'm used to.  But whereas at a local yarn shop I might see 3 or 4 different brands of cotton yarn and 2 of bamboo, and Romni, they might have had 20 - 30 different yarns that were mostly cotton, another 20 that contained a significant amount of bamboo, as well as hemp yarn, milk fiber yarn, and if I had looked hard enough, I expect that I would have found things like mink, quivuit, and yak.  I also appreciated that they offered these different fibers in interesting color ways rather than the typically plain solid colors I see them in around shops in the Midwest.

I didn't spend much time in the basement, though I would have if I had more time to spend there.  It was mostly full of fiber for spinning (which, I currently don't know how to do although one of my LYS owners has made it her mission to get me to learn, so I figure it's only a matter of time), and giant cones of solid-colored yarn as well as crochet thread.

I agree with Iammo - if you find yourself in Toronto, you must go to Romni Wool.  And you seriously must give yourself at least 3 hours if you really want to look around and see all they have to offer.  Also, if you have any trouble being in confined spaces or being around chaos, you might want to take a Xanax before you arrive.

Now for the fun's what actually got to come home with me:

 Yes, I can get madelinetosh sock yarn in my area, and I often order it on the web, but I'm not usually around a display of it that gives me so many color options to choose from in person.  So I picked up the lovely Charcoal and Mourning Dove colorways and think they look great together.  Not sure what they'll be, but I love the way the gray highlights the gray in the blue skein.  I think they were made for each other.

 These two natural tones, Luster and Weathered Frame make a nice combo as well.  I'm envisioning something for winter here - maybe a hat & glove set?  Maybe a big color work-y hood or scarf?  I don't know, but I can already tell it'll be pretty.

And here's my successful specific requisition: three different shades of blue, all in a soft, 100% merino, fingering-weight yarn.  Two of the colors are Sublime (which I can also buy around here), and the third is Filatura di Crosa Zarina, a brand I wasn't familiar with.  Their fiber content is identical and their yardage to weight ratio is practically identical as well, so they'll work great together.  In fact, I just started the project I had in mind for them last week, and am already about 75% finished.  Since it's a transitional-weather piece, I'll be happy to have it done just as the weather here is starting to become a bit more reasonable.  

My only regret with Romni is that I wasn't able to meet up with Iammo, who offered to take me there herself.  I was really looking forward to meeting her, but since my kids each had a day over vacation where they weren't feeling very well, that really threw a wrench into the works as far as us trying to visit some touristy spots while we were there, so suddenly we had to pack as much as possible into 3 days instead of the 5 we had planned for.  I knew I'd get to stop by the shop if we were in the area and I was lucky, but I wasn't sure when (or if) it would happen.  Perhaps I'll be up that way again sometime, Mo, and you'll kindly let me take you up on the offer then.  Or, if you ever happen to be passing through Central Illinois, I'll be happy to show you the yarn shop sights in my area - although I assure you that nothing here can compare to the Romni experience!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New Release: Grazioso Wrap

 Smooth waves of lace undulate gracefully between two scalloped edges in this musical lace chart.  The perfect pattern to pair with those two precious skeins of sock yarn you've been saving in your stash.  I recommend a solid or a tonal color way, rather than yarn with a wide color variation, as the lace will show best with colors that contrast more subtly.

This wrap is finished on all 4 sides - the trim along the length is knit together with the main stitch pattern, then the shorter width edges are finished off with an applied edging.  Instructions are both written and charted, and the applied edging is explained.

This wrap can dress up a casual outfit as well as it can cover a formal dress.  Wrap it around the neck as a scarf or increase the number of repeats of the main stitch pattern to create a larger, keep-warm wrap to use in your chilly office.  This wrap is as flexible as your wardrobe, and quite a lot of fun to make!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Escape to Knitca

I'm not a city person.

I like the idea of cities, I love the culture, entertainment, restaurants, and personalities that they have, but I am just not a big fan of actually being in cities.  Being in crowds, walking down streets with tiny yards (if there is grass at all), houses crowded together, trash cans lining the sidewalk, crazy traffic, breathing in the smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke from the people who pass me on the street....all that stuff is on my "no thanks" list.  As a person who was born and raised in a smaller town and moved to another small town after college, I guess I come by it honestly.  I just prefer wide-open spaces and breathing clean rural air.  And it appears that I have unintentionally raised two kids that feel the same.

On our fourth day in Toronto, we got up early and headed out, with the intention of going to a museum.  We caught the bus at the corner and rode down to Coxwell subway station.  As soon as we stepped off the bus, our son announced, "I feel kinda nauseous."

He inherited my sensitive stomach, so I asked him what he ate for breakfast.  "Yogurt," he told me.  I gently reminded him that people like us need a little fiber in the morning to start the day off right, and bought him a banana in the subway station to eat before our train came.   I could tell by the way that he choked the banana down that it was pointless to continue our journey into the city.

We went back to the street and caught the next bus back home.  I wondered if his nausea had more to do with not wanting to spend a fourth consecutive day in a city that was louder, more crowded, and smellier than his world usually is.  So I told my husband, "We're taking the kids out to the suburbs today.  They need a break."  Not unexpectedly, our son, who had been sitting quietly in the kids' bedroom reading while we were having this conversation perked up when I said we were going to drive to a trampoline park outside the city and said, "Suddenly my stomach feels a lot better!"

As luck would have it, a nearby suburb, Mississauga, not only had a trampoline park, a Panera where the kids could have a "familiar" meal, and multiple frozen yogurt vendors, but it also had a yarn store where I unexpectedly found $48 worth of buttons that I needed to take home with me.   And the buttons weren't overpriced at all (they were all between .35 and .70 each) fact, I would say that to the contrary, they were less expensive than the buttons I usually buy in chain craft stores.  I easily pay between $2-$5 for a card that has one to four buttons attached, and at Knitca, I bought 14 sets of  unique buttons (most sets containing 6 or 8 buttons) for an average of $3.50 a set.  I found so many I loved that I decided to just stock up so I wouldn't have to buy any more buttons until my social security checks start arriving.

Knitca has a small store in Mississauga, but they are also a mail-order and on-line business.  You can download their latest catalog by clicking on the bottom right corner of their main page.

Much of their button inventory is on-line.  I leaned very heavily toward the painted wooden buttons.  I hope they hold up and don't crack with repeated washings.  I asked the woman working at the shop what the washing instructions were for the wood buttons and she said she thought they would be fine with hand-washing.  I'll keep you posted once I actually use them on a washable project!

I looked through the yarn they had in stock, but it wasn't really my taste.  It was a lot of solid colored yarn.  If I had a specific project that needed solid colors, I might have been interested, but I don't tend to buy that as "inspiration" yarn to have in my stash.  They did have a few unusual fibers like yak and mink, but they were available in very limited colors (like, I think they only had dark brown in stock), and they were too expensive to buy in any usable quantity, especially without a specific project in mind.   But the mink yarn, especially, felt quite lovely, and I'm sure it's very warm!

Stopping by the shop was a lovely end to a much-needed day away from the bustle of the city.  We got up early the next morning, headed over to the Ontario Science Center and had a great day with the kids, even through the place was insanely crowded with large groups of day camp children who didn't have quite enough supervision!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A sneak peak....

I have a women's pullover that I've been keeping under wraps for about 5 months now.  I LOVE this sweater and I can't wait until the weather cools off again so I can wear it!  I also can't believe that, except for people who have seen me wear it in real life and my test knitters for the pattern who saw pictures (and now have their very own pullovers!) I've kept this one a complete surprise.

The test is wrapping up now and I anticipate being able to release this beauty on time, at the beginning of September.  The reason I'm writing about it today is that Knit Picks has the yarn I recommend for it on sale, and apparently today is the last day of their sale.

So I figured I'd let you take an early look and if you like it enough, you may want to order your yarn now.  The Knit Picks City Tweed HW is really a lovely yarn.  It's tweedy but not overpoweringly so.  It has a really nice texture - the 20% alpaca content gives it a really silky drape and it feels lovely to knit.  With my very sensitive skin, I wouldn't be able to wear this yarn right next to my skin, but for a sweater that I know will always have something underneath, it's totally fine.

Without further ado, I give you the Orchard Pullover (anticipated release date: September 4, 2013)!

This was the photo I took for the test knitters - I'm wearing the collar unbuttoned here, but you can also button it up and worn it folded over like a large, loose turtleneck.  When done in a warm heavy worsted yarn like the Knit Picks City Tweed, the short sleeves perfectly balance the extra warmth that the alpaca in the yarn gives you.  I wore this sweater in cold weather at the end of last winter and found it to be very comfortable.

So there you have it - and early reveal so you bargain shoppers have a chance to order while the yarn is still on sale.  I hope you find a color that you love!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lettuce Knit

On our first day in Toronto, we headed straight for Kensington Market.  I was looking forward to a day of exploring unique shops and finding interesting places to eat.  My daughter, on the other hand, didn't last very long.  About two hours into our day, she came down with a stomachache that cut our outing short.

Still, we did manage to walk through part of the neighborhood, and as luck would have it, we passed right by an adorable local yarn shop, Lettuce Knit.

The area in front of their store features a rustic yarn-bombed fence.  Awesome.

Inside, they offer a fantastic selection of yarns from the Canadian Handmaiden and Fleece Artist company, madelinetosh, Socks that Rock, Indigo Moon, as well as many smaller yarn dyers like Rain City Knits and Yummy Yarn Studios.

It was the perfect opportunity for me to snag a few skeins of the Socks that Rock yarn that I've heard so many good things about.  I picked up 3 skeins of their lightweight sock yarn.

I also wanted to take home some yarn that was going to be unique to Canada, so I picked up two bright turquoise, dk-weight skeins (this picture doesn't even almost do this intense color justice) of Rain City Knits Bluefaced Leicester in the Rain Drop Blue color way.

The woman working at the shop was as lovely as the shop itself.  If I ever find myself in Toronto again, I will be heading straight for this place, and I would be likely to crash one of their stitch nights!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Knitter's Vacation

Miraculously, I managed to bring exactly the right amount of knitting on our vacation.  I knew we would have about 14 hours of driving on the way there, 12 on the way home, and around 4 mid-vacation.  I also knew we planned to take advantage of Toronto's excellent public transportation system, so I figured I'd get a little knitting in on those rides, as well as a couple relaxing afternoons on the beach, watching the kids playing in the sand and the shallow water on the shore of the bay.  

The first project I picked was the Indicum Pullover from Hillary Smith Callis.  It's a pretty simply-shaped basic pullover sweater with a circular yoke that uses corrugated ribbing on the neckline, sleeve cuffs and hem.  

When we set out on our vacation, the weather forecast looked like it was going to be cool and rainy for most of our vacation, so I was actually anxious to get this finished so I'd have an extra sweater along on the trip.  As it turned out, we lucked out with clear skies and temps in the mid 70s to low 80s almost all week.  Only our last day in Toronto was a little cool, and by then, this sweater was wearable!

I got lots of work done on it on our 2-day drive to The Blue Mountain, due to my fabulous husband who insisted on doing all the driving.  (I think he had set it up as a manly challenge to himself: Was he man enough to drive all the way to central Ontario without any help from his wife?  The answer is yes.)  Anyhoo, by the time we headed down to Toronto mid-vacation, I was finished with everything but the sleeves!

Later in the week, we went down to The Beaches on the east side of Toronto, and spent a lovely afternoon relaxing there.  I finished up the second sleeve there in anticipation of cooler temperatures on the way.

 On our last day in the city, it rained mid-afternoon, which was fine with us, because we spent the day at the Royal Ontario Museum.  (Totally awesome place, by the way.  You can see everything from Budda sculptures to old Japanese weaponry, an exhibit on intricate textiles, dinosaur skeletons (made complete by using both real excivated bones and cast bones to fill in the gaps), and  the remains of a mummified cat tomb.  Maybe I'll thrill you with some of those pictures later - comment if you're interested!)  Anyway, I digress....

The day after our museum trip, it was time to pack up and head home.  It was still cool outside, and I was low on clean laundry, so I threw my new sweater on for a second day.  It kept me perfectly comfortable on a long car ride with a husband and son who always want the air conditioning on much higher than I do!

Here are a couple finished sweaters my daughter took the morning we departed for home on the porch of the little house we rented from Nick, who was an awesome and super-helpful temporary landlord.

I was really happy with the way the sweater came out, and it was a pretty easy pattern to follow.  I actually haven't blocked it yet, and I suspect that it may grow just a little.  I think the sleeves are just a tad long (they shouldn't bunch up quite that much in the elbow area), so I'll wait until it's blocked and take out the cuffs, subtract a little sleeve length and re-cuff them.  I anticipate this sweater getting a lot of use in transitional weather, so I want to make it the best it can be.

Initially, when I set out using the blue & pink for the corrugated ribbing, I had a nagging "what have I done??" feeling.  I was very apprehensive about my choice of colors and I thought it might end up WAY too high-contrast.  But now that it's finished and the blue very obviously overpowers the pink lines in the ribbing, I'm really happy with it.  So, although I like the more mono-chromatic color choice Hillary used for her sample sweater (she went with a dark purple and a lighter blue/purple), I think it can look good with a higher-contrast color choice, too.

You can see project details on my Ravelry project page.  For my size (36"), I ended up using just over 2 skeins of Madelinetosh Sock yarn (I could have gotten away with just 2 skeins if I hadn't lengthened the body of the sweater and gone to long on the sleeves), and maybe 80 yards of Kollage Sock-o-licious for the contrasting pink.