Thursday, May 21, 2015

What it's like to live with allergies

This October will mark a decade of having lived gluten free for my son and me. This November will be 11 years of being a vegetarian - not by choice, but because of increased sensitivities & allergies to meat. I have had allergies and sensitivities to artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives ALL my life. That's not to mention my allergies to medications, the sun, (yes - the sun) and irritants like pollens & dust.

Some people tell me they could never live with allergies. I laugh, because when there are no alternatives - apparently you live with the impossible. Others try to tell me that I should feel lucky now that it's popular to avoid certain foods. This frustrates me, because there's nothing lucky about constantly having to worry about whether you're going to be sick for daring to do something as risky as... eating food. Still others ask me what it's like to have an allergy, because they can't imagine what it's like.

This post is for that third group.

What is it like to live with allergies? Let's talk about something every girl should be able to relate to.

On the left is my wedding ring. My husband chose it for me while I was still in high school. I think most girls would agree that their wedding ring is the one piece of jewelry they treasure above everything else. The piece they would NEVER take off, for absolutely any reason short of life-or-limb emergency. So why then, is THIS the ring I have worn for the past 17 years on the right? A simple, unadorned platinum band?

You see, shortly after my first anniversary, I developed an allergy to gold. It developed slowly; first it was a tiny rash and some itching, but over the next year it went from a rash, to an enormous welty mess of infected blisters, swelling, and worn-away flesh. I hid it from my husband, because I didn't want to admit that there was a problem. This was my wedding ring after all; my one piece of never-take-it-off jewelry. I knew there was no easy solution, and it was easier to avoid the problem - for awhile. 

Most of the time, allergies are like that. They start out small, and slowly build until you can't possibly do anything but address them and avoid the particular food/prescription/irritant. Sure, you can avoid them for awhile. So what if hambuger gives you a tummyache? And a little rash isn't TOO much of an inconvenience - when it's for an amazing slice of cheesecake! But when that tummyache lasts for six weeks, or the rash starts causing your throat to close, it's time to give up and admit there's a problem. 

In this case, after a full year of hiding my hand from my husband, my rings were cut from my hand on our third anniversary. That's what it feels like to be allergic. It feels like having something cut from you. There's no feeling lucky because at least there are substitutes, and there's no way to tell yourself you could never live with it - there's just the cold, hard reality that you MUST change. And even then, it takes awhile until you start feeling better. With my rings, it was a full nine months before my hand was healed enough for me to wear even a simple band. And just as my ring now is nothing like what I had before, food substitutes are never quite the same either. You can still eat them, and they're "okay" - heck, some are even good. But they're never quite the same... and you KNOW they're not as good.

My rings will someday have a happy ending. My grandmother left her rings to me - because she too, had hers cut from her hand. SOME day, we will reset my grandmother's stone into a ring I can wear. And on that day, I will have a bigger, better ring than I had before. But for most allergies? There is only living without what you once were able to enjoy, knowing that you can never have that again.

What does it feel like to be allergic to something?

Quite frankly, it sucks. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Very Merry Unbirthday

I just HAVE to share our latest adventure!

For my daughter's 13th birthday, we had planned to throw a springtime UN-birthday tea party in the garden - Alice in Wonderland style. She came down sick with the flu, and we had to cancel at the last minute. LAST spring we rescheduled the party, and then my husband lost his job. This spring - the party was happening, no matter what it took.

My daughter begged to help with every element of this party. It was fun to put our heads together, and combine our ideas into one awesome party. Several of her ideas ended up being nothing like I would have imagined, but perfect! For starters, she created this adorable vignette inside our enormous lantern from goodies around our house. It sat as a sweet decoration in the dining room. We also strung my mother's hankie-collection as a garland from the wall between our living & dining areas, and created a "steampunk Alice" chandelier decoration with metal keys, feather birds, and mushroom Christmas ornaments.

The invitations to her four besties and her auntie, were hand cut and hand written to look like mismatched teacups & saucers. We purchased an Alice in Wonderland rubber stamp set, and the stamps were used ALL over the place. The first place was here, on the invitations.

In our front yard, our lilacs were in full bloom. Due to a threat of weather, we ended up setting up our sun-shelter to keep rain from bay, but it ended up staying dry until JUST after we brought everything in.  So our lovely tea table was set up in our "secret garden" surrounded by the lilacs.

We decorated the shelter with bright green tulle, fabric butterflies, and a paper lantern "chandelier". There were two plastic flamingos, a vintage croquet set, and crystal "mushrooms" (glass bowls overturned atop vases) in the front garden adding just a bit of whimsy.

For treats, we had: three types of finger sandwiches, fresh berries, two types of scones with apple butter, cocoa-molasses teacup & teapot cookies, and almond meringues alongside fresh strawberry lemonade, and an assortment of teas.

The meringues were actually a failed attempt at making French macarons, and were a complete hit! We will be making these again, and again, and again... 

For the tea, we found vintage teacups at the thrift stores & via Craigslist, and each girl chose her own teacup - which she was took home with her. The drink-me bottles for lemonade were Frappuccino bottles - scrubbed out, with paper straws & labels on ribbon.

The girls sat and happily chattered in the lilac-scented yard for a few hours before it started to get dark.

Inside the house, we had set up a fascinator-decorating station at the dining room table. It was almost as much fun to put everything on the table, as it was to watch the girls sit and carefully decorate their own tiny hat to bring home.

Two of the girls actually wore their hats to church this morning - and were WELL received! Ladies were complimenting their lovely hats, and the girls were beaming.

 After decorating the hats, my little sister headed home, and the girls curled up in the living room to watch a version of Alice in Wonderland. Nobody was awake by the end of the movie.

To take home, along with the teacups and hats, each girl was given a tiny bag with a tiny notebook, (recovered & stamped with Alice stamps) a googly-eyed daisy gel-pen, an itty bitty flamingo that my sister found, and the sweetest of tiny glass "drink me" bottle necklaces that were inspired by Etsy. 

This was one of the easiest parties we've put together in awhile, but it was a ton of fun. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, and we're all ready for a long nap this afternoon.

I can't wait for our next party... I'm actually throwing one for MYSELF this year!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Budget Post: Earning money from home

Oh my, how many posts have you seen like this? "You too, can earn money from the comfort of your own home!" And who doesn't see those posts and think, "Yeah, but... what's the catch?"

Trust me, I've thought the same thing. Many MANY times.

This is NOT a too-good-to-be-true post where I tell you how my family is paying cash for luxury cars, (our only car has over 180,000 miles on it) and living debt-free, (we're not) while enjoying multiple vacations (haven't been since 2009) per year. This is about honest to goodness financial gain, through small tweaks to my normal online activities that DO add up!

Here is my pièce de résistance.

This morning I placed an order for a Kindle Fire tablet, and paid $4... plus tax. And I WOULD have only paid half of those taxes, but my husband insisted that the ad-free option was worth an extra $15. Picking my battles, this wasn't even worth a grumble. 

So how did I do it? With gift cards. Two very large gift cards were birthday and Christmas gifts, but the majority of these were earned - slowly and methodically, through online point-earning sites over the past nine months.

There are dozens of points sites out there, but the two I use are MyPoints, and Swagbucks.

MyPoints sends me regular emails to participate in surveys, and special offers. At 50-150 points per survey completed, and 10 points per survey that I attempt but do not qualify for - these add up quickly. They also have daily emails advertising sales at different websites... with an offer to earn anywhere from 2-12 points per dollar spent. Yes, I do wait for these emails from stores that I shop from anyway. If I know my son (who wears a 30 waist, 34 length... impossible to find in thrift stores) will need new jeans, why not earn several hundred points while simultaneously taking advantage of Old Navy's holiday sale prices?

Think of it as the biggest, most tempting coupon you've ever seen.

Recently, they have also had offers where I go to a specific store, purchase a specific sweet-treat, and fax them a copy of my receipt. The resulting points I have earned from these offers have in a points-per-dollar conversion ended up meaning that MyPoints was actually PAYING me to buy these products. Seriously, no joke. I was PAID to buy candy!

With Swagbucks, I use their search-bar widget. Rather than using Google as my main search-engine, I use Swagbucks and over the course of the day I earn points a few times simply through my regular searching habits. It's only a few points at a time, but again they add up quickly! I will also cross-reference their points-per-dollar offers with MyPoints when making an online purchase and use whichever service offers me the biggest incentive. (No, you can't get points through both sites for the same purchase!) They also offer surveys, but lately I haven't seen terribly many so my points earned via survey have been scarce at best.

I do have one other favorite way to earn points via Swagbucks. They have short video-clips on every topic from animal-news, to cooking tips, to fashion tips. We have a widescreen monitor, and I will open two windows... one to half-watch the videos, and another to check on my email, surf Pinterest, chat on Facebook, or whatever else I may be doing. My daughter will also keep videos running while she is typing out school essays, or playing Facebook games. My husband has SBTV installed on his cellphone, and he will also let videos run on the cellphone while he sits at the computer. I actually earn over $25 per month via Swagbucks. They have a limit on how many $5 gift cards I can redeem per month, so my balance is constantly rising. This actually came in handy these past few months, as I didn't have the chance to be online - and I was still able to redeem my monthly cards!

Money has been painfully tight these past 6 months. We have been living on a part-time income, and unemployment. If it weren't for these points, we would not have been able to purchase a fruit press last fall, or the tablet now. Our next purchase will likely be a pantry restocking of several flours & gluten free oatmeal, but just for the moment I am savoring the single largest "free" purchase I've ever made - ordering something I WANT to own rather than something we NEED to purchase.

It feels pretty darn good.

(For the record, no I was not paid by either company to recommend them... however if anyone happens to want to join either, I would LOVE if you considered using me as a reference! I DO earn points for referrals!) 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Word of the Year

Happy New Year!

I have NEVER been more ready to turn over a new leaf and start over again. Last year seemed like one loss after another, with precious few blessings. I am NOT sorry to see the end of 2014, as 2015 MUST be better. It just must.

The best summary of last year I can give, is to quote the one TV show I've been watching since I was three. Matt Smith (Doctor Who #11) said, in Vincent and the Doctor, "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and... bad things. The good things don't always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don't necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant."

That was last year.

This is now.

Several of my friends choose a single word to encapsulate their intentions for each year. I love the idea, and as I was thinking about 2015 and what I wanted from this year, a single word kept coming to mind. So this year, I too will be living this year with a single word as my focus rather than a list of goals.

This year, I will PERSEVERE.

Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines persevere as Latin, deriving from the word persevero. It says, "The last component part of this word, severo, must be the same as in assivero, with the radical sense of set, fixed or continued. So persist is formed with per and sisto, to stand. Constant and continue have a like primary sense. So we say, to hold on." The Free Dictionary defines persevere more simply, as: "To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement."

Either way you look at it, this seems like a great word of intention for this year. Many of the struggles we dealt with last year, are still with us. We will have an uphill climb, but we ARE climbing back up. So this will be a year of "holding on" and persisting in the face of discouragement. 

Or, to quote the good Doctor once more, (Doctor Who #10 this time) "Allons-y!" 

(For any other blogging geeks out there, I also just realized... this is my 100th post! Wow!) 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas Decorations: A Steampunk Tree

We have been tinkering for awhile now with a master bedroom renovation. The concept is Jules Verne's dream bedroom - a blend of masculine Victorian, industrial, vintage travel, and fantasy. I'll be sharing more on our changes later.

Anyway, since our son begged for a larger Christmas tree last year, our beloved twig-tree moved into our room this year. That meant a completely new set of decorations - and since they were for our bedroom, we got steamy.

Not THAT kind of steamy...I'm talking steampunk. Budget-style.

The tree is a 3' tall German twig-tree. We placed it atop our stacked suitcases, so it would be a prominent decoration in the room. Winding 'round the tree, is a homemade paper-chain made from antique book pages, edged with a bit of copper German glass glitter.

The tree-topper is a homemade paper top hat - complete with hatpin, made by stringing glass pearls & goldstone beads onto straight pins.

The paper mache globe ornaments were given to me by my mother last year. They had been sitting with her decorations unused, and when she heard about this tree she insisted that we HAD to take them. I think they go perfectly!

We found a set of five metal keys at Michaels for $1 apiece last summer, and couldn't come up with a  place to display them until the tree went up. They add just a bit of metallic shine.

Our splurge last year, was a set of three brass clock-hand snowflakes! At $18 for the set, they were well worth it.

I wanted hot air balloons, and found  tutorials using solder, glass-blowing, and  incandescent lightbulbs. Opting for a simpler approach, I printed out silhouette images, and glued them to create 3-d ornaments.

My husband found a pair of earthtone blown glass mushrooms on sale after Christmas last year... and at $.20 apiece I certainly can't complain about the price!

I also found a few post-season ornaments last year... a pair of bookish owls that seemed perfect for a set of bibliophiles!

The only other decoration in our room, is a pretty embroidered pillow from the thrift store. I'm not usually one for throw pillows, but this one had such a pretty handmade look that I had to bring it home. It looks SO pretty against my matelasse duvet! It doesn't quite fit the steampunk look of our tree, but it looks as if it was made to rest on our mid-Victorian era bed.

It's taking me forever to get my decorations up this year, but slowly everything is coming together.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Sweet Surprises

I just have to share... because this TOTALLY made my day! My UPS man showed up this afternoon, but we hadn't ordered anything recently. When we opened it up, I found a lovely snowman ornament from one of my dear sweet friends. It ABSOLUTELY made my day, and I immediately popped him onto my antique sewing machine next to another snowman-friend so they could keep each other company.

What a wonderful unexpected surprise - and what a sweet couple these two make together, sitting where I can see them from the entire living area.

A few of my other smaller decorations are now tucked about the place as well. In my kitchen niche, I've tucked my reproduction snowman bubble light, and my husbands' Bing Crosby album. 

Across the top of my crafting shelves, I've arranged a vintage shawl under a variety of pretty white candleholders. 
It's a simple display, but it offsets my red and white feather tree so nicely.

My men have spoiled me this year, by surprising me with a trio of sweet mouse ornaments.  How fitting for Miss Mouse, wouldn't you say?

I have felt SO spoiled this  past week with all these amazing surprises!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Christmas Decorations: Bottlebrush Trees

I tell people that I have 37 trees in my house for Christmas, and it's true.

Most of my trees, however, are bottlebrush trees. I LOVE how many ways there are to use them, and place mine in various vignettes about the house.

Near the front door, I crocheted a a pool noodle and tucked a few bleached trees into it along with a pretty wooden church ornament for a simple "White Christmas" wreath.

Atop the sewing machine under the wreath, is this tiny display - with a paper church, and tiny lanterns. 
 In the dining room, I tucked several more bottlebrush trees into some cotton batting, and added several wintry animals for a natural look. My husbands antique car nestled nicely into a nest of feather boa, with one more bottlebrush tree tied to the roof for just a touch of whimsy.

This year has been particularly difficult. I have been saying that I'm ready for next year to begin because it MUST be better. However, I am choosing to live the rest of my winter by this quote by Anne Bradstreet:

If we had no winter,
the spring would not be 
so pleasant:
if we did not sometimes
taste of adversity,
prosperity would not be so welcome.
 May all our winters lead to pleasant springs.