Monday, 1 September 2014

Personal.

This post is personal, and it's health-related. If that is the last thing on earth you want to read on this blog, I'm sorry and suggest you go somewhere else for today's reading. It's personal, and I usually try to limit personal things here, due to different reasons - but this is something I feel a need to blog about.

There's such a thing as invisible illnesses. Invisible illnesses are, well, invisible (just like the name hints), and that is one of the hardest things about them.
If you break your leg, you go to the hospital and get a cast - and everyone can see that you have a damaged leg and will thus not be able to do some things. However, if you have an invisible illness...

And there are many, many invisible illnesses - in all levels of severeness. Diabetes. Lupus. Chronic Fatigue. Hashimoto's. Depression. And lots and lots more. Being invisible, it's quite probable that nobody will tell you to go see a doctor. To make things even more nasty, these things can sneak into your life better than any ninja - they can come on so gradually you never even realise something might be wrong, until you suddenly realise that things are so bad you can't do this, or that, and that too.

I've been losing energy and instead gaining weight slowly and steadily over the past few years, with no discernible changes in my eating patterns. I've also started getting slightly swollen feet in summer heat. It crept in really slowly, really gradually, and I could not see any pattern to when my feet would be bloated and when they would not. Movement helped, sometimes, as did propping them up. Since my legs are too short for most chairs, I thought maybe sitting on too-high seats was partly to blame. I tried drinking lots and I tried drinking little, without effect, and finally I just sighed and thought it might be a part of getting older, and the body's changes that go with it.

Then the last bit of last year and the start of this year got very, very busy - big museum projects, preparing events, and the NESAT conference. I was feeling fatigued before, but after NESAT, it seemed like I just could not recover. I had no energy left. I woke up thinking about the things to do that day, feeling good enough to tackle them all, but by the time I had been to the bathroom and found my way the 6 or so metres to my desk, I was all tired and lackluster again. Clearly, something was wrong. Really wrong. The ninja had finally stumbled into the spotlight.

So I did what I always do when something is wrong, or a problem: I read the Internet. This time, I read what felt like all of it. And found out that I might have issues with my thyroid, and possibly general hormone levels, and that both might be connected to auto-immune problems. And those, in turn, might be connected to food intolerances that are so low-level, or developed so gradually, that I just never keyed on to them. I got myself a doctor's appointment, but that would be about two weeks of wait. Clearly, something had to happen before that.

Since I had already read about all the Internet (haha), I had stumbled across lots of sites connecting gut health to overall health, especially to auto-immune issues and disorders. They all recommended special diet versions that differ in details, but are all basically aiming to rule out anything that might irritate at first, then gradually re-introducing elements to test whether they are tolerated or not. So I decided to take the plunge, and I opted for one system recommended by a doctor that specialises in hypothyroid issues. (Basically, it was just to pick one of them. A proper strict one, because I like to jump into things full throttle. Even when I'm sick.)

That was a diet that rules out about everything except vegetables, meat, fruit that are not too sweet, and herbs. That was a large change, but to my great relief, it did work almost instantly. I won't count the first three days or so of it, because you never know how much of a placebo-effect that was, but after the first days, I lost quite a bit of water weight, the swelling in my feet went down, and I had more energy again. Still not up to normal levels, still needing more rest than usual, but it was definitely and upward trend.

Meanwhile I had that doctor's appointment, and nothing looks so very bad - I lacked a few vitamins and minerals, and thyroid levels were not perfect, but also not too far out of the ordinary. Now I am in the stage of figuring out what is good for me, food-wise, and what is not. That is a lengthy process with a goodly amount of documentation and deduction (and some guesstimates), and it makes eating not at home a little difficult - so I have turned into a person that lugs food around, just in case. The first few culprits are already found, too - though my tastebuds really love fried or cooked onions, the rest of me does not agree that they are a good thing. And then I had two oat biscuits recently, which tasted lovely but raised havoc later. There are a lot of things left to test and try, but at least I can find out what works and what doesn't. (There is, by the way, no other sure way to determine food intolerances but the elimination-provocation approach; any tests are iffy at best, a waste of money at medium, and harmful due to wrong outcomes at worst.)

The curiousest thing, to me, is that I never had any discernible issues with any of the foods that are now off-limits or suspect before. It just drained my energy and made me less healthy overall, to a point where I could not function well anymore. If this happened to me, it could happen to someone else, with as little clue about why things become harder as I had. And that, dear readers, is why I think this is an important thing to share.

So... should you suspect a food intolerance doing bad things with your guts and your life, I can tell you, from my own experiences, that an elimination diet may sound awful, but might be just what you want. I won't say it is easy - you have to go without a lot of things for a few weeks, after all, and with many things for quite some time until you have re-introduced them. It's not all bad, though. My appreciation for high-quality foods, my cooking-fu, my knowledge about the human innards and the human immune system, and my resourcefulness in packing food* have all benefited from this diet change. As has my appreciation for my friends, who after a short second of being shocked did their very best to support me and went several extra miles, in some cases, to make sure that I could eat with them. Friends are wonderful. Feed them to the best of your abilities - they might return the favour one day when you really need it.




* Very soon, I developed a more-or-less-healthy apprehension that I might become hungry and not find something that I could eat, resulting in packing emergency food (and plenty of that) in case of travel. The masses of food that I brought to Herzberg? Ridiculous. (Just enough, though.) Considerable amounts of food also travelled with us to England, and then through England, for our vacation. (Optimised for packing space and weight-to-nutrition-ratio, of course.)
For parties and similar things, I also found that it is immensely helpful to have something to eat that is both delicious or appealing to me and safely within the limits of the current diet - just in case everyone else enjoys something I cannot have. Food envy, to me, was the thing I feared most, and the "pack your own" strategy works beautifully for that.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Almost done. Down to books now.

I have told you about the people, the podcasts, my presentation... but not, yet, about the books. As was to be expected, there were a lot of books at LonCon, at various places. There was a library where everybody was invited to take home a book (or as much as you could carry during the last two days). There were plenty of book-seller stalls in the Dealer's Hall, offering everything from used books for small money to signed special editions, wrapped in cellophane. (I did not enquire after their prices. For me, books are there to be read, and while I try to treat them kindly, I do not mind if they look used after a while. That's their point - to be read. At best, again and again and again.) And, of course, a lot of new ones, freshly out.

Such as my friend Gillian Polack's new time travel novel Langue[dot]doc 1305. Obviously, I had to get a copy of that one. A time-travel novel written by a proper historian! And so new it's not even the real book yet, but the uncorrected proof version. Only very few of these were printed, so if you want to give that a read, you should be quick... or have to wait for the final version. Gillian, by the way, has a lovely quirky evil sense of humour, which I know all too well through our endless chat conversations when we work together on our co-writing project. Go buy her book, it will make her happy, and she deserves that. Go buy all her books, while you are at it.

Our two right-hand table neighbours also sold books - Clare Davidson writes YA fiction about hidden races in our world, and you can have a look at what she writes and read excerpts here. Chuck Ian Gordon writes fiction about near-future AIs in MMORPGs, and there are excerpts of the German original and the English translation on his website, too.

I also went to one of the used book stalls and made good use of a ten-pound note and their offer to get a 6th book for free if you buy five. Well... I scored a book by Spider Robinson that is not from his Callahan chronicles (which, if you like puns, is a total must-read). And then I picked things that sounded interesting and that I did not know yet - one book by David Brin, who with "Rivers of Time" now has become one of my favourite authors. The "Exiles Trilogy" by Ben Bova, and that is another author I want to read more of. Plus some others that I have not read yet and that did not ring any bell. Yay surprise books!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

More LonCon stuff.

 Are you tired abot hearing from LonCon yet? It's not too much more, I promise. Really.

I have talked to people, however, and they directed me to interesting places. Margit, for example, told me about an RSS and Atom feed reader she uses. It's an add-on to Firefox (which still, occasionally, drives me crazy with its inexplicable slowness, like today. Which is also the reason why this post is so late), and it's called Bamboo Feed Reader. She showed me her version of it with a quick explanation, and now I am slowly shifting things from my blogspot dashboard reading list over to Bamboo. Thanks, Margit!

In retaliation, I got her hooked on EscapePod. I had the pleasure of (very shortly) meeting the host of the Pod, Alasdair, in person when he and Mur Lafferty did the live recording of one episode, with a story by Kameron Hurley (who got not one, but two Hugos this year). Unfortunately, I missed him and his fiancée as they stopped by our table in the Dealer's hall, but I was told they enjoyed the sight of wool in a sea of books. If you still haven't listened to any of the Escapepod stories, I totally recommend going there right now. To be more precise, go to this page and listen to the Hugo-winner in the short story category, read by the author John Chu himself. I am thrilled that this story won - because it is awesome and one of the best, if not the best, love/relationship stories I have read in a long time.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

More from LonCon.

LonCon was lovely, as I already told you. Unfortunately, as announced on the LonCon website, the next two worldcons will both be in the US of A - way, way too far away for me to go. (Seems that there is a very strong bias towards Worldcon in the US, something that has been criticised before - why call it "Worldcon" if it's "Mostly Americon"?)

I do hope it will be in Europe again in 2017, and I don't care whether it's Helsinki or Dublin. Both are comparatively fast and easy to reach from good ol' Germany, as opposed to about anywhere in the States.

But enough moaning - here's one more gem that made us laugh and go "ooh" in awe, both at the same time. Diagonally across from our table, on the front end of the next table island, sat an artist demonstrating her work: SoMK. She was featured on the LonCon Artist list, but of course I didn't read that. She had things in the art show, but I almost didn't manage to go in there in time... so I feel lucky that her table was so close to ours, or I might have missed her. Go look at her art on Deviantart - I especially loved this one, and it was even possible to buy a postcard with the print. SoMK also has a flickr collection.

(If you fall in love with one of her pieces - there are prints of a few of them, and there's a message function in Deviantart. Also, the originals in the LonCon art show were very, very fairly priced in my opinion, should you prefer an original...)

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

LonCon, and Dread Pirate Robert's Favourite Winter Hat

As I already hinted: it was wonderful at LonCon. That was not only my first WorldCon, but also my first convention ever, and I started full speed ahead - with a dealer's table and a one-hour presentation about medieval textile crafts (with examples from London).

I met a lot of wonderful people, and I had the joyful experience of having an hour and a half on the very first evening, giving my presentation. Thanks again to the wonderful organiser of the academic track, Emma England, who made this possible! From the feedback that I got afterwards, it was an enjoyable experience for my audience, and I had a lot of fun too. There was a bit of an "aaargh!" moment at the very beginning, when I found out that all of the six (six!) microphones on the table were live, and fretted over toppling them over with my textile tools. There were a few further "oops" moments during the presentation, when I did my tools and process demonstrations before having clicked on to the cue cards in the presentation slideshow... but all of these were very minor and more something to grin sheepishly about than to really be troubled.

Apart from that first evening of (enjoyable) work, I spent the time after 18:00 hanging out with friends in filk concerts and in the "Fan Village", or at one of the several dances. During the day, I was mostly at our table in the Dealer's Hall, and that was not any less enjoyable, thanks to lovely customers, colleagues and neighbours. Susanne, our trusty and immensely helpful sidekick, hung out with us most of the time, helping to sell and chat - it wouldn't have been possible to enjoy the Con half as much without her. In fact, we had so much fun we decided it would be nice to do this again - surely not at the next WorldCon, because that is in the US, but there are more conventions apart from that one...

I also learned (quickly, hah!) about the Thing with the ribbons. You see, for your con attendance, you get a plastic badge that you hang around your neck. And if you like, you can stick ribbons to the bottom of it, stacking them. If you are really keen on ribbons, you do that until you have a long, scarf-like tail of cloth hanging from your badge. (I just wanted a few. I ended up with eleven.) There were some official ones (such as the bright orange "Dealers" ribbon, or the light blue "Programme Participant" ribbon, or the multi-coloured "First Worldcon" ribbon) marked with the LonCon symbol. Most of them, though, were unofficial and made by fans, and with all kinds of statements on them - such as "I <3 -="" a="" advertising="" and="" back="" because="" bid="" book="" br="" bryan="" citations="" city="" convention.="" coveted="" dead="" did="" doctor="" dog="" during="" evening="" fetch="" few="" film="" for="" four="" future="" get="" go="" his="" host="" hotel="" i="" instantly="" kind="" last="" making="" manage="" me="" my="" of="" on="" one="" or="" out="" party="" really="" ribbons="" room="" s="" saw="" showing="" so="" support="" that="" the="" there="" thing="" three="" to="" totally="" very="" wanted="" was="" were="" worldcons.="">

The Con also saw the debut of the pattern for Dread Pirate Roberts' Favourite Winter Hat (ravelry pattern page link here), and it was very well received indeed!

The pattern is printed in colour, contains clear illustrated instructions for the special moves that are necessary for the lace part, and is now available via my webshop. Since I wanted to be able to sell it as a printed version, and prints do cost money, I am not planning to offer it as a download for at least a while (read: until the printing costs are, at least to a good part, regained). I know that it's nice to pay, download, and start right away if you buy an electronic pattern, but I did want very much to have the real ink-on-paper version for this one.

And as the introductory offer, you will pay no shipping costs if you order it now! The offer is valid until September 10, 2014.



Monday, 25 August 2014

Those holidays... were really, really nice.

There we are, Monday morning. Time to start telling you about all the things that happened during the blogging break... and the first thing is: our holidays.

This year for our holidays, we went to England again. Now, me and the most patient husband of them all like to have vacations with an, um, active element to them, such as going for a several-day canoe paddle... or travelling with the tandem.

If you've been a long-time reader, you might know that we own a semi-recumbent tandem, a perfect machine for travelling. We've done two England cycling trips before, and this time, we wanted to have a go in the south - Kent, Sussex, maybe even the Isle of Wight. We prepared the trip by getting Sustrans maps, loading all kinds of data onto the satnav, checking out what English Heritage and National Trust things would lie in the region, and finally went off for a two-week holiday.

What we had underestimated were, of course, the hills. Now we knew that England is only flat in tiny areas (quickly travelled through) and goes up and down otherwise. We're both not afraid of climbing a hill or a large hill... but the short and steep inclines in the inland of Kent and East Sussex do drain one's legs quickly if you have a bike with some weight to it. And with all our stuff, plus the rather heavy build of the tandem itself, it's a significant amount of weight! We were planning to camp, so our gear included the tent, mats, sleeping bags, and a full camping kitchen including a stash of emergency food supplies. Alltogether, with our personal gear and food and water loaded onto the bike, it weighs about 70 kg - that's a lot of weight to pedal up a 10% or more slope.

So we didn't get as far as the Isle of Wight. We did, however, manage to see Brighton (including some sea-bathing, though not directly in Brighton). We also saw lots and lots of beautiful vistas across cliffs, lands, fields; rode through dozens and dozens of streets that were flanked by trees so dense and high it turned them into green tunnels; went into gardens and old churches and houses. We saw Dover Castle (twice!), happened across a band of change-ringers (to our great delight), and most of the time we were very, very hot as we managed to get the full heatwave that England had in July.

It was, altogether, lovely. We met lots of nice people, had lots of nice food, slept incredible amounts of time ("oh, it's dusk already... hm... we could go and sleep?") and took in wonderful, wonderful landscape and scenery. We also made the most of our Overseas Visitor Pass from English Heritage... and not so much from our National Trust one. And you can totally save yourself the money for buying an overseas membership for the Camping and Caravanning club if you are going to use a tent - not worth it at all.

More detail? Here you go.
We have had so many good times with the English Heritage pass that it was a no-brainer to get one for this holiday. Really, it's amazing value - if you visit Dover Castle twice, you are already saving money if you bought the pass. And it's easy to spend two days (or two half-days) at that place, there's so much to see. When you buy the OVP, you get all the info stuff you would receive with a regular one-year membership, so you can look up all the details for all the places in a book.
If you are still in doubt - don't be. We usually broke even on our second or third day of holidays with the pass, even if travelling on the bike. And it gives you plenty of side destinations, all with clean and nice toilets, friendly people, gift shops to browse and fairly-priced, good food in their tearooms.

The National Trust has lovely parks as well as stunning houses and gardens, and they also offer a temporary pass. Unfortunately, though, you do not get a book with info, and all you have to plan with is a (rough) map that tells you whether it's a landscape, a house, or a garden. There are no opening times, no descriptions, no prices for regular entry (which would help in planning, as the price is usually a good hint on the size of the property, and thus the time you should plan to visit it). The only way to get this information is to pick up one of the info leaflets for the individual properties and places - and these are not always available in the spots you happen into. We thus had a hard time planning, and ended up not visiting as many of the places as we had hoped to (also because we were not cycling as far as we had originally planned to go, so it's not completely the fault of NT). The staff, though, was all incredibly nice, and we were even given a proper info book at one place, when we complained about our difficulties. We were also allowed to have a walk through the garden at one place even though we came there on a day where it was closed, having cycled a good distance just to visit this place.
So... if you are planning to do a sightseeing trip with bicycles or similar slow transportation, you will probably want to look up everything in the Internet before and take notes - including notes on opening times, which can vary immensely from property to property. The parks and landscapes are usually free to visit, so you might not even need to buy a pass.

And in regards to the Camping club... not only do you get no info, you also get an unfriendly answer when you ask for more info, or for the reason why they are so stingy with their stuff. As most of the places they have are very hard to find without the big book of sites, it was a waste of money and we will definitely not do that again. Also, they have plenty of places that do not take tents, and it's a hassle to find out which ones do from via the websites, if it's at all possible.

But that really was the only fly in the ointment of a holiday trip full of sun, fun, and beautiful things. Was it exhausting to cycle in England? Hell yes. Would we do it again? Hell yes, too.

Friday, 22 August 2014

I am back, and things might return to normal now.

I am back home after the long, long trip - one and a half days spent in the car to come back, well, with a ferry break after the first third of the first day.

It was a wonderful, wonderful time, both the holidays and the LonCon trip. Now normalcy beckons - back to work it is, answering emails, getting laundry done, watching the cat sleep. Oh, and sorting all the newly-bought books into shelves.

I have not sorted out all the bits and paper pieces yet that I brought from the Con, and a good amount of them is still in the car (which is not yet completely emptied out), but there are lots of interesting things, and I promise to link them all.

For now, I can tell you that it is utterly awesome to receive a ninja gig right in front of one's stall in the Dealer's room! Talis Kimberley sang us a knitting shanty (and then another knitting shanty). A few of her songs are on youtube, so I can share with you:



We had been to her concert the evening before, and it was wonderful - just the mix of serious political stuff, tongue-in-cheek humour and lightness that I love. Seeing (and hearing) her live is even better, but you can also get some of her songs via her webshop and her bandcamp site.

More tomorrow!