Sunday, September 14, 2014

Allergies

Heads up:  this is a sort of ranty post about allergies and only has one yucky picture. Stay tuned for later in the week, I want to post a more beautiful post.

I have been dealing with allergies for a while now. A few years really. And before we continue -  let's get this straight:  I. Don't. Have. Allergies.  I don't. I never have until about three or four years ago.  They have been annoying. Runny stuffy nose, sneezing for two months (April and May) - this is not fun. Especially when it has just become spring and the only thing I want to do is be outside. So I've sneezed and blown my nose and popped the Zyrtek (after trying Claritin and Benadryl) every morning. So far it has worked to keep things under control.

The spring allergies returned this year - milder than the year before and I thought okay - I'm getting over whatever this is. And then, this August...whammo:  runny nose, eyes glued shut when I woke up in the morning, sneezing like explosions (there's no suppressing it), complete gummy brain, and no relief in sight. No relief at work in air conditioning, nor in fresh air at home. I used the Zyrtek, the Benedryl, the Japanese eucalyptus oil I love, to try to breath. Nothing helps. So I had no sleep, just misery and giant bags under my watery eyes and general fogginess of mind for the entire month.

At the beginning of August I had some weird enough things happen that I needed to see a doctor. I'd googled my symptoms and had concluded: I had a tumor on my pituitary gland. Of course I didn't - or at least - we're all pretty sure I don't. Fine by me. At any rate - I had the good sense to ask for a referral to get an allergy work up done. I put it off and put it off, suffered and suffered - I don't know why - until these last three weeks where NOTHING was helping. I finally called an made an appointment. Great! Until the receptionist informed me about "In preparation for your appointment..."  I could not take any antihistamines for 5 days before the appointment. None. Zip. Nadda. Oh boy.
Figuring I might as well get a jump on the misery - I stopped taking anything a full week ahead of time.  Counting on a miserable Friday in the studio editioning an exchange, I decided to treat myself.  Earlier in the summer I happened upon a recipe that sounded really yummy, Mint Vinegar. (Mint chopped fine, lemon zest, a bit of sugar, and white vinegar. Let it steep 3-4 weeks.) Trepedatiously I'd sampled the product and found that it tasted just like the frozen lime pops we'd eaten as kids. Not too bad. I put two tablespoons in a glass added cold seltzer and ice. Delicious! I sipped this all morning. Around noon I realized, I felt pretty good! No sneezing, no nose blowing, no watery - itchy eyes, and a functioning brain! Zowie! Things were looking up. I had lunch, came back to the studio and within an hour - misery had set in once more. I went back upstairs and made myself another cocktail - of the same as the morning.  By four in the afternoon I was feeling wonderful again.  A thought occurs - does vinegar have anti-histamine properties?  A quick google search shows that in fact it does! You can find all kinds of reference to using apple cider vinegar for antihistamine properties.  (By Friday's appointment I had run out of the yummy tonic and was drinking straight rice vinegar. It's not so bad as you'd think.)
I decided, since google had proven me right on the crazy idea about the vinegar, to ask google if I could be allergic to sunflowers too. Probably. As it turns out sunflowers are in the top five flowers that cause the most allergies. Augh! My beautiful flowers! Five of which were on the kitchen table right next to me as I was googling, shedding their pollen.  I couldn't accept it. I continued to sneeze and blow my nose every 60 seconds. Because I was not going to throw the flowers out!
To sum up, the week was pretty miserable. By Tuesday morning I'd managed to sneeze so hard so many times I'd pulled a muscle on my back by my right side. Really painful. The only position I could take so it wouldn't hurt when I sneezed was to squeeze my arms as tight as possible to my body. I sneezed so much and so loud, passers-by on the side walk outside my house would call out - "Bless you!"  Additionally, the mosquito bites I sustained this week were awful! I really haven't noticed anything all summer - probably because of the antihistamines. But this past week - I scratched myself bloody in a few places. Not very sexy. Worst of all was work. Once I removed the sunflowers from the kitchen my symptoms lessened and I was much more comfortable at home. But at work - I kept sneezing, even though we vacuumed and turned the air filters up full blast.
Friday I went to see the doc. I can't tell you that the allergy testing is a fun appointment. It's not. But it is also really not as bad as I'd anticipated.
They took my blood pressure. Good. 120/80. They sounded surprised.
They gave me a breathing test. Great! - I actually improved with each test (they do three). They seemed even more surprised.
They poked my back all full of stuff and left me for 15 minutes. I fell asleep.
They came back and the doc read some numbers and then told me it looked like I was allergic to pollens, mostly trees. But it didn't look like I was allergic to indoor issues such as dust and mold. And especially not cats and dogs. (Can I just say, phew!?)
To be sure, they gave me more tests in my arms. The nurse walked in with a tray so full of needles it looked like a plastic porcupine.  She said, "I'm not going to lie to you, this will hurt."
I didn't fall asleep this time. Instead the nurse and I talked about flying to Mars.
Finally the doc came in with her verdict. 
I am extremely allergic to rag weed. (currently blooming - everywhere)
I am allergic to most pollens, trees especially and grasses etc.
I am not allergic to pet dander etc., nor am I allergic to mold or dust - all of which is great news! But doesn't explain my allergies at work. This is very concerning. 
To treat my pollen allergies I am supposed to do the following:
  • keep my windows closed during pollen season (spring, summer, fall)
  • no laundry outside
  • no activity outside between 10am and 4pm
  • take a shower after I've been outside during these hours
  • shower before going to bed
  • wash the cat after he's been outside
  • take a prescription stronger-than-zyrtek medication
  • use a nasal spray
  • consider shot treatment (1x/week the first year, every 2 weeks the 2nd year, 1x/month the third year) which is supposed to boost my immunity to the allergens.
Are they crazy? windows closed all year? no laundry outside? (I don't have a dryer) and excuse me - wash the cat every time he goes outside?!  
I got the feeling the doctor was really pushing the shots. I mean really pushing. She called in the prescriptions for me, made an appointment for me two months out and said we would discuss the shots then. I'm not doing that. Period. I've found mixed reviews about how well those work.
I went home and picked up the prescription on the way. The pharmacist told me to wait until later in the evening to take it as it would probably make me drowsy.
I'm not really sure what happened after I took it. I'm not really sure what I accomplished on Saturday morning either. Could I breath - yes. So that was nice. But I felt like i was running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But I can't be sure - It's all sort of - gone. All of the things I usually do so efficiently I couldn't do. Finally I decided I needed to go for a bike ride.  That only took half an hour to organize. Water, shoes, feed the cats, water the cats, run around, laundry? No - rain. Okay finally I got it together, got on my bike and was off. I was a good way away before I realized I was not wearing my helmet nor sunglasses. It had not even crossed my mind to put the helmet on.  I never. never. forget my helmet. Not in this town. So - I'm not taking this medication either! I think I'll live with my vinegar and try the mild Zyrtek when I need it. This morning I took a good look around at where the rag weed might be lurking, and there was a nice bunch of it growing right under my bedroom window. There is also a fantastic patch of it in the empty lot up the street. Maybe I can talk Mr. El into going in there and whacking all of that down. 

This whole allergy nonsense has got me thinking about things. I'm not convinced I have allergies. I think it is a weakening of my immune system due to some other medication I'm taking. My allergies came on only after I started taking the other medication.  It is very frustrating. I really need to take this other medication - but "allergies" as such, is not actually one of the recognized side effects. I wonder...

I spent today in the garden. It was glorious. Cool enough to wear yoga pants, but warm enough in the sun to wear a tank top. I did all of my laundry and hung it up outside. hmph. I'm a little congested this evening. But right now - I'm ready to approach this problem conservatively and see if we can't treat the cause and not just the symptom. Because so far, that hasn't really worked.

More soon - with lots of pretty pictures.  Promise.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Bee Man Cameth

 
Yes he did. He came yesterday. And as it turns out this was quite an auspicious day for him to come.
 
In the morning I had received an email notification of the Convivio Book of Days blog post for August 24th, St. Bartholomew's Day. It is quite an entertaining post for us book artists and bee hosts. In case you aren't going to follow that link, I'll sum up the important points. 
1. St. Bart is the patron saint of tanners and butchers. Why? 'cause he was flayed alive. 
2. Therefore, he is also the patron saint of book binders, paper makers and printers (because of the leather and vellum and stuff - which book binders and printers use).
3. There is a lovely prediction: 
            If Bartlemy’s Day be fair and clear,
            hope for a prosperous autumn this year.
And it was a beautiful day yesterday.   
3. Also, St. Bart happens to be the patron saint of Bee Keepers. The logic there fails me here a little. 

But never the less!... Matt happened to come on the appropriate day as August 24th is the traditional day in England to harvest the honey. And harvest he did. 
He took two of the "supers." He thought they had about 40lbs. of honey each. They were so full the bees hand built combs in between the two and when he pulled them apart they were just dripping honey.  

 He very kindly scraped the combs, honey, bees and all into plates for me. Finally it got to be too much and I had to get bigger bowls.  The result was three jars of combs and honey (two for him - one for Miss Mary), and then some left over for me.  
And it is delicious! Fresh honey! I don't think there is anything better. It is so sweet and delicious. 
Matt also scraped off some of the propolis for me. This is an extremely sticky, resinous stuff the bees use for all kinds of stuff. You'll have to follow the link to wikipedia because otherwise I'd just be plagiarizing. It sounds like very interesting stuff, definitely worth spending more time researching. 
  
Any by the way - it smells heavenly! A power punch of that smell from bees wax. If you could get high from it - we'd all be in big trouble.

And then I also figured that if the saying were true: 

  If Bartlemy’s Day be fair and clear,
            hope for a prosperous autumn this year.

Then I would be needing a new purse, or as they say in Philadelphia a new pocketbook. It was such a beautiful day after two days of rainy gloom and I just want to be prepared for all this prosperity.   

I had already been planning something along these lines for various reasons. Pedro bought me the most wonderful pocketbook in the winter. But as the summer came on it turns out the pleather is sticky. Not very comfortable. So I've been wanting to recreate the same bag in cloth. And even though I really like the bag the way it is, as I was fiddling with this new one, I thought it could use some improvements. Like, more pockets.
 I am rather pleased with it. There is a long pocket on the right for umbrella, coffee cup, fan, or whatever. And on the left side is a pocket for keys and a pocket for cellphone. All the important stuff on the outside.
On the inside we have - ha! even more pockets! Trust me. No bag can have enough pockets.
My only complaint about the design is the gaping key-pocket. I need to address this somehow, either with a snap or something to keep the keys anchored to the bag. It would be inefficient to lose one's keys.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mozzarella!

Mozzarella class! On Wednesday I took a Mozzarella class through the Fair Food Farm Stand at Reading Terminal. They've recently build a teaching kitchen in the back. About 30 of us spent a couple of hours listening to Rynn Caputo of Caputo Brother's Creamery and sampling minutes fresh mozzarella. What a lovely evening.  Actually - I feel the need to quote Rynn and clarify - we did not make mozzarella. Mozzarella is made from the milk of a water buffalo, only that stuff can be called mozzarella. We made Fior di Latte.

Caputo Brother's Creamery has a wonderful history. I won't go into it much here - but you can read all about it on their website or watch the video of their Friday Arts feature.

Rynn Caputo is a cheerful, high energy, fun, teacher. She demonstrated three batches and we scarfed each batch down.  Here she is talking about that wooden paddle technique:
 
Allow the cheese to stretch itself: 
And finally folding it before making the final balls of cheese. She makes it look so easy. That is very hot cheese right there. 

We leave the workshop with a pound of the frozen cheese curds ready to make our own cheese. 

After defrosting in the fridge, the curd is broken into a stainless steel bowl, a "friendship bowl" of cold water is also needed and then the sea salt.

Add 190°F water to warm the curds (don't forget the three four-fingered pinches of salt before the hot water - like I did). 

Try to be as graceful as Rynn scooping up the slippery curd and allowing it to stretch itself. 
Burn your hands all to heck trying to fold that hot cheese under: 
  
Big Ball...

Turn into a baguette. If you are making caprese, stop here. 

Make the cheese balls by scooping the baguette up and pinching between thumb and forefinger, break off with the other hand. And voilá! (what is Italian for voilá!?)

Then dinner - with a fresh tomato from the garden. Sorry about the blurry photos, it's hard to gauge the clarity when you are using a tripod and remote control to take the photos. I need to practice more. 

Also fresh basil from the garden, a little balsamic and cracked pepper. Even though I forgot the salt, it tastes really good. 
 
I do need more practice at this though. I think the cheese was a little chewy. I'm not sure if I worked it too much or let it sit in the hot water too long (because I was busy taking pictures) or what. Rynn did say that you should take your time, piano, piano...  But maybe I took too much time. It's just too bad that I will have to try it again, and again, until I get it right. However, this does mean I need to get my rear on a bicycle pronto because I have no idea how many points this stuff is. I can't imagine is very low. 

I did get to visit Jessica and her new little peanut. He is so little -teeny tiny! Kenneth Armando (Armantito!) Here he is with mommy and a good handful of her hair.
  

And lastly, if you are tired of my sunflowers, you can quit the post now because I'm just going a few pictures of my gorgeous teddy bear sunflower. It is about the size of a pomelo.
   
Right in the middle here (above) is the flower in question.

I am just fascinated by it and want to keep looking at it.  How can one flower have so many petals!?






The back patch: 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Black Cat Appreciation Day - Belated

According to the most esteemed, scholarly, news feed of it's kind, Cuteoverload.com reported yesterday, that it was officially Black Cat Appreciation Day.  Someone failed to notify me in time!
NOT that it matters much. If you ask Jacques, every day is Black Cat Appreciation Day! duh. 
 
My sweet baby, who knows he is SO handsome.
The best Craig's List find, ever!

When I first decided I needed a cat in Philadelphia, there was no doubt in my mind - I wanted a black, male, cat. All of my experiences with them had been wonderful. They are quite the personality-plus little guys. I had just finished cat-sitting for two black kitties, Ezekiel and Nico, and knew that's what I wanted.   Nico, (left) little butterball, with the LOUDEST purr I have every heard. Sweet - just wants love, scared to death of his own shadow, used to wake me up in the morning by bumping his wet nose against mine when the snooze went off. This usually took about an hour. 
Ezekiel, who sadly has gone on to the happy hunting grounds, was so miserable the entire time I was watching him. Used to being able to roam a neighborhood, the confinement of a two-room apartment, though large, was tough on him.  He showed his love by butting his forehead against mine and just held that pose for a while. He was a really neat cat. Sure of himself, he introduced himself the first time I met him by hopping right up onto a chair until he was almost eye-level,  expecting to be noticed. 
The cat I had to leave behind in California - Baghira - was also a great big fluffy black ball of sweetness. Baggy was so sweet, I never had to put him in a cat carrier to take him to the vet. He always knew what was up, but he never ran. He just stuck to me like velcro until we were sitting, and then stuck his head under my arm. He never realized that the rest of his 16lbs. of rump was still sitting on my lap in full view of anyone!
Baggy played his cards right. I caught him as a tiny kitten. He fit into my hand. Someone had burned his paws with cigarettes - you could see the burn marks on the pads.  He was like one of those little "pills" you throw in water and they immediately expand into some giant sponge or something. We added food and within a week he tripled in size. My mother, the dog lover, was not in favor of keeping this little guy. But every time she would go out to the patio (where he was staying), he would be the biggest love bug. After four weeks she said, "I guess we have a cat now." We had to juggle "schedules" between Max the wire hair Dachshund - who HATED cats - and Baggy (named for Baghira in the Jungle Book). But we made it work. Sadly this was all long before the age of digital and so I only have film images of sweet Baggy. You'll just have to take my word on all of that.  

I found Jacques after a long search on Craig's List.
Five months old (approximately) and skinny, the little guy came reluctantly. He was very nervous at first and so I just let him be.  I was working from home at the time so we had plenty of time to bond and get used to each other. He developed into quite a character. Sometimes, it's almost as if he is trying to have a conversation with me.    
Jacques has put up with all kinds of my antics. Trying to entice him to bubbles,  
Playing Harry Potter dress up. 
He is the inspector, checking on all of my life's choices,
But not working too hard.
Snow, by the way, is really not his favorite season.
 
As if I needed any more evidence, I was trying desperately to find a picture of me and Melanie's sweet kitty MJ, who was another great little character. I know I sent her a picture of me and MJ, but now I cannot find it! So I hope she doesn't mind too terribly that I stole an image from her website. Lots of TLC needs to be sent to Melanie because her sweet baby, MJ, passed away this spring, tragically and suddenly.  He was a very sweet, attentive, young, inquisitive, sometimes devious, but always innocent! little guy. Always with his mommy Mellie. Here he is in his usual place of occupancy, Melanie's lap as she worked in her studio. 
So - Hooray! for Black Cats! Adopt one today! Your life will be infinitely better for it. 

PS: just so you know, I edited considerably! I have oodles of Jacques pictures. This post could have been miles long. In fact, I'm considering making a post titled, MINE. I need a place to post all of the images of Jacques sitting on my stuff, as is his right, because it's his anyway. I'm just staff. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A very productive weekend

Yes it was. Very productive. Brace yourselves...
I think it was the result of a particularly bad allergy week and that I did nothing during the week. Now you must understand something - I. Do. Not. Have. Allergies. No I don't. But about four years ago all of the sudden April and May became very sneezy. Now it seems that I am to be treated to another bout for the month of August. This time the allergy package has a bonus! Itchy eyes. At first I thought I was just having an eye irritation after all of the crying on Monday for the devastating news about Robin Williams. But the irritation did not go away and was compounded with more sneezy for the rest of the week. I must have used about 8 hankies a day because that was all that was in the light colored wash. Practically took up the whole laundry line. Anyway - come weekend time, I had purchased more Zyrtek and the generic Benadrill and it was manageable. Today I seem to be much much better. I sure hope it was a one week thing.

But on to the productivity!
Last weekend! I finally finished the green flowered blouse! Yay! As I said - it was one of those too-many-years-in-the-making projects. Don't let my Omi see the tailoring which is, ahem, well, for her would be unacceptable. You can see the stitchs! gasp! But no one else (I hope) is going to notice.   
I'm happy with it. It fits, it doesn't pucker anywhere weird, and it stayed together when I wore it. What more could anyone ask for? 

Friday: this other blouse was a bit less of a long and drawn out project, but still a relief to be finished. This is the same pattern as the pink and blue blouses from this post
It's my first stretchy fabric success! I think I only had to re-thread my surger once? That's pretty darn good! But I sure did fiddle and fiddle and fiddle on Friday. My Omi would have been much more proud of me for this blouse. Now it fits really well. Think I'll wear it tomorrow. 

In a crazy fit of productivity on Saturday (anything to not think about the allergies) I tackled some more of those projects I've been meaning to do for a while now.  A few years ago, I read an article in some outdoorsy magazine about using recycled umbrella tops for shopping bags. And I thought - what a great idea.  
Between Pedro and me, over the last year we collected quite a few. As a native Californian, one of the natural phenomena in Philadelphia that still surprises me, is the discarded umbrella. Once broken, the umbrella is simply tossed aside. It is not unusual to find their spidery mechanisms sticking up out of a garbage can. More often you find them blowing across the street or somewhere equally inconvenient because the former owner has simply tossed them aside in frustration. I was actually carrying a pair of scissors around for a while so I could cut the top off immediately instead of hauling the whole thing home. I stopped collecting after a while because I really wasn't doing anything with them. 
The bags are pretty easy to make. The article claimed they would also be waterproof because of the umbrella material. I don't think this is true. I made the dark green one back in the winter and have used it to pick up my farm share every week. One week I got caught in a down pour and didn't worry too much because the bag was supposed to be waterproof. Hmmm. The bag was soaking wet and so were the contents. Thank goodness they were just vegetables. 
Not all of the bags have been taken for a test drive yet so maybe some of the other fabrics work better.  This one is from the cutest umbrella I bought in Korea. Unfortunately the wire frame broke as soon as I got it home. But the fabric was so cute I just couldn't throw it out. The bags all have at least one bottle holder, this one has two. The best part about these bags is that you can leave the "closure" on the bag and use that to roll the bag up to practically nothing!

Fits right in my purse!  

I also had two XL umbrella covers.  The stripy one and the beige plaid one. I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to make a yoga bag with matching tote.
 I think I did OK once I worked the math out for the circular end pieces. My allergy brain did not compute the simple C=πd equation. (20in= 3.14d, solving for d the first time I got 9.55.... Good Grief! That's not even possible. Finally the second time I got something closer to 6.5. Much better.)
The yoga mat bag is slightly loose because I like to just roll everything up together - wet towels, mat and everything - all at once. I take it out as soon as I get home and wash and dry everything. The tote bag is a bit smaller than the other totes, but still one water bottle slot and plenty of room for clothing change, or ??? I had every intention of making another one out of the beige plaid material but I just ran out of steam. Maybe I will soon. I'm not really interested in keeping these, maybe I should sell them on etsy? What do you think?
And I don't know why, maybe I was feeling a little guilty that I'd run out of steam - 

 So I made some yoga head bands out of defunct leggings and iron-on butterflies.
  This afternoon I decided to spend my time in my garden.  It is blooming beautifully and I just needed  some time to enjoy it. As an added bonus, I manage to get a really good rough draft of my syllabus finished as well.
This week I'm, hopefully, taking a Mozzarella making class at Reading Terminal! I say hopefully because I'm nervous that not enough people have signed up and it won't run. I'm really excited and shall report back on my success or disaster - however it turns out.

But garden garden garden!
Another chance to play find the mantis:
 Her close-up:
 Teddy bear sunflowers:

 Regular gorgeous sunflowers which need to be protected from the squirrels:

And lastly,
Oh Captain my Captain.... 

I'm so sorry you had to leave us. We will miss you very much.