Indoor Roses

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about the garden. Over the last couple of years, forced indoors because of my scleroderma, I have had to settle for some potted plants out on the back porch. My favorites among these plants have been surviving in the garage during cold snaps and snowstorms, but we have finally reached a point where the cold is too prolonged for that strategy to work any longer. Time for them to come indoors! I gave them all a little spray of neem oil to kill hitchhiking pests, dragged them inside, and put them near windows. Obviously that wouldn’t be enough light for the little rose bushes. You know, the kind that you buy at the grocery store when you meant to just buy bread, milk, and ice cream. I have several pots of those roses and those babies were growing in bright sunshine all summer! Last week I headed on over to my favorite garden center to see what I could do to help my floral buddies survive over the winter in the house.

Light on roses.
I found a nice little grow light and a stand that, with a little ingenuity, can provide lights for the roses on my bedroom dresser. 

While I was unpacking the grow light and putting it into the stand I noticed that the light fixture itself was designed to also be attached below ceilings, shelves, cupboards, or some other solid feature. There are two little metal brackets and two screws involved. Hey, this is something I can do. I have more plants needing light! I headed back to the garden center.

Grow light on shelf.
I have a cheap set of wooden shelves in my sewing room for plants. Behold! Lights for my orchids! That pink flowering plant has a scent, and the blooms make me happy. My sewing room is really inviting now.

I’m pleased with how the plants are managing with the new light, but there is an obvious readjustment going on with the little mini-roses. They are undergoing a transition with their leaves…

Yellow rose leaf.
All of the summer leaves that grew in full sunshine are turning yellow and dropping off. Seriously. ALL of the leaves.
New growth on the rose bush.
New growth is bursting out all over the stems following the dropping of the summer leaves. Crazy, huh. I am pulling off yellow leaves and pruning almost every day as the rose plants go through this process. 
Rose buds.
The new leaves look healthy and glossy, and the buds are continuing to develop just fine.
Rose blooms.
The plants are even managing to bloom while they are adjusting to the new lights.

I’m pruning the little bushes down to a lower height as they finish up with the last of the summer blooms and the old leaves drop off. There is so much new growth on the stems I’m pretty sure they are going to be fine.

It looks like I’m in business. Winter roses. I may not be able to get outside all that much now, but with the new full spectrum grow lights and the indoor roses it’s like I’ve brought the garden indoors.

Once again, I am knitting in my garden surrounded by my roses.

Take that, scleroderma!

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MacKenzie Speaks: Zweig Alert! It is done at last.

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat and sweater
Do you see what is flopped on top of me? It is the finished Zweig!!

That’s right. The Zweig is finished at last. The Mother of Cats stayed in bed all Thursday with me knitting away on it while listening to a book for her evening book club event, when suddenly, it was done! After hours of being forced to stay off the sweater it was suddenly a nice little blanket for me. Good job, Mother of Cats!

Oh, no. The Mother of Cats was just messing with me. Why doesn’t she take my needs more seriously?  Within minutes of binding off the last sleeve she had dumped the whole mess of yarn into a sink and covered it with water. Why does she do these things?

Cat helping block a sweater.
Okay, I must admit that I do like wet wool.
Cat on sweater
Forget that. I LOVE the smell of wet wool. It’s curiously soothing…

I had just started to paw the wet sweater into a nice cushy bed for myself when the Mother of Cats freaked out, shrieked, and chased me off. She covered my sweater with another layer of towels after that to let it dry overnight. I slept on top of the towels for awhile with a couple of my toys, but it just wasn’t the same.

Today she moved it to a screen to dry some more, and this afternoon, still damp and with strings hanging off of it,  she took it out for a picture. Did she let me play with the strings? Did she let me go outside with her? NO! SHE DID NOT! I do not understand why I am being neglected this way.

Zweig hanging in tree.
It looks pretty good out there, doesn’t it?

The Mother of Cats is kind of moping around now that the sweater and her book is done; maybe she needs some catnip.  I’m finally getting more attention and cookies, but last night she began to dig through the yarn stash and organizing stuff into bins labeled “Christmas Knitting” and “Fingerless Mitts”. I helped her with that as much as I could and even got some red yarn rolled under the guest bed. I’m such a good helper! I’m pretty sure that she will be busy on new projects, but right now I’m getting more attention. As I should.

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • This sweater was cast on the last day of summer, and I am so pleased to report that it is done just in time for cold, blustery weather coming in next week.
  • The sweater is Zweig by Caitlin Hunter. I knitted it in two cashmere blend yarns that were just a joy to work with. The blue even has some silk in it! I was torn about what color to combine with the blue but eventually settled on the gold as it made the blue come alive best.
  • Yarn
    Here the yarns are when I made the final decision for the sweater. 
  • You can find my project notes on Ravelry here.
  • Last night I returned to a shawl that had been neglected for a months. Soon after casting on I had decided I didn’t like it very much; now I can’t wait to get it done and to cast on another. My head is swimming with different color combinations for more shawls. Maybe some for Christmas?
  • Oh, yeah. Christmas gift knitting. Maybe it is time to get going on that. I usually start panic knitting after Thanksgiving, but why not start the panic a little earlier this year? Let’s see… I have a cowl to do, several hand warmers, some stars and candle covers, towels to weave and dishcloths to make, quilting that was put off from last year, and…
  • TIME TO PANIC KNIT!!!

 

The Color Continues…

Last week I was having the time of my life knitting up some fun socks in perfect fall colors found in a skein of Colorful October dyed by Chasing Rabbits Fiber Co for my favorite LYS, Colorful Yarns. By the end of the week the socks were done. Check these babies out!

Finished socks.
The colors of my yard captured in a pair of socks. My project notes for these socks can be found on Ravelry here.
Leaves.
The leaves in my yard have now all fallen off the trees, but there are still lots of trees out there showing off. This tree was in a parking lot by the grocery store.  I love these leaves! My mood lifts with each new vista of fall colors, and every trip out of the house makes me want to knit more of the bright fall colored yarn.

You know that I had to buy another skein of this yarn. Last Wednesday I threw caution to the wind (I already have a stash that will never be exhausted in my lifetime…), bought more Colorful October, and gleefully cast on to knit a pair of arm warmers to match the socks. I’ve got to hurry here: fall won’t last forever.

Arm Warmer.
The first arm warmer is done.

Hey, notice any difference between the colors in the arm warmer and the socks? Yep. The colors in the arm warmer really did pool, huh. I kind of expected that something like this would happen because… stitch count. The arm warmers that I have been knitting for myself are knit from the elbow down towards the wrist with a stitch count that decreases from 72 to 64. Look at what a difference a few stitches made.

Pooled knitting.
The portion of the warmer knit with 72 stitches really pooled.
Wrist cuff.
That pooling disappeared when the count dropped to 64 as I approached the wrist 

Huge difference in appearance as I came down the warmer towards the wrist. The part of the warmer that will show while I’m wearing it under a sleeved top will exactly match my socks, so I’m happy with the look.

Socks
That’s why my socks, knit at a stitch count of 64, didn’t have any pooling with this yarn.

I’m working out my pattern for these arm warmers. They are pretty darn simple knitting, and each time I knit myself a pair I record all of my changes in my project notes on Ravelry. If you want to make yourself a pair too, feel free to check out what I’ve done and cast on a pair for yourself too.

 

Colorful October

I’m still knitting away on my Zweig sweater, but I have to admit that I’ve been drawn off project by the fantastic weather we are enjoying here in Colorado. The days are warm and sunny with a clear blue sky; I’ve moved all of the plants back outside to enjoy themselves before the next frost.

Fall colors.
I love the colors this time of the year. The potted plants are blooming well now that the heat of summer has passed and the tree leaves are in their prime colors. Even my mini roses are outdoing themselves with the cool nights and warm sunshine. Gold and brown leaves litter the lawn, but the grass is still a rich green.

So when I saw this skein of yarn at my favorite LYS, Colorful Yarns, I had to have it! This yarn, which is dyed for the shop by Chasing Rabbits Fiber Co, is one of a series of monthly yarns. This yarn, of course, is called Colorful October. Yay! This is the yarn for me!

Colorful October skein.
Look! There are the colors of my yard all captured in one skein of yarn.

Things only got better after I opened up the skein…

Look! Fall colors in rich tones that mirror the garden. 

I am always a little intimidated by skeins with so much color going on… I want the colors to show their stuff without pooling or looking muddy. I debated on whether to go big (a shawl) or stay small (socks), and finally just cast on and started on some socks using my favorite vanilla sock pattern.

Socks.
Perfect! I don’t know what I was worried about; the colors are all clear and there is no pooling in sight. I am so happy, happy with these guys that I am fighting the urge to go get another skein of yarn to make matching arm warmers

I should have these done in a couple of days and then back to the Zweig sweater I will go. I’ll be wearing my new socks, too, while I finish up the sweater over the next week.

I love October.

MacKenzie Speaks: We’re making a Zweig!

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat on sweater.
I’ve been hanging out with the Mother of Cats for days working on our new sweater.

This sweater is really nice. The yarn that the Mother of Cats is using is part cashmere and silk: my favorite to take a nap on. Every time she puts it down I move right in for a quick nap!

Cranky cat.
But she always get cranky and chases me off. Why does the Mother of Cats act like this? She is so inconsiderate and possessive of her things.

I must say, even though she puts the knitting down pretty often (nap time!), we have been making pretty good progress. Look at where we are this morning…

Seater in progress.
Ta-da!! We are now working our way down the first sleeve!

I’m really not a fan of the sleeve knitting: every time the Mother of Cats turns the knitting the whole sweater whaps me in the head. It really gets a little old after a while. She should be more careful, don’t you think? Still, this is a really nice sweater, even when it is whapping me in the head instead of being left on the couch for me to take a nap on. Here are some of my favorite details:

Lace detail of the knitting.
Look a this lace yoke and the strip of colorwork.
Stitch detail.
The body of the sweater has this funky X-stitch pattern. The Mother of Cats followed the directions and learned how to knit this without the cable needle.

This afternoon the Mother of Cats plans to do some binge watching on Netflix while she continues on the sleeve. Drat. Maybe I will spend my time watching for birds and the enemy cat in the back window. My poor head is getting really tired of all the abuse. As soon as she gets up to make dinner, though, the sweater is mine! Cat naps will be happening again.

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • This sweater is Zweig by Caitlin Hunter. The yarns that I am using and other information can be found in my project notes on Ravelry.
  • I blended the skeins of yarn together using helix knitting for about 2 inches at the transitions. This is the video (posted by Pepperly) that I used to figure out how to do the changes, and I actually knitted an entire round with each yarn and then just made the switch and tensioned the way she described it in the video. Worked great, the switch is smooth, and the knitted fabric feels great.
  • I started this sweater on the first day of fall. I hoped to get it done before the first snow, but that happened last week before I even got to the bottom of the sweater’s body. It is nice and warm today, and with some luck the sweater will be done before our next serious cold snap.

Fall is Here: Armwarmers and Mitts

This really snuck up on me fast; one day I’m kicking myself for planting cold weather pansies that immediately died in a September heat wave, and the next I’m bringing in all of the outdoor potted plants to protect them from an overnight frost. Here in Colorado there weren’t many transition days and the heat pretty much kept up until the first snowflake arrived. Last week the dreaded word SNOW first appeared in the nightly weather forecast and I immediately dragged out a couple of projects that had been languishing over the summer.

Fimgerless mitts.
Little handwarmers made from a yak blend yarn.

These fingerless mitts were made for an old student who was badly injured last month in a accident on her way to work. She is still on crutches, the cold weather is on the way, and I simply didn’t quite know what to do for her other than contributing to her Go Fund Me campaign. Oh yeah. I knit! I was able to produce some soft comfy mitts from some Yakity Yak yarn (Greenwood Fiberworks) in the stash. The mitts are now hers, and I hope so much that she continues to make an amazing recovery.  The project notes can be found here, and I wrote up the pattern that I used for these simple mitts in an earlier project’s notes that you can access if you want to make some of these too.

I really love mitts, but sometimes I just need more: arm warmers!! I’ve been adapting the Ärmelitas pattern from knitcats Design and for the latest version I decided to try tubular cast on. Oh, my. It can be a little confusing, but with some great help from the great tutorial on Purl Soho‘s site I was up and running fairly quickly. Look at all these tutorials that Purl Soho has posted! Knitting gold!! I bookmarked this right away, and maybe you will want to also.

Tubular bind off.
The tubular cast on was so nice and tidy I decided to look for tubular bind off. Back to YouTube I went and the one that worked for me was this tidy sewn version that I found at New Stitch A Day. I was befuddled at the start, but after 3 or 4 repeats of the steps I was up and running. 
Finished arm warmers.
Here are the finished arm warmers. See how nice the edges are? Tubular, totally tubular.

 

Warmers on my arm.
I wanted to warmers to be a little loose on my arm (comfy and warm) and long enough to stay put on my upper forearm. Check. Theses guys work.
MacKenzie and the arm warmer.
And these arm warmers are cat approved. There, what more would a knitter want?

I’m really happy with these arm warmers, but I’m thinking that I want to make the ribbing a little longer at the top of the warmer to help it stay in place at the top of my arm. I wrote my pattern adjustments and you can find them on my project notes here.

Sunday the forecast is for SNOW, and this time it will probably be more than a few flakes. I am knitting like crazy on my latest sweater and I wound more yarn for another set of arm warmers. I’m starting to like tubular cast on. Someday I may be able to do it without staring at a computer screen while I work.

Have a good weekend everyone and don’t forget to knit!

p.s. I’m knitting a Zweig sweater from these yarns. I absolutely can’t wait to show it off!!

Yarn
See, won’t this look great? I love how these colors go together.

The Scleroderma Chronicles: The Fourth Year Report

Wow. It is hard to believe it, but it has been more than 4 years since my diagnosis: Limited systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) and Sjogren’s disease. Time just flies when you are having fun, right? Seriously, I have been reflecting for a few weeks about what to write to mark the end of the fourth year. Should I write about how strange a dichotomy scleroderma is: people tell me that I look good, but what they can’t see is how my entire life is organized around accommodating my illnesses. Maybe I should write about how I have developed a Zen-like patience as I hit each roadblock; why worry about things you can’t change when in the course of time all will become more clear? Maybe I should talk about growth. Personal growth in the face of a heartless disease as I came to terms with my own ability to become an active member of my treatment team and to assert myself in the face of medical experts.

Done! Personal growth it is!

Author wearing an hand knit shawl.
Even in the worst of times it is possible to create items of beauty that provide comfort and are therapeutic. I knit this shawl last spring while my doctors were determining if I had developed potentially fatal complications of systemic sclerosis: pulmonary hypertension or heart failure were the candidates. There was nothing to do but to knit on as I waited for test results.

When I was first diagnosed I really did go through a time of sadness and grief.  It just came in waves for me as I began to figure out that systemic sclerosis and Sjogren’s are both incurable and difficult to manage. Then I realized that they might be disabling. Then it finally dawned on me that they might be fatal.  To my horror I discovered that the 10-year survival rate was 60%. There would never, ever, be a “better”, I thought. The best I can hope for is becoming stable and maybe getting some softening of my skin.

The great unknowns of scleroderma really wore me down. Doctors kind of dodged my questions or referred me to another doctor on the team. I was afraid, and I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss because I was dependent on the medical specialists and I didn’t want to alienate them. I was struggling, weak, and truly a victim of my disease.

Flash forward 4 years. Things have changed. I began to keep a food log and journal and I worked out dietary changes that helped me. I participated in a self-management study, and I attended a couple of conferences. I remembered that I was trained to be a scientist, and I employed logic and reason in my scleroderma life. I spent a lot of time with Doctor Google and reading research papers at PubMed. I fired a rheumatologist, found another one, and convinced my primary care physician to meet with me regularly and to filter all the test results and doctors notes into a cohesive action plan. My care improved as I communicated better with my doctors and they developed a good sense of me and the other doctors on the team. My power over scleroderma grew as I faced down crisis after crisis. I may not conquer this disease, but by golly I will be brave and give it a good whacking!

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I have to get routine blood testing to make sure that I am tolerating the drugs that I’m on well. I went for the blood draw two weeks ago, and a couple of days later I got a phone call. There was a problem: a liver enzyme was suddenly elevated above normal ranges. I was told to head on over to urgent care to get checked out. I’m a compliant patient, so that is what I did. This is what happened when I met with the doctor in urgent care.

Doc: You’re fine. It’s just a bad test result.

Me: I have been experiencing worse (crushing) fatigue for the last two weeks as I’ve been fighting a cold and my muscle pain is pretty bad. I have been staying in bed two days recovering for every day up.

Doc: I think that we should put you on prednisone.

Me: I am very nervous about that. I’m already pretty immunosuppressed, and my pulmonologist has specifically told me to refuse steroids if I hit the ER.

Doc: Then we should start you on Cymbalta for the fibromyalgia pain.

Me: That is a drug that I’ve seen advertised that seems to have a lot of side effects. I just came through a rough patch because I was overmedicated this spring, and I’m nervous about adding another drug due to possible kidney or liver complications.

Doc: Can I at least offer you some antidepressants since you say you have trouble getting out of bed?

Me: I have fatigue not depression. It’s part of my illness.

Doc: Most chronically ill people have depression…

Me: Yep. I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression in the past. This isn’t depression.

Doc: But you will feel better.

Me: Hey, I’m not here seeking help with my illness this afternoon. I got sent here by rheumatology because of a high liver enzyme result, which you feel we should ignore, and I have chronic kidney disease. You want to prescribe a drug that will be cleared by one of those two organs? I’m not comfortable with any more medications without talking to my other doctors first. (I start edging towards the door to escape this frustrated pill pusher… maybe he just is excited to have a patient with a rare disease and wants to contribute, but I am out of here!)

Seriously, I do feel like I am living in a soap opera half the time that is being directed by my bossy cat. A soap opera staring yarn, of course!

Cat being petted.
But he is also a great source of comfort. Here he is hanging out while I was knitting the shawl that I’m wearing in my picture.

That little episode put me back into bed for another day, but I was strong, I felt informed about my illnesses, and I didn’t allow a strange doctor who was dismissive of test results to prescribe me new medications. I have grown. My thinking about what is acceptable medical care has crystalized, and I feel empowered. I will talk about these drugs with my current team, and there will be a consensus decision before I start anything new.

Over the weekend I decided to double my dose of krill oil and to eat a banana every single day. 10 days later I am over the cold, I feel much better, my muscle pain is almost gone, and it seems I am through the flare. Yippee!

So, four years into this ugly disease where am I at? I am stable! The drugs that I am on have greatly increased survival rates for systemic sclerosis patients. My skin has softened some and I have pretty good function. My Raynaud’s is well controlled. My lungs, heart and kidneys have improved and my hypertension has vanished. My GI tract continues to rule my life, but I have gotten better control with a careful diet. Fatigue and pain stalk me continually, but I was thrilled to hear this week that my eyes have also improved since my ophthalmologist started me on krill oil. Hug a krill, everyone!

I have grown, and I am stronger for it. There will be many more adventures and bumps along the scleroderma road, but I am good. My priorities have shifted, and my values have clarified. I value the small things,  have lost interest in making money, and budget my time ruthlessly. Scleroderma as a personal growth plan. Who knew?

Tomorrow I go in for the repeat blood tests to see if that enzyme is now back into normal ranges.

Whatever happens, I am good.