A Perfect Storm : Life with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Sometimes I get pretty smug about how well I live my life with a connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. See my post: Swim and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome for an example. I am pretty proud of myself for regaining my health after a long six or seven years spent disabled by the condition.. it took a lot of research, and then a lot of grief, and then a lot of work and commitment to get to the place I’m in now, which is mainly healthy and pretty active. But every now and then I’m humbled by the power of this condition to take complete control of my life when I least expect it.

No matter how hard I try to remain healthy, now and again I get sidelined. Most usually it is stress, or a simple virus, that knocks me down and puts me out of the game of life for a while. I recently wrote about stress and how I manage it, after what was an incredibly emotionally exhausting saga in my life. I know how important it is to manage stress because this isn’t my first rodeo. I knew at the time I wrote that post that I would be paying for that stressful experience, and I was trying to be proactive to minimize the damage. And still, here I am, in severe pain, contemplating a long recovery from what began as a common cold.

As I feared might happen, extreme stress likely led to susceptibility to infection, and a simple annoying cold caused the perfect storm. I caught cold a week ago and it has been pretty nasty. I ended up laying around for several days (bad, bad, bad when you have EDS.) I violently sneezed a lot, which caused me to dislocate my shoulder and aggravate an old back injury. And so on top of a wicked cold all of the muscles in my shoulder and upper back are spasming. There are hot knives in my back and neck now, and it’s hard to sit, hard to stand, hard to sleep, hard to move. I know from experience that I should move anyway, but there’s nothing like severe pain to discourage that nonsense! If I don’t move, my recovery will be longer. If I do move, it’s agonizing and slow. I know from experience that I will not likely feel 100% again for days if not weeks. It’s frustrating.

Another complication of the common cold for me is a flare-up of my dysautonomia symptoms. Dysautonomia is the malfunction of the autonomic nervous system- which controls your “automatic” body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, digestion and temperature control. I nearly faint every time I stand, I’m freezing and my arms and legs are ice blocks. My heart races and palpitates. I can’t think clearly, I forget words and sometimes even slur. I’ve been “lucky” to find much relief from this common comorbidity of EDS through swim. But I haven’t been swimming lately, and for whatever reason these problematic symptoms always comes back with a vengeance when I get sick.

So here I am still sick with the remnants of a cold, hot knives in my back and neck- dizzy, cold and exhausted, wondering how long this flare-up is going to last. In the meantime I’m darned near useless as a human being and there’s nothing I hate more than doing nothing. Productivity is very important to me. If nothing else, when I’m down I like to knit- but looking down at my work is impossible when my neck is spasming… and so I read and watch Netflix, taking frequent breaks to stretch- and work hard at being nice to myself. Patience is what I must practice, in times like these.

One thing I have learned is that I will recover, even if it takes a while- I will wake up pain-free once more, I will be back in the pool in time, and I will be smug about my good health again. And then, when I least expect it, EDS will strike again.

Today’s Project: Family history research on Ancestry.com

Today’s Soundtrack: Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper

I’m Reading: The Stand by Stephen King. For the third time. It’s been a while.

Limes: Lesson Learned

Last year our new-ish lime tree didn’t produce more than a few pieces of fruit so I was really very excited to see the tree loaded with fruit this year… but alas, instead of making limeade and fresh salsa with our home grown limes we learned a hard lesson instead. Turns out that you are supposed to harvest limes BEFORE they are ripe, while they are yet green, before they turn bright yellow and look just like little lemons. I did not know.

You should pick your limes before they turn yellow. I didn’t do that and now I’m sad. #gardeningfail

A post shared by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

These past few weeks I’ve been utterly distracted from home and garden chores, focusing instead on caring for my ailing mother and maintaining my sanity as thing after thing went awry… so I only noticed the limes this week at all because they had turned yellow. Super yellow. Gorgeous yellow! I thought to myself, “I did plant a lime tree there, didn’t I?” and then I googled. Yeah- limes do in fact turn yellow, and yellow limes are no-good limes. Turns out they get hard and taste bad once they fully ripen. And so this week I will be picking a lot of limes.. and throwing them in the green bin. Bummer.

Lesson learned! I hope, dear friends, that you can learn from my many mistakes. I know I’m always learning- often the hard way.

Today’s Project: Today I replaced some very old and unattractive houseplants with pretty, young, shiny houseplants. Why do I feel so guilty?

Today’s Soundtrack: This is: Otis Redding on Spotify

I’m Reading: Angels and Visitations: A Miscellany by Neil Gaiman

How I Manage Stress

In my last post I mentioned that my mom had been in the hospital one week. One week became two. Then fifteen days. And yesterday, finally, mom came home. I’m here to say that that was THE MOST stressful fifteen days of my life. This is significant as mom’s hospitalizations are not rare. She has been hospitalized dozens of times in the past twenty years, sometimes for good stretches of time. One time she was hospitalized for a month. It’s never easy to see her sick, or to have to visit her in a hospital, but this time was different for a number of reasons.

My mom suffers from a number of complicated conditions including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, peripheral vascular disease, and diabetes. She has suffered almost two dozen amputations. If you cannot imagine that, don’t try- it’s worse than you can fathom. I’ve never known a human being to suffer physically as much as or more than my mom. The amazing thing is that she still has a smile on her face, optimism for the future, and a love of life. She has made all of this easier for us all by remaining peaceful in her heart, no matter how bad things got.

The reasons this hospitalization was so stressful are numerous- she was deathly ill, and many days we weren’t sure if she would recover. She had contracted an infectious disease, and we all had to be careful and wary not to spread it around or catch it ourselves. She was hospitalized in an unusual place- she usually would have been sent to a different facility but they did not have available beds. And then there were the numerous outrageous failures that occurred at the hospital almost every day… she suffered misdiagnosis x2, which delayed her treatment and risked her life. There were failures in training, failures in proper procedure, miscommunications with doctors, every day came with something to worry about!

Instead of merely visiting and supporting my mom and family during her hospitalization, I had to expend additional emotional resources and time fighting with the hospital to ensure she got the care she needed to survive, and to protect not just her- but other patients at the facility. I met with admins all the way up to the CEO of the hospital over several days. I argued with five doctors. Five. When a few of those doctors would not listen to us or help my mom I had to go above their heads to complain and plead for the treatments she needed. It was insanity. I spent every ounce of energy I had these past few weeks, and so today I am simply spent. Emotionally exhausted. DONE.

I know that I need to recharge, so today I will begin to heal my heart and rest my mind by employing some tactics I use to manage stress and protect my health. These are the strategies I find to be helpful:

Make noise. Talking to a friend, loved one,  a therapist (or even a pet) is probably the very first and most important thing I do when I am going through something stressful. Not only does it help me “get it all out” and process events, but it makes me feel like I am not alone, that I have support.

There are times when I don’t have anybody easily accessible to talk to, but I’ve found that simply making noise is also beneficial to relieving tension. A really cool friend of mine taught me this trick, she told me that one of her stress-relief strategies was to “Let it out your mouth”- meaning to speak, yell, groan, shriek, whatever you feel like you need to do to release the pent up frustration you feel. I have found this to be very good advice. In overwhelming moments when I don’t have anybody to talk to I might just simply groan, “uhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” and find some immediate relief. Even though this is a private activity I would do in my car or somewhere where nobody else can hear me, I still felt strange and embarrassed at first- right up until I realized that it helped. Now I have no shame.

Writing. For me writing is an excellent way to unload all of the things on my mind that are bothering me. It’s not always enough to talk to a friend, though that helps and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do that. When I write down my thoughts I almost always feel an immediate release of tension in my body, and those pesky swirling thoughts begin to dissipate. When I read back my writings, I find it helps me to process difficult experiences and come up with solutions to my problems.

In case you do not like to write, I would recommend you try a very simple exercise I learned decades ago from Oprah. Try keeping a gratitude journal, listing just three things a day that you are grateful for. Write those things down, re-read them. Review your entries weekly, allow yourself to smile.

Rest. I make sure I’m getting eight hours of sleep a night at minimum. This often means that I cannot agree to take on extra responsibilities or make fun evening plans with my friends- but when I am rested I feel better both emotionally and physically. Since I get up very early to deliver my daughters to school I must adopt a very early bedtime. Sometimes I struggle to let go of things still undone by bedtime, but the dishes will be there for me when I wake up. As will the laundry, and anything else that I might have to put off to make sure I get enough rest.

Fuel. When life is crazy and you’re running around a lot or exhausted, it’s easy and sometimes even necessary to eat fast food. I did it sooooo much more than usual these past few weeks when I felt that I had no other choice. I didn’t have the emotional energy to care about what I was putting in my body.. in a pinch I selected chicken sandwiches, fries and a soda with caffeine just so I could remain upright. I consumed more than one Snickers bar in a pinch for time and out of desperation for comfort. But I won’t hold that against myself now, it’s done. Now that the danger is past (I’m hoping), I will think more about fueling my body and make healthier choices: real food, real ingredients, very little processed stuff, less meat and more fruits and veggies. I’m never perfect in my diet but I’ve learned that small changes made frequently add up to make big improvements in my health and wellness.

Movement. For two weeks I haven’t been to the pool once. I never felt that I had the luxury of an hour to myself, I always felt that I needed to be ready to be there for my family at any moment. I spent the majority of the time sitting- mostly in my car or in a chair at the hospital. As a result I had no way to burn off stress or remain fit. My body aches, I can feel the high hum of anxiety in my chest. When I regularly swim I notice that I hurt so much less, and I can burn off some of that tension. Tomorrow I will resume my usual habit of swimming 3-4x a week, and I can’t wait. I don’t love having to exercise, or having to go to the gym to do it, but with much experience at it I know that movement is medicine.

Acknowledging reality. Today my mind is racing back through everything that has happened and I recognize that this is my brain’s way of recapping events so that I can make sense of them and put them to rest. I will choose activities that allow my mind to wander so that I can process this important information. Some might believe that NOT thinking the tough stuff through is what is best, but I know that even though it might hurt- acknowledging my problems and thinking through them is the only way to come up with solutions and finding a sense of resolution.

Creativity. As long as everything goes good I should begin to have time to myself again this week to do with what I will. I look forward to posting here about some of my recent projects, and to starting some new projects. It always makes me feel awesome to produce something beautiful and new.

Today’s Project: Stress Relief

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Roadtrip Playlist on Spotify
*Oooh, I need to update this! Maybe I’ll work on that some today.

I’m Reading: The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

That’s just the way it goes…

A little over a month ago I resurrected this old blog of mine from the ashes.  I made a plan of action, I set goals, and for more than three weeks I was having  a ball plugging along at those goals- posting project ideas a few times a week, working on the back-end of the site, dusting off my photography skills and equipment, learning to write again, and moving towards monetization. And then BAM life happened. Now I’m off-track and may remain so for a spell. That’s just the way it goes I guess.

So yeah, my momma is in the hospital and she’s in a spot of trouble. It’s been two weeks now since she got very sick and she’s been in the hospital for a week today. Today we are hearing she will be in the hospital at least another week. My poor mom is in a very vulnerable state both physically and mentally so I don’t feel like I can be away from the hospital much. I’m overwhelmed by worries and duties. I’m not thinking clearly so that even when I have a chance to work on this blog I just can’t make my brain work right. Which has made me realize that in the future, when things are calmer, it’s a good idea to work ahead and have some blog posts ready to post in case I get pulled away again. I’m learning still… and will forever be.

I am looking forward to posting about a few fun projects I’m currently working on: Bunny Ears for Easter and Paper Butterfly Art Installations for windows or walls. Both are such easy and fun things to do in the spring. My kids and I get together and make the butterfly art installations together every year just as soon as things start blooming. It’s one of our favorite traditions.

But yeah, life happens, and I’m back to that. I haven’t given up on my goals, I’ll just pick up where I left off later, when I can. See ya around. Wish us luck.

Today’s Project: Get my momma better. :/

Today’s Soundtrack: Classic Rock playlist, because it’s my mom’s fave.

I Finished Reading: Norse Mythology and Orphan Train
Both were excellent- Norse Mythology was a lot of fun, Neil Gaiman is just about my favorite modern author in the world. I love all the myths, but the Norse myths just have to be the funniest and quirkiest around. Orphan Train on the other hand will rip your heart out, in a kinda good way. I read it this week while my mom has been in the hospital though, and that might not have been the best idea. I like to save sorrowful stories for happier times, and read lighter books when life is heavy.

 

 

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes
Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

It’s a sad day in the Rhodes household- we have now consumed every last blood orange from our tree (and then a few more we were gifted.) I’m not sure it is possible that we’ll ever grow enough blood oranges to allow for any to be preserved, they’re just too glorious. Pretty, unique, flavorful, nutritious- they are everything that is best about winter.

So far this year I have made three blood orange recipes, two of which: blood orange candy and blood orange simple syrup, are detailed in my blog post titled It’s Like Sunlight In My Mouth. If you haven’t checked it out yet and you have some blood oranges still hanging around, you really must. My kids really love the blood orange candies, they are very flavorful and easy to make. The resulting simple syrup comes in handy too, my daughters have used it in smoothies, my husband has used it in his tea, and I used it to make Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes yesterday.

These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty
These Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes are Pretty and Tasty

When our blood orange tree proved especially fruitful this year I really didn’t know what to do with them all so I hit up Pinterest for cake recipes- but I just couldn’t find an easy recipe with few ingredients. So many of the recipes I found wanted me to use alternatives to regular flour, or to add other exotic ingredients I don’t have on hand. And I couldn’t find even one recipe for blood orange upside down cupcakes, which seemed a shame- I could just imagine how lovely they would look with a perfect blood orange disk on top! So I decided to try out a recipe I’ve used for pineapple upside down cupcakes, but with my own modifications. Here it is:

Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups blood orange simple syrup
1/2 cup water
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix
24 very thinly sliced blood orange disks

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F, spray cupcake pans well with cooking spray

2. Thinly slice blood oranges and set aside (blood orange juice stains, so be mindful!)

3. Mix together the cake mix, 1/2 cup blood orange simple syrup, 1/2 cup water, eggs, and vegetable oil.

4. Spoon 1 tbsp of blood orange simple syrup into the bottom of each muffin cup. Place a slice of blood orange into the syrup.

5. Pour 1/4 cup cake batter into each cup.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Cool for a couple minutes, run a knife around the edge of each cake, and then invert the pan onto parchment paper.

8. Serve warm, or not! These are lovely either way. Refrigerate leftovers, if you have them.

And that’s it!

Like many of my experiments in the kitchen, I learned a few things that I might want to improve next time. Like: not forgetting to spray the cupcake tins with oil. I also waited a few too many minutes to invert the pans, I was doing dishes at the same time and didn’t think a few minutes would matter- but when you have the equivalent of candy in the bottom of your muffin tins and it’s allowed to cool- ack! So, my cakes weren’t as pretty as they could have been. Thankfully I was just feeding immediate family, so it didn’t matter that they were a little rustic looking. Especially since they were super delicious.

It’s gray out so I made blood orange upside down cupcakes.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I hope you get a chance to enjoy these lovely little cakes! Please, if you have any blood orange recipes you think I’d like, or improvements upon my recipe- I’d love to hear from you! I’m looking forward to next year’s blood orange season already. 🙂

Today’s Project: Blood Orange Upside Down Cupcakes

Today’s Soundtrack: This is: Alabama Shakes on Spotify

I Finished Reading: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism
My quick review: If you know or love anybody with Autism, this is an incredibly interesting history. It was a little long, but well written and interesting until the end.

Swim and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

If you met me today you might think it surprising that I once spent more than three years of my life disabled. I was walking with a cane, slurring my speech, weak and in excruciating pain, grossly overweight, taking pills all day, fainting often, unable to function in the real-world: disabled. But it happened, and the most important thing I ever did was get in a pool.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

It all started when I was born, really. I have a genetic connective tissue disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that has been present since birth. On reflection it is clear that there were indications of this condition when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until I turned 30 before I began having serious health problems. I am lucky, many who have EDS are plagued by severe symptoms all their lives.

For me it started with fatigue, I remember. I felt exhausted all of the time. Pain soon followed. I had muscle spasms, nerve pain, arthritis in my joints, the whole thing, all the time. I was injured around this time; I fell and dislocated my collarbone which violently pulled my whole shoulder out of socket. The stretched ligaments in my shoulder stayed stretched and my shoulder began dislocating frequently, often every day, sometimes a few times a day. The muscles in my shoulder, neck and back would spasm in revolt and I would be stuck motionless until the spasm stopped- sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks. Life became hell.

I saw some doctors, and then some more doctors, and then some more. I spent more than six years at getting a diagnosis, and then only found success after a relative was diagnosed with the same condition. In the meantime I was falling apart.

It kills me to think of it now- how much of my life I missed during what I now refer to as the “dark years”. I never once stepped foot in my youngest child’s preschool. Not once. I quit cooking dinners for my family. I quit running my business, with which I made enough money to contribute financially to the household. I was just that sick. Everything came apart.

I took all the medications suggested to me by doctors. I tried various diets and took advice from anybody and everywhere. I saw all sorts of specialists. I even went to spiritual healers and sought help from alternative medicine gurus. I got all the help in the world and did everything I could think of to get better, but nothing worked. I researched endlessly. I became extremely frustrated and disillusioned with the medical system. I began to believe that I may be disabled for all of my life. Year after miserable year passed and yet I just couldn’t give up hope.

Then one day I walked into a new physical therapy office with a pool and everything changed. I mean, it wasn’t immediate or anything- it took some time and I worked for it. But when I was released from water therapy just one month later I was already a changed person, on a path that would lead me to wellness.

Prior to being put in a pool for therapy I wasn’t physically active almost at all because it hurt so bad, and because I was so exhausted. Exercise was near impossible for me. I was in a gloomy place, I was anxious, I was bored, I was weak. During water therapy I began to see improvements in all of those areas. My pain lessened, and with that some of my exhaustion. And it seemed pretty easy work, too! I remember being frustrated a little, I remember it hurting to work in the pool, I do. But mild exercise in the water was nothing near as painful as just trying to get down the stairs in my house. I handled it.

After one month in a pool, seemingly just floating around doing mild exercises, my shoulder was dislocating less frequently. The associated muscle spasms, which were horrendous, happened less. My nerve pain levels were somewhat better. I felt better both physically and mentally. I had even lost a few pounds. But I was still sick. It would take me the next three years to almost fully return to health. I did this primarily with swim.

One thing I want to note, which was a huge contributing factor at the time, I had recently been adequately treated for my pain. I was still in pain, but it was more manageable. Can you believe that I was not treated for pain for years and years of agony? It happened. Being in agony all the time left me without any energy at all. I believe now that had I not *finally* had my pain in some sort of control at the time of this therapy I may not have been successful. Pain is a powerful deterrent to exercise. It is horrible for a can-do attitude.

But back to my story. 😛

After I completed water therapy in the winter of that first year I decided to book lap swim time with a local city program that spring. I went 2-3 days a week for an hour each day. I was slow. I was rusty at lap swimming. The first day it took me an hour to swim just a few laps. I was so weak I couldn’t get out of the pool and was afraid to drive home. But I was determined and I stuck to it. Each day I could swim more laps in less time. Each day!

When that program ended I joined a local swim group for the summer. I went almost 5 days a week for one hour each day, and that is when I really began noticing big changes. Pain, what pain?! The only pain medication I needed by then was some over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, just once or twice a day. Nerve pain and tremors? 95% improved. Muscle spasms? Rare. Slurring/fatigue/swallowing issues/GI issues/sleep issues/anxiety/tremors/muscle weakness/fainting- GONE. GONE. Gone!!!! And you know what else was gone by this time? 35lbs of dead weight. And all that fear I was carrying around that I would never be a productive person again.

Since the local city and club groups operated out of an outdoor pool and I’m sensitive to cold weather I purchased a gym membership at a facility with a pool that fall. Ever since then, except for just a few brief periods of inactivity, I have swam just 3-4 times a week for about 30 minutes each day. That’s it, and I haven’t used a cane one day since that first spring! I’ve lost 50lbs. I go to all of my kids activities and events. I travel, I hike, I write, I do so many things I had given up in those dark years! I’m fully alive. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I know what it is like to be disabled for years at a time.

So let’s talk about those “brief periods of inactivity” for a second. I should have never done that. It was a mistake. First, I took a few months off swim for excuses not worth mentioning. Within weeks I began losing muscle tone and picking up weight, my pain increased, my GI issues returned, everything began to go down hill. Within a few short months I had to “begin again”. It wasn’t as hard as the first time, but it was still very hard to regain my health and strength and the will to try. The second time I slacked was during a year in which my daughters schedules were hectic and kept me far from the gym where I swim. At the time I felt that I had no choice but to give my gym time up, but I know now that I should have figured it out. I gained back 15lbs during that period and spent more than a fair share of days in a recliner with a heating pad. Each time I learned a lesson. Swim is life.

I think sometimes about how my life might have been different if the first doctor I had seen had put me in a pool. It would have been different too, if I had always been properly treated for pain, I’m sure.

I can’t know your situation, I can’t know what is best for you and your body. All I can tell you is what I know about my situation, and what has helped me. Swim may not be something you can do. I don’t know. But if you are in a bad spot of health, looking for something, anything to try- I suggest getting in the water. For best results I suggest starting with water therapy provided by a professional.

Swim works. Swim works because you utilize and activate every muscle group. Swim works because it whips your cardiovascular system into shape too. Swim works for some people with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome because the lean muscle, the strength you gain from swim, helps keep your joints where they belong. Swim works because it releases feel-good hormones into your blood. Euphoria is awesome! Swim works for some people with connective tissue disorders because it is a low-impact sport. I can’t pound the pavement anymore- but you should see me sprint a lap! No pain. None. Ok, it makes me breathe hard and at first I was pretty achy. But just 6 years ago I could barely walk across my yard. Swim works because it is amazing how fast your body gains endurance and strength- if you push yourself even a little you will achieve success over time. And time is all we’ve got.

I wish so much I could tell sick-me what well-me knows now. Since I can’t, I hope my experience helps you to avoid your own dark years. Try it, tell me how you do.

And if swim is simply not something you can do- don’t give up. Keep looking for answers. Keep fighting. Don’t give up. I didn’t want to go to therapy that first day. I wanted to cancel the whole thing. I wanted to cancel my life. I didn’t, and it’s everything. <3

 

How To Knit Your Own Ukulele Strap – Free Pattern

Knit your own custom ukulele strap with this free pattern.

I’ve had a pair of lovely ukuleles hanging on my wall for years.  I purchased them so that my youngest daughter and I could take lessons to enrich our homeschooling experience, but we didn’t stick with the lessons for very long. Though she loves music, she didn’t love making music, and I am not gifted with stringed instruments at all.

My 40th birthday came around last summer and I woke up thinking, “how do I want to age?” At this point that’s what’s going on, some rapid aging. I’ve begun to feel sluggish, both physically and mentally. I decided to try some things to see if I couldn’t sharpen up my thinking. I had read that picking up a musical instrument at my age can improve focus, battle brain-fog, and provide stress relief. And I’m all about stress-relief!

Shortly after my kids went back to school for the year I changed my daily routine so that each morning I carved out the time to learn to play the ukulele. I dusted off my old books, found a great YouTube channel for video lessons, and got to work. Despite not at all having a talent for stringed instruments, every day I made progress. I also found myself picking up the uke more than just once a day, practicing fingerings in the car, humming the songs I was working to learn, and finding ways to enjoy the process of learning to play the uke more.

No doubt, I’ve also experienced some of the improvements I was hoping for with regards to brain-fog and stress. You can’t stress and play the ukulele. It’s just not possible. At first I felt rusty and confused a lot as I struggled to make sense of ukulele music, but I kept at it and it got easier. I still struggle with strumming, but I’m amazed at how much my hand-eye coordination has improved in just a few months.

One thing that bothers me about my uke is how slippery the sucker is. If I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt I cannot hold the darn thing. I know I’m probably doing something wrong there, holding it is not yet natural to me, but I wondered if a strap might help? I turned to Pinterest for answers.

There is a whole world of amazing ukuleles and ukulele straps out there! Thanks to Grace Vanderwaal and America’s Got Talent, there seems to be a big resurgence in interest in the ukulele happening right now. I found that many people had made themselves great ukulele straps. I decided I would try to knit one.

Learn how to knit your own ukulele strap.

The first one I made was too long, because knitted straps are pretty stretchy. So I made another, and I liked it so much that I made another. Now I have cute straps to match each of our ukuleles.

I find that using a strap helps a ton, especially if I am standing to play or have a long-sleeved shirt on. This makes it easier for me to concentrate on learning to play instead of always worrying about the instrument slipping.

I would like to share my pattern with you but I caution that your strap may need to be longer or shorter based upon your size. I am a tall woman at almost 5’10”, so it is possible you may need to shorten your strap. Luckily this is a super quick and easy project that requires little yarn, so if you don’t like your strap you can adjust the pattern and remake it without feeling too bad about wasting yarn. I adjusted my first pattern by attaching the strap to the uke, putting it on, and then guessing how many more/less rows I would need to be more comfortable.

Learn how to knit your own Ukulele Strap

I love how this strap can be made in any colorway to suit your tastes. The only limitation is that chunky yarns won’t fit under the strings where you need to attach it to the instrument. I used Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable yarn for one of the straps, and some hand-dyed stuff I had purchased on Etsy some years ago and had squirreled away for the other.

Ukulele Strap Pattern
For the main strap:
Yarn: the sky is the limit, nothing too chunky or that frays/felts easy.
Needles: sz 5 (you’ll want to knit fairly tight stitches, so choose needles and yarn that work together to create a nice dense pattern.)

C/O 2
R1 K
R2 k
R3 inc, inc
R4 K2, YO, K2 (this leaves a hole to thread your tie-on’s through.)
R5 inc, k3,  inc
R6 K
R7 inc, k5, inc
Rows 8-75 (or 23″) K
R76 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R77 k
R78 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R79 k
R80 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R81 k, inc, k
R82 k2tog, yo, k2tog
R83 k
R84 bind off

For the tie-ons:
Knit two I-Cords approximately 30″ long and 16″ long.
This cool knitting blog has a good I-Cord tutorial if you need one: I-Cord | Purl Soho

Putting it together: Now you can take your I-Cords and thread them through the yarnover holes you left in either end of the main strap. For the longer I-Cord you will want to make sure that it is secured in such a way that leaves one side longer than the other.  I secured it so one length was 18″ long, and the other length is 12″. For the shorter piece of I-Cord I just ran it through the hole so that each length is the same. I used coordinating yarn and an embroidery needle to secure the I-Cords to the main knitting strap.

And that’s it! Now you just have to attach your strap to your uke and get to banging on it!

How to knit your own custom ukulele strap!

Today’s Project: Research ways I can destash a whole bunch of fleece I have left over from the mermaid tails I made kids for Christmas last year.

Today’s Soundtrack: Roller Derby Roadtrip Playlist on Spotify

I’m Reading: In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

How to make Handwarmers

These fingerless gloves, or handwarmers, are easy and fun to make.
These fingerless gloves, or handwarmers, are easy and fun to make.

I’ve been making variations of this handwarmer pattern for more than six years according to Facebook’s timehop! I knit them up in multiple color schemes for myself probably once a year and wear them every day from October through March because in my old age I get coooooooold like a popsicle.

I also give them as gifts each Christmas because when I don’t people ask about them. And because they’re fun and quick to put together! I can sit down to an hour long TV program and get one glove done. Even if I am distracted  I can put together a pair in an afternoon, no problem.

It’s that time of year…

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

These really are one of the items I make that get the most use. My daughters don’t like to wear gloves at all, they like their fingertips free to text and tap, but these leave your fingers free while keeping your hands toasty. They love when I make them handwarmers in their favorite colors (rainbow or black usually.) They tend to claim any handwarmers they see me currently working on, they’d own a dozen pairs apiece if they could.

I made some hand warmers and Liana claimed them. I asked her to model them….

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

How to Make Handwarmers

I usually use Caron Simply Soft acrylic yarns for this project when knitting for women or children, and often choose a heavier wool yarn for the guys in my family (and then adjust the pattern as necessary), as that is what they seem to prefer.

When using Caron Simply Soft yarns I use size 5 needles to knit the pieces, and a size 10 needle to bind off on the rectangle shape.

Be sure to check your yarn for gauge recommendations and make adjustments as necessary.

To make handwarmers you just need to knit two shapes, a rectangle and a triangle.
To make handwarmers you just need to knit two shapes, a rectangle and a triangle. You will hand sew the pieces together using the long tails.

One of my favorite things about this project is how easy it is to change the pattern up. You can get creative with the pattern as long as you end up with rectangle and triangle shapes that are properly sized.

The first thing I do, if I can, is measure for the person wearing the handwarmers so that I can custom fit the glove to their hands. I can usually get away without measuring for width, but I like to measure from mid-finger to the base of the hand so that I know when I can begin knitting the wrist detail. If I can’t measure for length, I usually just make the Large Handwarmers pattern below for adults, and Small Handwarmers pattern for kids.

Handwarmers Patterns:
(This pattern is for the fingerless gloves pictured just above, feel free to experiment with the pattern and design your own gloves!)

Large Handwarmers – Hand Piece 
Cast on 34 stitches to size 5 needles using Caron Simply Soft yarn in your choice of colorway. Your finished rectangle should measure about 6 1/2″ wide.
R1-3 K
R4 P
(Continue in garter stitch for 33 rows or 4″ (or your measured length from wrist to mid-finger)

Begin wrist detail:
R38 (RS) P
R39 K
R40 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R41 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R42 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R43 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R44 p3, C4F, p2, C4F, p2, C4F, p2, C4F, p2,C4F, p3
R45 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R46 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R47 k3, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k2, p4, k3
R48 p3, k4, p2, k4, ps, k4, p2, k4, p2, k4, p3
R49 p
R50 k
R51 k
R52 p
R53 k
R54 k
R55 p
R56 k
R57 bind off loosely using a larger needle (sz 10)
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Handwarmers – Thumb
Cast on 15 stitches using size 5 needles
R1-R3 K
R4 P
R5 K2tog, k11, k2tog
R6 p
R7 K2tog, k9, k2tog
R8 p
R9 k
R10 p
R11 k2tog, k7, k2tog
R12 p
R13 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R14 p
R15 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R16 p
R17 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R18 p
R19 k2tog, k1
R20 p2tog
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Small Handwarmers – Hand Piece 
Cast on 32 stitches to size 5 needles using Caron Simply Soft yarn in your choice of colorway. Your rectangle should measure about 6″ wide.
R1-3 K
R4 P
(Continue in garter stitch for 25 rows or 3″ (or your measured length from wrist to mid-finger)

Begin wrist detail:
R30 (RS) P
R31 K
R32  p2, k4 to end
R33 k2, p4 to end
R34 p2, k4 to end
R35 k2, p4 to end
R36 p2, c4f to end
R37 k2, p4 to end
R38 p2, k4 to end
R39 k2, p4 to end
R40 p2, k4 to end
R41 p
R42 k
R43 k
R44 p
R45 k
R46 k
R47 p
R48 k
R39 Bind off loosely using a larger needle (sz 10)
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Handwarmers – Thumb
Cast on 15 stitches using size 5 needles
R1-R3 K
R4 P
R5 K2tog, k11, k2tog
R6 p
R7 K2tog, k9, k2tog
R8 p
R9 k
R10 p
R11 k2tog, k7, k2tog
R12 p
R13 k2tog, k5, k2tog
R14 p
R15 k2tog, k3, k2tog
R16 p
R17 k2tog, k1, k2tog
R18 p
R19 k2tog, k1
R20 p2tog
*Be sure to leave a long tail for you to use to hand sew the glove together

Once you have your finished hand and thumb pieces ready, use an embroidery needle to sew the glove together utilizing the long tails of yarn you left. I begin by sewing the thumb piece together right side facing from the top (cast-on row) to the beginning of the decrease rows. Set the thumb aside. I then fold the hand piece in half so that the right side is inside, and beginning at the bottom of the glove I use the tail to sew up from the bottom, stopping one stitch beyond the beginning of the wrist detail. I then turn the hand piece around, and sew from the top of the glove down, about 1″. Now I place the thumb piece into the thumb hole, making sure right sides are facing, and sew the glove edges and thumb edges together. I then use what is left of the tails to reinforce seams, and weave in my ends when I’m done. Try it, it’s easier than it sounds, and you get the hang of it after making a pair or two.

Handwarmers are cute, convenient and cozy. They are also easy to make!
Handwarmers are cute, convenient and cozy. They are also easy to make!

I hope you can understand my pattern, it is actually the first time I’ve ever written one of my own down with the intention of someone else utilizing it. Please do let me know if I can make improvements!

I know there’s one way I can make big improvements to my new baby blog and that is to actually take the time to do a proper photo shoot for my posts. So far I haven’t gotten around to digging out and warming up my old camera equipment. So, for now, you get my muddy iPhone photos and no pretty staging. But wait- doing things this way is convenient, and I almost always end up with a furry photobomber in the mix. Everyone loves cats, right?

Usually it’s Poofy getting in my business, but today it was Spirit, my daughter Lillie’s cat:

Photobombed by Spirit, my daughter's cat.
Spirit came to see what I was up to.

Today’s Projects: T-shirts and umbrellas for the Women’s March in Sacramento this weekend.

Today’s Soundtrack: Classic Rock playlist

It’s Like Sunlight In My Mouth

Happy Martin Luther King Jr Day to all, and to meeeee, for it was a three-day weekend! I love those. Especially in this dreadful weather. We drive a lot on a dangerous stretch of freeway and the cold affects my health negatively so I’d just rather skip winter each year. GTFO Winter. Yo.

But yeah- I had an extra day to fiddle around with this weekend so I decided to candy some lemon and make lemon simple syrup in between posting MLK memes on Facebook.

Martin Luther King Jr Quote
Martin Luther King Jr Quote

He was so great, we need someone like him so much right now. Don’t you think?


I have to say, the result was really spectacular. After candying the first batch of lemon I immediately had to make another batch. They were so wonderfully flavorful and pretty that I couldn’t resist. And then there’s that sparkly delicious syrup…. I could die happy right after ingesting it all.

There are really some fun ways to use candied fruit and simple syrups. My husband puts the simple syrup in his tea and in mixed cocktails. I used some of the lemon simple syrup for my lemon bread recipe, and my daughter used it in her fruit and yogurt smoothie. I used the candied lemons to garnish lemon bread.

Poofy is creeping up on my lemon bread.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

Pretty much the moment I was done with the lemon candies and simple syrup I started working with blood oranges. I’m so stoked that we put that tree in.. these are glorious fruit. They are small but visually striking and fantastic tasting.

I plan on making blood orange upside down cake later this week and will garnish it with candied orange slices. My kids especially like the candied blood orange slices. They taste like fruit gummies, but lighter and brighter, if that makes sense. I just can’t get over how these taste like the sun! On these dreary  gray days there’s nothing better than a little bit of sun in my mouth. 😉

Oh, and I learned a few interesting things about blood oranges yesterday. I was treating mom to some candied blood orange when she asked how they got the red coloring. I had no idea so I asked Siri and she hooked me up:  All About Blood Oranges

According to Wikipedia’s Blood Orange page, “The flesh develops its characteristic maroon color when the fruit develops with low temperatures during the night.”

Pretty cool! So, if warm days/cool nights helps blood oranges turn a deeper and more thorough red- I’m wondering if I kept them in the garage at night and brought them in during the day for a few days, could I deepen their color myself? My daughter Lillie, The Brilliant One, actually suggested this. She’s cool. I’m going to try it. Mine are about half as bloody as they could be, mostly. I’ll let you know how it works.

Project Details:

Candied Lemon Slices (& Simple Syrup)
I used this super easy recipe: Candied Lemon Slices
Tips & Modifications: I cut up two lemons (slice it very thin!) and used two medium saucepans at once to increase my yield. I used tongs to turn over the lemon slices every five minutes while simmering. After removing your candied lemon slices to parchment or wax paper, just pour the liquid leftover from the candied lemons directly in a jar and there’s your simple syrup!

Candied Blood Orange Slices (& Simple Syrup)
All you have to do is the exact same thing as you did with the lemon slices above. Easy. Fast. It’s worth buying a few blood oranges from the store if you don’t have access to the tree at home to make these.

Lemon Bread
I used this recipe from Taste of Home: Lemon Bread Recipe
Tips & Modifications: I thickened the very thin glaze recipe by doubling the powdered sugar, but I still wish I would have made an even thicker glaze. I wanted the glaze to cure white because I wanted to cover up or distract from my ugly poke holes. See, once I transferred this bread to a plate to cool I poked holes in it with a toothpick and then drizzled it in lemon simple syrup before applying the glaze. Oh well, like I always say, “it doesn’t matter what it looks like when it’s in your belly.” It was brilliant tasting. Highly recommend.

Today’s Projects: I think I’m going to try one of the Starbuck’s copycat lemon loaf recipes I see floating around on Pinterest. We can’t get enough of the lemon stuff around here right now. And the kids want to have a side-by-side taste-off to decide which of the two lemon breads are the best. Also: handwarmers again , maybe, if I get a chance to sit.

Soundtrack: Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify

I’m reading: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I’m a Many Trick Pony

… and it’s all because I believed that I could do anything I put my mind to. And also, YouTube videos. Check this out: Ark. mother of four builds home by watching YouTube tutorials

How cool is that?!

More than a decade ago I was home with my young children and my creative impulses were firing but I just didn’t have the time, money, or energy to do anything too involved. A few of my friends on the interwebs knitted and I had all my mom’s old yarn stash from her crocheting days so I decided to give it a try. I learned how to knit in a day from tutorials I found on YouTube. Since then I have made many a knitted present, and have even sold a few finished pieces.

Just off the needles- something for me. 🙂

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

I have learned many, many skills from YouTubers across the globe. My husband has fixed our appliances, cars, bikes, and house more times than I can count thanks to YouTube videos.

My kids groan every time.. (they’re all teenagers, they groan no matter what I say).. but when they ask “how do I…?” I usually respond with either “google it” or “YouTube.” It’s amazing what I’ve seen them be able to learn and achieve thanks to resources readily found online.

I asked Liana to model the new hat I just finished. So she did.

A photo posted by Phaedra (@phaeriedust) on

To learn anything new you need a can-do attitude, but I often feel immediately overwhelmed by the challenges that face me. Where does one even begin to say, fix a problem with a bicycle? In the old days you would ask a friend to help or hire a guy if you didn’t have a clue. Today you can pick up your phone, complete an internet search, watch a video or two, and do just about anything, anywhere. The process of watching someone show me how to do something completely demystifies it, and emboldens me to try.

You can do it.
I can do it. Anything. Even become a blogger (who makes an income doing it, one day.)

All we need to keep growing and achieving is each other.. and YouTube. 🙂

Today’s Project: Handwarmers- I might bake something too but I have a sick kid home from school who needs to go to the pediatrician.

Soundtrack: I’m still listening to Today’s Top Hits Playlist on Spotify

I’m reading: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi