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Seasonal Fast-Forward

Doing what I do (what do I do again?) requires looking waaaaaay ahead in the calendar, making seasonal items far in advance of when they are actually relevant. It’s kind of like the stores putting out the Easter items as soon as Valentine’s Day arrives–whaaaa? While I am knee deep in everything Witch Craft, and gearing up like never before for Halloween because of it, I am also experiencing a lot of other seasons and holidays at the same time. And then there’s the see-sawing weather, from 90 degrees to 45 degrees in a week…

I am concurrently reading storyboards for July yarn magazine issues, submitting amigurumi patterns to Interweave Crochet’s 2012 calendar (gunning for Summer Fruits, Candy Corn and Xmas Ball Ornament) and designing winter ware for the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts shop (bobble cowl, anyone?). But before I draw you in to my holiday stew, some exciting wintery/Christmas news: I have two pairs of slippers, ballet flats and Mary Janes, in the above holiday issue of Knit Simple, on sale now. You can preview more of the magazine here, but I highly recommend buying a copy, of course. 🙂 Some pictures of my slippers are after the jump.

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Plush You, “Witch Craft” and a lot of links…

Plush You! Show in Seattle

I have been part of the annual Plush You! show before (a Seattle-based show from Schmancy‘s Kristen Rask where artists must apply via plush samples), but I have never actually attended. Until this year! Well, *hopefully*. My health is in teetering mode once again after about 9 days of things actually looking up (gee whiz that was short-lived), so I’m crossing my fingers that it doesn’t get worse and I can drag this ailing body around no matter how difficult.

I had promised myself earlier in the summer, when I was much more sick, that if I wasn’t totally down and out, I’d seize the day and use my credit card like a normal person (I don’t really use it…) and go to Plush You. I have wanted to take a trip by myself for a while now; as much as I love people, and I do, I absolutely love to travel by myself, always have. And traveling to Seattle for Plush You means more to me this year because of what I’ve been through and because I included this piece in the show.

Plush You! kicks off Friday, October 8th with an opening reception from 5pm-9pm. It runs for a month, so check it out if you’re in Seattle! Seattle Magazine has a nice little write-up about the show and Seattle Met Magazine has this piece up on their blog–go press! Now if that weren’t enough fun for one weekend, enter gal-around-town-and-the-internets Jessie Oleson of the fabulously sweet Cakespy, a Seattle-based biz, blog and brick-and-mortar. Remember when she and I exchanged surprise macarons upon first meeting this summer in Seattle? We are throwing a little Halloween partay for Witch Craft the next day, Saturday, October 9th from 5pm-8pm. Games, treats, crafts and surprises are promised.

Witch Craft

Halloween is less than a month away now and our book is doing well! I’ve been visiting it at bookstores around Pittsburgh to make sure, as it’s part of their Halloween displays, all front and center! 🙂 (I especially like watching it get higher on the Amazon charts). I’ve been doing some blog interviews stemming from the book’s publication and they are starting to go live. What’s been both interesting and somewhat emotionally challenging in this process, however, is having to go over “my story” regarding how I got into craft, magazines and now books. Sure I was always crafty and always wrote, but both only “for fun” until I became chronically ill.

I never really thought about how all of this unfolded, the timeline, until recently, when I get so directly asked about it. I also don’t think I ever quite realized how bad life and health were, and for soooooo long, how incredibly ill I was. Which is odd because, of course, I should be the one most in-the-know! 😉 When I go through what days were/are like, peruse things I’ve written here but mostly in journals, look at calendars with everything crossed out except doctor appointments, social activities entirely replaced by food types/bathroom trip tallies and remember making crocheting particular things during particular sick periods, I honestly ask myself a) how the heck am I still alive/how can the body withstand all of that and b) how did I want to be alive enough to keep going when the outlook was and still kind of is not fantastic. It is all so mind-boggling to me. “Live the questions” instead? Who knows…

Anyway! Without further adieu, the first slew:

-I’ve been a member of Cut Out + Keep for a while now. It’s a wonderful UK-based site devoted to crafty how-to’s and they interviewed me for the latest issue of their online magazine, Snippets. Check it out here. What I love about this interview is that I got to correspond with one of the site’s writers, who is also a young, chronically-ill chick and we have energetic illness-inspired-art brainstorming sessions over email that will hopefully lead to some amazing future projects! Gives me goosebumps just thinking about them. Stay tuned…

-I belong to the Steel Town Etsy Street Team here in Pittsburgh and have loved the embracing nature of this crafty group upon moving back. Thank you, Tamara Barker for this Member Feature and book review!

-I also belong to the Pittsburgh Craft Collective–here is a Members News post on me! We are also planning a Witch Craft book/crafty happy hour, details to unfold soon…

-Back when I lived in NYC, I occasionally did some writing for Tribeca Citizen. And it was actually there in Tribeca where I began to work on Witch Craft and made all of my crafts for it, using supplies from neighborhood shops and grocery stores. So, part of the book was essentially born in Tribeca! Erik Torkells is the mastermind behind the site, and, you know, former editor of Budget Travel, Fortune, Travel+Leisure and Town & Country. Yeah, I’m only a little intimidated to have him edit something of mine haha. (“haha” at the end there is all wrong, I know). Kidding kidding, he is one of my favorite email buddies and I look forward to a future lunch with him after our single meeting last year! Here is his Homemade Halloween Q&A on the book and me!

So, um, buy the book and get crafty, okay?

Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole

One of the projects I did for Witch Craft was “Freaky Finger Food,” which you’ll have to buy the book (or search my Flickr) to learn more about. Well, I will tell you it has to do with dips! And vegetables made to look like fingers ooooooh. Anyway, I went through a chip-and-dip phase when I was younger. No, not really the eating part, but rather, finding chip-and-dip containers that were clever or cute or silly. I had a swimming pool one that I was particularly fond of and was just grateful that the wonderful English language allowed for “chip-and-dip” in the first place. But I digress…

I’ll be gradually unveiling some of my own dip recipes here that will add some pizzazz to your Halloween festivities, though they will do the trick all year round. For this Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole, I ventured into unknown vegetable land, having never cooked with tomatillos before. My aunt Adele (who I used to help with craft shows growing up!) is known for her culinary skills in making chilis and salsas. She introduced me to tomatillos in the latter just the other week and I was hooked. After the jump, Spicy Tomatillo Guacamole.

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Witch Craft–The Book!


My Ruby Slippers project from the book, and also 1/2 of the outfit I plan on wearing to all book events…or all of October even)

As I mentioned in the last couple of posts, I have a book out!!! I co-edited, co-compiled and contributed to the Quirk Books title, Witch Craft, along with the wonderful Margaret McGuire, full-time editor there at Quirk. From now until Halloween, I suspect I’ll be doing *a lot* of writing about book-related things; I hope you like recipes, how-tos, pictures of me in Halloween costumes from every year of my life and autumn anecdotes. 🙂

For now, join in on the fun on our Witch Craft Facebook Page and comment by clicking here to win an adorable Witch Craft patch.

Want to see one of my very first Halloween costumes? After the jump!

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Rainbow Safety Cone Army to the Rescue!

Look what someone, someone who has never met me in person, crocheted for me during my latest hospitalization? A rainbow safety cone army, using my free crochet safety cone pattern! (Side note: if you Google just “safety cone,” the 4th suggestion is “safety cone crochet,” and if you click on that? All me!!!) Okay, safety cone ARMY. Jamie stumbled upon my blog earlier this year after visiting my Etsy shop. She happens to teach defensive driving skills, so safety cones are practically her co-workers. Well, she wanted to make some of these crochet cones for her actual co-workers. We eventually became Facebook friends and got to know each other through that avenue, as I am very link-, photo- and life-update-y.

This has been a particularly tough year health-wise, and if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll see that the sickness posts unfortunately outweigh the fun craft, magazine, book, biking, cooking and baking posts in word count and intensity. And yet, as someone who prefers to internalize the rough stuff, it has been beneficial and cathartic for me to unload here, instead of pretending that my life is a series of whimsical crochet projects and adventurous cupcake-baking. (I wish!)

I used to ask myself, “but does this belong here?” Where was all the sicky-poo nitty gritty on my favorite craft and cooking blogs?? Nada. I eventually realized, however, that being chronically ill is part of the Alicia Kachmar package. And so much of what I do, even when it’s super exciting and gratifying like having a book published? A domino effect of events that had a lot to do with first getting sick. All of it so intertwined that it would feel dishonest not to write about it. Plus, in comments and emails, it can be encouraging to hear the stories of others who also struggle with illnesses, or know those who do, lest I forget I am not the only sick person floating out here in the internet abyss. I have made connections this way that are deeper than I ever could have imagined. There’s something to be said for opening up, even when it comes to gross intestinal matters.

Back to this army of six that now lines one of my bedside bookshelves! Jamie picked up crochet because of the creations of Yummy Pancake and myself–wow!!! I am flattered. 🙂 With this safety cone army that arrived on my doorstep after I got discharged came a wonderful handwritten note that…totally made me cry, but in a good way! In the best possible way. Part of what she writes:

“I know it’s not much with all that you’re facing, but I thought this rainbow of safety cones could help to brighten your day. Reading your updates on Facebook have inspired me. You are going through so much, yet somehow manage to keep a smile on your face, as well as ones on your adorable crochet creations. I admire your determination as you face this disease. I hope the doctors can help you feel better and get over this latest hurdle.”

Well, it is way more than “not much,” believe me. I keep a smile on my face because of things like the above.

The body creating the person


ICD-9-CM Diagnosis Code 556: ULCERATIVE COLITIS
(More pics here)

“I’ve heard this is an incredibly painful disease–is that true?” It’s funny the things people ask you when you’re lying in an ER bed, heart monitor wires crawling out from beneath a hastily thrown-on hospital gown, fluids and a steamrolling steroid drip being fed into weak veins, a second IV line put in right after the first, and a blood transfusion bracelet “just in case.” Who said this to me? I think it was the woman from registration, a process I bypassed.

When I was hospitalized earlier in the summer, somewhere in those 10 days I decided to move back home to Pittsburgh for exactly this reason, this particular scenario playing out differently in its criticalness, but affirming that I had the correct logic: I’m not getting better. I’m probably not going to get “better.” I can’t do this again in New York. I can’t do this without being able to hold mom’s hand. I know I’m going to have to do this again.

There I was, doing this again. But in Pittsburgh.

It has been…I don’t know…a hell of a summer? Arriving here in a feeble state, physically and mentally, I threw myself into everything Pittsburgh had to offer, writing down lists of restaurants to patronize and actually going to many, joining the Steel Town Etsy Street Team and Pittsburgh Craft Collective, subscribing to area magazines I could potentially write for. Absorbing. Relying on a reserve of energy I didn’t have. Going forward instead armed with “mind over matter,” ignoring the quotidian pain, fatigue and unpleasantness because not one day is “good,” not one night slept through without marching off to the bathroom at least once or being jolted awake by insomnia. You have to think it’s all “normal,” otherwise it would become impossible to face. For everyone, but most importantly for me, it’s a lie, it’s a show, it’s trickery and it’s absolutely necessary if I don’t want to spend the day crying in bed. But when I look at what I’ve done, where I’ve been to in Pittsburgh, what I’ve seen, what I’ve created, it’s almost irritating to think about. That so much good could be interspersed with so much bad, that I had to experience all of these wonderful things while encapsulated in this sick little body.

I read Rollo May’s The Courage to Create: “Courage is not the absence of despair; it is rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair. Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations.” Good, because, at times I feel paralyzed by despair and limitations. I plow through The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics, determined to make myself stronger in the head about it all, determined to be a wounded but “good” storyteller. Feverishly underlining quotes:
The ill person who turns illness into story transforms fate into experience.

Ill people have to learn to think differently.

One of our most difficult duties as human beings is to listen to the voices of those who suffer. These voices bespeak conditions of embodiment that most of us would rather forget our own vulnerability to.

What is harder to hear in the story is the body creating the person.

Chronic illness in particular challenges us to ask if it it possible to be successfully ill. A good story is the measure of an ill person’s success.

Modernity has a hard time accepting, even provisionally, that life sometimes is horrible.

I would never have chosen to be taught this way but I like the changes in me.

Quest stories meet suffering head on, they accept illness and seek to use it. Something is to be gained through the experience.

I agree! And I want a quest story as opposed to the alternative, the chaos narrative. I want to meet it all head on and face it and use it. I want to somehow be at peace with the fact that illness has changed me to the core, taking away my spontaneity, taking away my favorite foods, taking away my teaching career. It has made me say “no, I don’t like that” where I used to say, “yes, I do like that.” The hospital is the ultimate experiencing of that. All decisions are made for me, by my icky body and by medical professionals. I have no choices except choosing menu items when I’m allowed to eat again. Everything is done to me, the body creating the person. A person I do not want to be. But it has given me other things, hasn’t it? I would never have chosen to be taught this way… On the other hand, I just want permission to give up because I don’t see how I could ever be at peace with such losses. I bounce back and forth between these two extremes, the energizing feel of optimism, the pummeled feel of defeat.

In August, I could feel the tolerably bad state of my health becoming less tolerable. But I was still arduously getting medical paperwork and tests done before starting new treatment options, in a state of limbo that I feared would lead to the hospital on a daily basis. A ticking time bomb. I always think I have reached my pain threshold, that my body cannot possibly survive this, that it can’t possibly get worse. But then it does. Then it did.

I must have run to the bathroom 20 times in a few hours, a gruesome experience I am no stranger to. So much pain that reverberates throughout my entire body, my joints and muscles…screaming? I throw up a ton of water, getting dizzy, seeing stars when I try to get up, my legs buckling. Mom, something is really wrong. I can’t walk anymore, I can barely stand up.

Parents hunched over me, I lie there on the floor, screaming and crying: Everything hurts. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe! I am terrified but I am so blitzed out and incoherent from body meltdown and debilitating pain at this point that I cannot think about the option of going to the hospital. I have no concept of “a hospital,” my mind is going. I want to take a hot bath, still holding onto the possibility that I can get through this. But I can’t stand up long enough, can’t lift my legs enough to get in. It’s over. I am in low blood pressure danger zone from severe disease activity and dehydration. I am fading and I can feel it, even though I can’t think it. I actually feel a dark cloud behind my eyes, something enshrouding me. Mom, I’m gonna black out.

My dad practically carries me to the car. Mom, do you know what to say when I get there? Because by the time we get there…tell me my symptoms, what has been happening. She goes down the list. I look out the window and don’t understand what any of this is. When we get to the emergency room, all I want to do is lie down on the floor. I sit in a chair but I can’t hold my head up. I am eventually put in a wheelchair, where I kind of just slump over. At first there is no blood pressure reading. And then a really low one. A patient ahead of me gets kicked out.

Allergies? Morphine. And hyacinth bulbs. I never say the latter because it’s irrelevant in a hospital setting, but later when I can think again, it makes me laugh inside, this stark contrast between these two things. It would make a good name for a poem. “Morphine and Hyacinth Bulbs.” So much blood-taking. I’m gonna black out. Take deep breaths. You’re gonna drink this and it’s gonna taste like this and it may make you nauseous. A CAT scan cocktail. Being wheeled around on a bed, the proverbial you’re-too-young-to-be-this-sick comment. Every time.

The ICU. My first time. Completely attached to wires and tubes that cannot be unplugged from the wall. My legs and arms don’t work anyway. A heart rate that goes from 90 to 125 when I try to stand up, sounding off an alarm. A nurse who laughs as much as me, donning her Steelers shirt because it’s game night. Steelers-game-watching in the ICU. Just what my heart needs. My PCP. The pulmonary doctor. The heart doctor. All of them: “Your blood pressure, when you came in here…” I know. I have always been frightened when doctors trail off, don’t finish sentences. A series of ellipses that speaks louder than any definitive words ever could. We’re going to keep you in here because…

In a regular room: “Are you writing?,” he asks me over the phone. “No.” I am too angry to care about “the story,” about using the experience. I scream and cry on the phone that I’m so sick of all of it, of everyone wanting me to persevere, that it’s somehow inspirational, that I’m going to beat it, that everyone is depending on me. I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care. It makes me angry because it makes it impossible to give up when it all seems to be about everyone else, and not about me. About what they want, not what I want. They all say that they can’t bear it. What about me? No, I am not writing. I am so sick of writing about all of this. So sick of these posts. But inclined to write them because it doesn’t feel like enough to merely say, “This is all so hard. So hard. So painful. And I am so sad inside and don’t know what to do.”

I lose myself in television instead, in Hart Crane poetry and Sylvia Plath journals if I can stay awake. I write only three sentences while in the hospital: Can a spirit be chipped away at? If so, mine is. Goal is one day to be able to pick up pieces and either put them back together or make something new with them.

I balled my eyes out for hours and hours when I find out that the biologic treatments via injections I have to undergo indefinitely upon getting discharged will not be covered by insurance and they cost an arm and a leg. Parents aggressively begin get-patient-assistance process as I bury myself in pillows, crying until my eyes are swollen shut and I can’t breathe. I look at my computer for the first time in days and notice that the Halloween craft book I co-edited/contributed to is “in stock” instead of in “pre-order” mode. I curse, remembering that all summer I said to myself, “I was in the hospital when I became a contest semi-finalist. I do not want to be in a goddamn hospital when the book comes out.” No no no! Not when I should be writing my author profile and contacting magazines and planning bookstore events and yarn shop classes. Instead of watching strands of yarn being manipulated by my hands I am watching burning liquids being sucked into them. I look at the cover of the book, my red glittery Dorothy shoes, my little feet. There’s no place like home. Of course this is happening. Of course I am in the hospital when the book comes out. And the one outstanding Etsy order I had to cancel? A peach. Of course.

When I got home from the hospital on day 7, I promised myself that I would finally design my crochet colon, one afflicted with ulcerative colitis of course, red bands encircling tissue, a frown, the title of which would be the arbitrary but official medical diagnosis code that will forever be stamped on my medical documents. Crocheted, personified ulcerative colitis. It simplifies (too much?) the last 5+ years: girl gets disease, girl picks up crochet, girl’s life changes significantly on account of both.

But what could possibly represent the experience of waking up every single day and feeling either a little bit sick, a lot sick, or somewhere in between? How many crocheted colons would I have to make to express the amount of cramps and joint achiness and heart palpitations and unpleasantness and migraines and blood loss and embarrassment and muscle atrophy and side effects and loss of dignity and vitamin deficiency and tears and raging insomnia? How many to represent that I have slept 2-4 hours of choppy sleep a night for over a month now, that I haven’t been able to eat breakfast in the kitchen because it is too far from the bathroom, that I often have heartburn that lasts all day, that I wait to cry until I’m in the shower because it feels less like I’m crying in there, that it took me over a week to be able to walk up one flight of stairs without stopping? Not enough. But making just this one, that I will put in the Plush You! show in Seattle this fall is enough, I guess. A city I first got to visit because I got sick, I crocheted, I wrote. An artistic representation of a diagnosis that has brought so much good and so much bad to my life.

Is it an incredibly painful disease? It is. Is it possible to be successfully ill? I hope so.