Tag Archives: tips

Crafting for Nimble Fingers

My jewelry crafting station. I like to hoard things.

My jewelry crafting station. I like to hoard things.

This post has been a long time in the making, but here we go. Since my business, Hybrid Rose Jewelry, is about to turn two years old, I thought it would be fitting to talk about the battle between RA and crafting.

Three years ago, I was sitting around having a nice little pity party for myself. RA seemed to be taking so much away from me. I’d always been the Martha Stewart type and the thought of not being able to spend my free time making stuff was horrifying. Out of this fear grew an impulse to learn every single crafty thing on the planet. Like, to the point of becoming OCD about it. If A.C. Moore and Michael’s had stocks, I could’ve been rich. Might as well use it before I lose it, right?

In some ways, I think crafting is what saved my not-so-flexible hands. Doctors often tell us RA patients to move around as much as possible to keep our joints from getting stiff. And while I love to dance around the house or go for walks when it’s possible, I hate doing hand exercises.

Baby blanket I made for new parents.

Baby blanket I made for new parents.

Alright, alright, I hear what you’re saying. Alyssa, you’re kidding me, right? My RA has progressed so much that I can’t even pick up a drinking glass or chop an onion, and you want me to work with tiny little beads and stuff?!

I totally get it. My first jewelry project was awkward. I couldn’t pick up the microscopic-sized seed beads. There was a mess on the floor from where I dropped most of them. It was horrific and hilarious at the same time. I kept trying new things until I found what worked for me.

So, these are some of the things I can still do despite having stiff old lady hands:

Knit/Crochet. My mother swears that knitting is easier on her arthritic hands than crocheting, so that’s

Hands down my favorite necklace.

Hands down my favorite necklace.

what she sticks with. I prefer crochet and have no problems whatsoever. I tried using the ergonomic-crochet-handle-attachment-thingies that they sell in craft stores to help people who have issues gripping the skinny hook, but I found that they put more pressure on my hands than just trying to grip the hook itself. Know your limits. If my hands begin to hurt after 30 minutes, I stop. Walk away, try again later.

Jewelry Making. I prefer working with chains, large beads, and large components, which are all easy to grip. I can still work with seed beads on occasion, so long as I use beading needles and a bead spinner to help me pick them up. Invest in a good set of tools. They make great pliers that help with grip.

Floral Arranging. Again, it’s all about the tools.

Scrap booking/Paper Arts. You may have a hard time using paper punches if you’re sitting down. Try bending over the puncher and pushing down with both hands to give you more leverage.

 

What crafty things do you still do, even with RA?

 

*All photos are my own.*

 

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My Miracle Pen

I’m a writer. Which means I write things, well… a lot. When I was first diagnosed with RA I was terrified that my painfully swollen and stiff fingers would prevent me from being able to pick up a pen. For the most part, I was right. The skinny, generic pens that you can buy in packs of 12 at the grocery store weren’t cutting it anymore. Inkier ballpoint pens and gel pens fixed the problem of having to press down hard on the paper, but they were still awkward to hold. So then I tried fatter pens, which were easier to grip, but they still required pressure to work. I was getting one benefit or the other, but never both.

So like any other frustrated, Internet-addicted young person, I turned to Google. That’s how I stumbled upon the PenAgain. It’s a weird wishbone-shaped writing instrument meant for people with arthritis, carpal tunnel, and other debilitating diseases. It’s designed so that you use the palm of your hand to guide the pen and apply pressure. Since a PenAgain pen only costs $5, I was willing to take the risk despite my initial skepticism. It couldn’t hurt to try it.

I pretty much fell in love with the pen, in case you didn’t get that vibe from the title of this post. It replaced every other pen bouncing around in my backpack. I felt less panic going into 3 hour-long college finals because I knew I could tackle the essays without worrying about my hands giving out. It was easier to jot down messages and fill out paperwork at work. Yeah, I totally got some strange looks from the people around me when they saw me using it, but that hardly matters.

Even though I’m in remission and can use regular pens for the most part, I still gravitate towards PenAgain. It’s easily one of the best RA-related purchases I’ve ever made. My only critique is that there are occasions when the pen will stop writing in the middle of a word, so I find myself scribbling on a piece of scrap paper to get it working again. Also, because of its design, the ink cartridges on these things are pretty short, so if you’re going to be using it a lot you’re going to want to have a backup pen or a stockpile of ink refills. I don’t mind this part so much because the refills aren’t expensive at all, and I realize that I write more than the average person on most days.

You can purchase a PenAgain pen (or pencil!) here.


The Gardening Dilemma

IMG_20130616_092603_878

Sunday I decided to wage war against the backyard. Due to all of the rain we’ve been having here in New Jersey, the garden has been neglected for a few weeks. I have quite a few battle scars from trying to tame my roses, but everything looks beautiful now. The only problem is that on some days, yard work can seem like an impossible task for a person with RA. I’ve compiled my list of shortcuts here. They’re all common sense tips, but sometimes I feel like we try to kid ourselves into believing that we don’t need to modify our habits to accommodate RA.

1. Pick a cool day to work outside. Or work early in the morning or after sunset. That seems like a no-brainer, but the heat definitely affects me more now than it ever did before. I feel fatigued more quickly when the sun is out. The only reason I was able to work all day yesterday was because it was cloudy and windy.

2. Use sunblock anyway. We take medications that can make us more sensitive to sunlight. I’m on Plaquenil, and I will burn if I’m outside for even 5 minutes without sunblock. Just play it IMG_20130616_173012_676safe and put some on. Think of all of the wrinkles you’re preventing.

3. Take constant breaks. Work for 20 minutes, then take a break. Or do one task (like mowing the lawn) and then sit and rest. It helps with the fatigue and gives your joints a break from repetitive stress. Your body will thank you by not keeping you in bed the next day with a horrible flare.

4. Which is why it’s also helpful to break up tasks into days. Just like every other aspect of our lives, gardening sometimes needs to be done using baby steps. If all you’re capable of is mowing the lawn today, then that’s enough. See how you feel tomorrow. Your flowers won’t IMG_20130616_160337_187mind if you push back replanting them by an extra day.

5. Use good tools. It’s okay to spend a little bit more for them. I’ve come to realize that this is extremely important. I was using rusty garden shears to trim the roses. They were dull and put a lot of extra stress on my fingers, which made them lock up. I went to Home Depot and got myself a fancy new pair of ergonomic shears.

6. Use a chair and kneeling pad. Quite frankly, I don’t care if the neighbors think I’m crazy for trimming the plants while seated. I’ll take the judgement over the back pain. And for weeding and planting, I have cushioned kneeling board. That was also a worthwhile purchase.

Now they just need to invent grass that cuts itself…

All photos are my own.


Ginger and Joint Pain

Can you tell I’m trying to be clever with my titles? Anyway…

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

I got over the funk that my last doctor’s visit put me in. I’m not happy about my current situation, but I had my pity party and now I’m sucking it up and moving on. However, a recent surgery has made me reevaluate pain and pain medication. It wasn’t anything too serious. I had a piercing when I was younger that turned into a hypertrophic scar, and I had to have it removed. I opted for an in-office surgery with local anesthetic rather than going to a surgical center and being put under anesthesia. It was a great time for me to find out that I have a slight tolerance to local anesthetic. My doctor had to stop the procedure every so often to give me multiple injections of Lidocaine.  But I’m getting off track again…

2 hours later, I was sent on my way with 30 stitches in my ear and a prescription for Codeine. I have to admit, I was a little concerned at the idea of taking it. I hate popping pain meds, even Tylenol. I’m already taking 2 prescriptions twice a day, why take anything else? Thankfully, I only needed to take one Codeine tablet a little after I got home. Otherwise I was up and doing fine the next day. But the Codeine got me thinking…can I find an alternative to dangerous and highly addictive pain medications? I’ve read a few blogs written by people with RA who have to take the strongest pain killers out there. They write about how awful the withdrawal symptoms are and how they wish they weren’t taking narcotics.

I started doing some research. I found a few great natural remedies (and I promise I will write about each and every one of them at a later time) but the one that stuck out the most was ginger. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, and I thought that if I combined using it with my anti-inflammatory prescription, I would see better results than taking just the prescription alone.

Here’s what I do: I buy only fresh ginger (usually three or four roots at a time) from the local

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

supermarket to use in tea. I put a root in the fridge for use that week. I chop up the other roots into smaller 1 inch pieces and throw them into the freezer (that way I don’t have to put stress on my hands by trying to cut frozen ginger and I don’t have to worry about it rotting). When I’m ready to make my tea, I peel a piece, throw it in a mug with a green tea bag, a pour the hot water in. I put a small plate over the cup while it steeps so that the oils from the ginger don’t evaporate. Steep it as long as you normally would steep your tea. I love ginger, so I just leave it in the bottom of the cup and eat it when I’m done drinking the tea. I do this every morning, and I’ve noticed that I feel less stiff in the morning than usual. Before it used to take 10 minutes to get out of bed each morning; now I can get up as soon as my alarm goes off.

Ginger is supposed to help with more than just achy joints. I’m not a doctor so don’t take my word for any of this, but I’ve read online that ginger is good for colds and the flu, as well as morning sickness, migraines, and heartburn. Of course, check with your doctor to make sure that ginger won’t interact with any of the medication you’re on, but ginger tea is certainly worth a shot.


Thanksgiving Tips

Courtesy of Google Images

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I know I have an extremely long list of things that I’m grateful for, and though I’d love to share them with you, that’s not my intention for this post. Instead, I want to focus on giving you some tips to make the holidays easier. You can keep these in mind for next year.

Mom and I are in charge of cooking dinner every year, and we know that sometimes it’s more challenging for us. We want to enjoy the holidays too, without pain and without feeling completely wiped out. We only have to cook for 6 people this year, but you can use these tips no matter what size your family is.
Make sure you get some help. Mom and I have to work together to get things done. If either one of us had to do everything by ourselves then there wouldn’t be a dinner at all. As much of a Type A personality as you might have, admit to yourself that you can’t do it alone. Get some helpers that can take care of chopping onions, mixing cake batter or pie fillings, or even just handle the cleanup.

Get a head start. We always begin our food prep the night before. For example, I make stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer every year. I make the stuffing the night before and keep it in the fridge until the next day when I’m ready to bake the mushrooms. We also make the pies, blanch the cauliflower, and peel the turnips. This way, we can take more breaks in between cooking to rest and don’t have to worry about running around like lunatics to get everything done.

Alternate tasks. After standing over a stove for long periods of time, the pain in my back becomes unbearable. To prevent this, I keep switching tasks. Alternate between things that require you to be in front of the stove and things that can be done while sitting. For me, this meant working on the cooking part of a cheesecake and then sitting down and taking the stems off of my mushrooms. If you’re done with food prep and have a high stool, it’s sometimes helpful to sit by the stove while you’re cooking.

Use cooking gadgets. Everyone makes fun of me for having a Slap Chop, but it’s honestly the

Courtesy of Google Images

greatest invention ever. My fingers begin to lock up if I try to mince garlic or onions for longer than 5 minutes. Plus, the arthritis is bad in my fingers and makes chopping things more awkward. Get pans that have two handles so that you can lift with both hands and take weight off your joints. User blenders and food processors whenever possible. Get knives specifically designed for people with arthritis. Electric can opens are essential as well. There are many stores that sell these gadgets, but you can check here as well.

Don’t stress. I always have a flare when I’m stressed out. Know you’re limits, and don’t panic if you can’t do “better” than them. If cooking is too much for you, opt to go elsewhere for dinner instead of taking on the responsibility yourself. The point of a holiday is to enjoy time with friends and family, and you won’t be able to do that if you tire yourself out before dinner even begins.


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