Slowly emerging from the darkness and lots of changes

I’m alive, although I don’t know if I can say the same about this blog, or other aspects of my life for that matter. My life stopped in April and I’m still trying to take the reigns of it. I still don’t have a definitive diagnostic about what’s wrong with me (I’ll know more next week) but I guess it’s a mix between a severe oral allergy syndrome and histamine intolerance. Around April my life started to be unbearable, I started my peregrination to many different doctors and all this took a heavy toll. Since these two conditions are not very well known and not very well investigated, I started to read, study and soak any related information, which consumed all my energies. All my efforts were focused on knowing what is wrong with me, how to improve it, talking to people with similar issues, visiting doctors, working on my diet. Being ill is a full time job, leaving no energies or time for anything else. I kept doing my job thanks to being extremely lucky and being able to work from home. Otherwise I don’t know how I would have been able to manage. I can’t eat outside. I need to prepare all my meals from scratch, avoiding what is normal and healthy for most people, even spices. I need to know and control all the ingredients in everything I eat to avoid allergic reactions and feeling miserable the day after. And I need very fresh food. I have to avoid all fruits and most vegetables due to my oral allergy syndrome, cereals and potatoes are also out for the same reason, gluten makes me extremely tired and dairy gives me a horrible congestion the same day and even more the day after. And then the eggs. Eating eggs gives me a horrible migraine the day after. Sometimes I don’t get the migraine, but I feel like I have the worst hangover ever, not being able to think or drag my miserable body around our apartment. At least I’m starting to know my triggers and I have to say that my oral allergy has improved a little bit, meaning that my lips and throat are not swelling with every meal I have. Now it’s usually just my lips once or twice a day. That is helping with avoiding losing more weight. Two weeks ago I went to a Mastocytosis research center and my weight was 44.9 Kg. Today it’s almost 46 and I’m not feeling like I’m going to faint if I need to walk somewhere.

Unlike it’s mentioned in “the Fault in our Stars” (read the book, didn’t watch the movie), Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is true, at least for me. I was (am) so busy reading about these diseases that I abandoned all the rest. I stopped knitting in part because of the horrible eczema I have between my fingers (partly due to my allergies, partly due to the medication), then I stopped sewing too. The last makes were a Lady Skater dress, a pair of Prefontaine shorts and a Soma bikini.

I have cut another Lady Skater that I didn’t bring myself to sew. My body has changed a lot since all this started. I think I’ve lost like almost 10 Kg and I don’t know how it will be in the next future. Part of my weight was due to the muscle I got practicing capoeira and I know that I will probably never be able to practice again, at least with the same intensity. In hinder sight, probably the intensity of it has worsened my histamine intolerance. Anyway, I just don’t know where I’m headed. I had a plan of making a pair of shorts for Koen using the Jedediah pants pattern I used last year, but then other things got in the way.

 

When all this started, when I still had the hope that I was going to get over it quite fast, we decided that this summer we deserved a treat. We wanted to travel again, not very far, not very costly, but just spending some days somewhere else. We rented an apartment for 6 days in August  in Lanzarote and hoped for the best. Koen has been complaining a bit for a while about our apartment, just because it’s too small and how wonderful it would be to have an apartment with a terrace and a guest room. And after checking online for some weeks we finally found a lovely place. But it was at the wrong time. Just before Koen had to spend a week in Denver to attend a congress and a week after we had our vacation in Lanzarote. And as I’ve said before, being ill is a full-time job and a vacation in thiese conditions is not a vacation. That week I lost more than one kilo and I spent quite some time reading and starving.

And Koen was offered a new contract and I had also mine renewed. And if we wanted the apartment, we had to take it at that precise moment, with no time to think carefully because we were in a waiting list and more people were behind us. We moved in one month ago, but with all this, there’s still a lot of work to do here. It’s in a very old building but the apartment has been renovated and it has a wonderful terrace. When we first arrived it was a bit frustrating, since half of the plants were dead and we discovered several surprises, like a problem with the washing machine pipe, the oven door, or the upstairs neighbor being too friendly with pigeons, and the consequent “presents” we get each morning from them. The word to describe the state we found the terrace is decadent. Dead plants, pigeon drops, a broken hose. But the place has quite some charm and it has lots of possibilities. It also means that  there’s a lot of work to be done and while it helps me to feel motivated, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming.

Anyhow, we have a lot more place than before, so I hope I can start sewing again soon. Other good thing of it is that we can invite friends home and that will help me to get part of my social life back. Our previous apartment was very small and we haven’t gone out for several months. No dinners or drinks outside.

I haven’t even read sewing or knitting blogs during these past months, I even abandoned instagram most of the time, but yesterday evening I found myself checking a couple of blogs again. I think the worst is over and I will have my life back soon.

There have been also some changes in the feathery department. Gerry was a bit stressed the first days after the move but he’s enjoying now the fact that he has a lot more space, and one of the windows in the living room has become his favorite spot from where he has a nice view of the square in front of our building.

And do you remember Leslie? The Gouldian finch I found on the street almost two months ago?

He came in a pretty bad state, very hungry and distressed. His health improved but still his behavior was not the one of a happy bird. After a month of trying to find his previous owners with no luck, we decided to give him a girlfriend, and two weeks later Sally came home. You can see that both look very healthy and active, they eat very well, Leslie sings and they seem quite happy together.

P.S.: I haven’t danced in ages. I miss it so much… I hope I can do it again soon…

Birthday and a give away

Today is my birthday. It’s been a long time since I have celebrated it, and the total of times that I did can be counted with the fingers of a hand. I dislike being the center of attention and I always prefer very small groups of… two rather than larger ones where I only feel lost and small. But this year was different. I know that we all have psychological barriers that we should overcome, and I knew this was one of mine. So I’ve decided this year to celebrate it with a small group of friends. I was quite stressed just before, I wanted everybody to feel fine and not obligated to come, but in the end it paid off. We were six (we missed one because he was out of town) and we had a nice and fun time together.

We went for dinner to a friend’s burger and then we went for a drink. After that two left because they leave outside Madrid, and the rest of us decided to go to a rock bar to dance. It was the third time for Koen and me there, and like the previous two times we danced some rock’n’roll and lindy-hop, and like the other two times, the DJ started an applause that extended to the rest of the bar. Weird and funny 🙂 I just wished it was Summer to wear a nice 40’s or 50’s dress for the occasion. But it was quite cold. We reached 3ºC (around 37ºF).

But the best of all was Koen. When we arrived home he came to me with some carefully wrapped presents in a beautiful paper (he used to be not very good at wrapping but he improved a LOT):

The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting.

Embroidery scissors, 5” craft scissors and dressmaker shears.

And the last one was so Koen-like: A scissors sharpening stone!

And I say that this is very Koen-like because lately Koen is very much into cut-throat razors. We are a bit of a vintage couple (when me met we discovered that both of us collected old radios and loved rock’n’roll music) and for already some months Koen ‘s been buying any cut-throat razor that he found in a decent state to restore it. He spends hours sharpening and stropping them and he even has different stones to do it. You can see us any evening watching a good TV show, while I knit and he sharpens. I know, we can be a weird couple 😉

But the best was the card that came with the presents. He wrote the most beautiful and thoughtful message anyone has ever written to me. He claims that he’s not very good with words, but he surpassed any poet with what he wrote. I’m so happy and so lucky that I could explode.

And as this weekend I’m all about breaking barriers and taking initiatives I want to organize a give away. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and the winner will get a pattern of choice up to $10 from Ravelry. Since this is just for downloadable patterns, this contest is open worldwide. It will be open for one week, until November 24th at midnight. Good luck!

Barswingona

This past long weekend was not very productive regarding knitting. We assisted to an international Lindy-Hop event in Barcelona. With four hours of class per day and then the parties where we could continue dancing and watching the teachers’ showcases, we had no much energy left in our bodies the rest of the day but just to nap.

I did a bit of knitting in the train and during one of the lazy afternoons while we were watching Downton Abbey. I started a pair of socks for my mother with a yarn I recently got, and I see that what you pay is what you get. It was rather cheap, but see what came from inside the ball after I pulled some yarn to find the end:

The festival was great, and even we came back home exhausted, it was worth it. We watched a super exciting Jack and Jill that was an absolute adrenaline shot. Lindy-Hop is just such a happy dance,being there felt like being at the Savoy during the 30’s: nice dresses, lots of make up, smart suits, sweat and swing music. You could feel the floor vibrating under your feet at the rhythm of the music, just pure energy coming from the dancers. And I could finally wear one of the dresses I’ve made last year. This picture was taken at the hotel, just before leaving for the party. I have to confess that I polished my nails with my coat already on to be able to let them dry on our way to the ballroom. The pictures quality is not great, since they were taken with our phones. We did not want to pack with us the SLR camera, since we had already a lot of stuff. It’s not easy to pack for a dance festival. You need lots of t-shirts, towels for the sweat during classes, two or three pairs of shoes, pants, a dress for each party, make up, …

At the party on Friday we met a couple of friends of ours from Brussels. We used to attend the same Lindy-Hop classes. It was a great surprise meeting them there and being able to dance with them again.

We had two classes with the wonderful William and Maeva. When watching their videos, she looks like an impressive woman, and I was surprised to find such a cute little girl.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpuZ3vTfnds]

I have some more news related to crafting, but it’s been quite hectic since we came back so it’ll have to wait a little bit.

My wonderful sunset Freija is already finished!

This past weekend I couldn’t dedicate too much time to my knitting due to the Swing Madrid Festival. Seven hours dancing on Saturday plus two on Sunday left us brain dead. I managed though to block Émilien and Freija. Émilien is done, but I have problems to find a zipper with the right grey tone. Monday was bank holiday, so I set to the task of sewing the buttons to Freija. Wow, beautiful and adequate buttons; I don’t get tired of looking at them!

I wanted to make this cardigan for ages, almost since I started knitting. I started last year with a yarn that turned out too thick for it (Malabrigo Worsted Merino) just because I was too lazy to read the pattern twice. I finally got the right yarn just before Christmas and I casted on in the train back from my Vigo to Madrid (6 hour trip) at the beginning of January. I temporarily paused this project to work on Émilien and it seems I finished both almost at the same time.

I used the wonderful yarn Malabrigo Rios. It was the first time using this one and I am sure I will use it again and again. It’s beautiful, warm and incredibly soft. Like other supper-wash it feels a little bit like cotton, but with some elasticity. It has nice drape and it seems more durable than Malabrigo Worsted Merino. At least I don’t think it’s going to pill like that one. We’ll see with time.

I made size 33” and decided to remove the bobbles. They didn’t add any beauty in my opinion and I can see them easily caught in zippers, hooks or anything sharp, ruining the cardigan. I would have maybe narrow a little bit the waist, but I think it’s a problem of mine. My waist is quite thin and most sweaters are a bit loose there. Anyway I think it has a great fit. It grew a little bit after blocking, and the neck fits perfectly now. I was a bit afraid of having narrowed it too much, but at the it has just the right size.

I  modified the sleeves, making them much narrower. I did like the original, but it felt to me more like a jacket or a coat and I prefer fitted sleeves for normal cardigans (that I can wear under a coat). This is how I modified them:

  1. Cast on 40 st.
  2. After the M1’s they become 48 st.
  3. Increase 2 st with M1R, k, pm, k, M1L every 12 rows 4 times (rows 14, 26, 38, 50). 56 stitches.
  4. Remove increases on rows 74-76 (detailed in pattern).
  5. After row 73 work two sleeves at a time.
  6. Reverse sleeves (left is right and right is left).

After joining the arms I had 260 stitches instead of 282 (11 less st per arm) and I continued to decrease as it was described in the pattern until I got 124 stitches instead of 146, so the neck is around 20 stitches narrower than the original. I have a thin neck and again, the one on the pattern seemed a bit too wide.

The pattern calls for a three needle bind off for the underarms, but that adds a bit of bulk that I don’t like and doesn’t make sense to me in a seamless cardigan, so I just grafted and I can say that it looks neater to me.

March

This March is going to be a busy month. Today I have a class about photography and night lighting which I’m very excited about. And tomorrow we are leaving for the Canary Islands to a trip organized by Koen and my mother. Every Winter she says how much she would like to visit the islands when it’s cold here so that she can enjoy the sunshine there, and it had to be Koen who made this true. He played with the idea of renting a bike there and climbing the Mount Teide but he didn’t want to leave me alone for so many hours. He’s a semi-professional cyclist, used to ride 100 Km in one go. So he proposed the trip as a family event so that I could enjoy my family while he was enjoying the bike, and I could rest from the stress of my family when he was back. And that did the trick: my mother got convinced and she, my sister and my niece are flying tonight and we are doing it tomorrow morning.

After the trip to the Algarve last July I’m a bit worried that I’m going to get a bit stressed again. That usually happens with my family if we are together more than four days in a row, so I’m planning to take a lot of knitting with my to help me relax and progress in my projects. I’m going to pack Émilien, Freija (both are almost finished), wool for Fridica’s test and probably something else. When I’m away I’m always afraid of running out of projects to work on, especially if I go to places where I know it will be difficult to find decent wool. As a result I always carry around too much yarn that I don’t have time enough to work with, but I guess that happens to most of us.

The weekend after that we are attending the Swing Madrid Festival where I doubt I’m going to progress in my knitting, but the weekend after we are going to Barswingona. Again, I don’t think I’m going to knit a lot there, but we have a three hour train ride and guess what I’m going to do during those three hours!

Why we do things

I’m going to talk today about a couple of thing that you didn’t know about me. You know me as a knitter, that I dance Lindy Hop and that I moved to Madrid one year ago. But what about the rest? I’m going to tell you a little bit today.

As I often work from home (I don’t have a team here in Spain and I don’t have an office for myself where I can comfortably call customers) I need my evenings to socialise and “move the body”, as I say, after 9 hours of lonely sitting.

In June I decided to retake Pilates classes. I used to do it years ago, before going to Belgium, and I remembered it did wonders with my back. You don’t know either, but three or four years ago, when I was living in Belgium, I had a very bad year with a lot of back pain, irradiated pain to my right arm and hand and long hours at the physiotherapist. The humidity there was also a killer for my back and I had a severe case of LBP in the middle of July. So I decided to go back to Pilates class and I found a wonderful Russian guy that teaches very good and hard classes just 5 minutes from our home. I can say that since then I improved very much and I rarely have back pain nowadays, except for those very few days that are cold and humid here in Madrid.

Pilates is a very good exercise but unfortunately it doesn’t help to work on your condition. I have asthma and this is something very important. After spending all my days sitting on a chair I noticed that I used to get tired just when walking uphill and I often was out of breath. So last August I decided to sign up on the gym I have also 5 minutes from our place. There I tried spinning and I hated it. I also tried Pilates to see if it was any good and I could save some money and quit the place of the Russian guy, but what I saw there was very disappointing. I was going to stay with the Russian. I tried the machines but I got rapidly bored. There were lots of different classes and almost randomly one day picked Capoeira. It was hard, man. And my legs hurt for four days after that Wednesday. Going down the stairs of the metro was almost impossible and I couldn’t dance at the Swing party of that Saturday. But I went back and I got hooked, and my condition and strength have improved  enormously. It’s also fun and it has the added value of being a group activity, you feel like being part of something.

And here it is one of the examples that I wanted to illustrate. Why we do things. Time can pass and things can evolve, but you always have to remember why you do things. Yesterday we had a quite hard class and I got yelled at and I had to repeat things and I was almost cool at it. It’s just his way of teaching. But then I continued to be yelled at and the teacher told me that he was getting tired of repeating always the same and the he already got a name and that we still needed to build ours and bla bla bla. And I suddenly realized that I ALREADY have a name of my own (hey, I’m Elena, pleased to meet you) and another one that I gave to myself when I belonged to the Tolkien Society and that I kept using in Ravelry and some other parallel worlds. So I don’t really need to build up a NAME and a reputation if I just want to learn Capoeira for the fun of it and its benefits (condition, strength and elasticity). I’m not dreaming of becoming an important figure nor fighting on important events. Most of my classmates are younger boys. Their body and mind are more suited to this, but not mine. I’m just a 34 year asthmatic woman that goes there for fun and to feel healthier.

Last May or June (I don’t remember) I started taking sewing class. Well not only sewing, since the main goal is being able to take your measurements and make patterns to then cut and sew clothes. I decided to go because I have always been very curious about this and wanted to learn. It was organized at my friends’ shop La Guerra de los Botones and it was also 5 minutes from y place. I have to confess that since I started I have just finished a skirt and a dress, I fixed my boyfriend swimming trunks and I’m almost finishing a Winter coat. My goal from attending this class was not filling up my closet. Since we moved to this tiny apartment I’m very please with myself that I learned to stop myself from buying tons of clothes that I will later not wear. Well, that also applies to wool and antiques and lots of stuff that I used to buy without thinking twice. I am happy with this change in my life and I have no regrets. It’s also that another goal was learning new techniques, and I’m doing it. Every garment I made was quite complicated and none of them could be called simple. So when one of our classmates, which has made almost a dress per week, teases me at almost every class and says that what I’m working on should be finished for the next class, I just smile, say nothing and remember why I decided to go to there in the first place.

It’s also that I could sew more at home, but I prefer to keep that time for knitting, and what I want now is to finish my boyfriend’s cardigan.

I put already a lot of pressure on myself at work, my boss always tells me, but that’s what helps me earning the money to buy food, pay the bills, pay my classes and buying beautiful yarn.I don’t need to put more pressure on any other disciplines because they are just there to make me feel fine and nothing else.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smamrmgbPf8]

Good morning baby, I home I’m gonna make it through another day.

Worshop for followers

I haven’t been doing a lot of knitting this past weekend, more than checking with Koen where he wanted the pockets in his cardigan and following Katushika’s directions to add those stitches where pockets will be.

There’s a lot of stuff that I do apart from knitting. For good of for bad I’ve tried many different things in my life. Some went and some stuck, and the Swing belongs to the ones that stayed me. I’ve been dancing Lindy Hop for about 5 years with Koen and we are enjoying a sudden blooming here in Madrid. This was a weekend full of Swing. There were workshops and there were parties. Sadly we didn’t attend the parties because I finished this last Saturday with a batch of antibiotics and the workshops had already consumed all my energies. But more parties will come. With this Swing fever covering Madrid, there are several parties every week.

The workshops were very interesting, and especially the one of Saturday, dedicated exclusively to followers. We learned not only how to move, how to turn with balance and elegance, or to command our bodies to do what we wanted but also some tips for twists and swivels that will come in handy.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6MNx_WvY4E]

Next month is going to be busy with the Madrid Swing Festival and Barswingona, but I’ll keep on knitting!

And for those of you who doesn’t know what swing is about, I leave you here some bits and pieces from the movie Swing Kids.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BJ3-pkBlUQ]