Out of a Table-sized Box …

… comes an art-sized table.

When I started putting my new drawing table together on Saturday, I discovered that it would require screwing in about a thousand screws. My hands just aren’t up to that, unfortunately. So, after a bit of thought, I decided to head to the hardware store to buy myself (hopefully) an inexpensive electric screwdriver.

An hour or so later, I had one. Made by Black & Decker, and only $20! Yay! I headed home, opened the box my new tool was in, and came to yet another dead stop. It had to be charged for at least 16 hours before use. So, shaking my head, I plugged it in and put off building the new table until Sunday. Disappointing, really.

Sunday, mid-morning, arrived. After reading all the directions, it was clear I was going to need some help, even though I had a magic electric screwdriver. Along with screws, there were Alan wrenches involved, and of course, balancing one piece on or next to another other for joining by screws and Alan thingies. So I enlisted Mom. To my surprise, she was happy to help!

And so, two hours later, after much discussion, a little arguing, occasional grunting, much laughter, a few cries of dismay, and finally, an exhausted high-five, we were done. My drawing table was ready to use!

I cleaned up the construction mess, unboxed the task lamp, and attached it to the table. Both are “vintage” styles, and they look great together. Then I laid out my art things and a work-in-progress that I’d had to stop working on when we moved back in September, and as a final touch, put my Laughing Buddha at the top of the table, overlooking everything. Gazing at it made me smile. There were other chores to take care of Sunday, though, so no opportunity to use it all, yet. But Sunday night I went to bed a sore but happy camper.

Today, I had a writing assignment to complete, but tomorrow I’m planning to give the whole day over to art.

My hands are flaring painfully as I write this, and I’ve been alternately icing and heating a flared left shoulder. Still, I’m hoping for a restful night’s sleep tonight, and a mild-pain day tomorrow.

Here’s my already-beloved art-making place:

New Drawing Table

Revisiting an Old Passion

Vintage Drafting TableI took a big step forward this week. For some time now I’ve yearned to start drawing and painting again. The talent I was born with is still with me, but it’s been decades since I’ve created anything beyond the occasional doodle. Since moving to our new apartment back in September of last year, I’ve been slowly collecting art supplies: paper, paints, colored pencils, drawing pens in the hope that I could start exercising my art muscles again, practicing and burnishing old skills, and preparing myself to learn new ones.

But until recently, I’ve had no space to spread these things out where I could work on something off and on as time and my rheuma-hands permit. Creating art does take time, and the creative urge (at least for me) is easily squashed when I’m forced to get all my supplies out and then put them all away again an hour or two later every time I want to work on something. For me, art is a spontaneous undertaking: the muse beckons or time and inclination merge, and I need to get to work. Right then, not later, not after having to set the space up yet again. Not being able to do this was frustrating.

But now, I have a Room Of My Own (ROMO). For the first several months after Mom and I moved, we had to use the big third room in our new apartment to store all of mom’s excess stuff. But that’s all now in storage elsewhere. So, after saving my pennies for a while, and comparing prices all over the place, I finally took the plunge. OnTuesday this week I ordered and paid for a beautiful, vintage-style drawing table, a sturdy, ergonomic adjustable chair, and a good task light.

UPS is delivering them today. To say that I’m excited is an understatement. It’s been too, too many years since I’ve been able to have my art supplies out where I can work on my art whenever I have the time and the urge.

Of course, the rheuma-dragon is being particularly unkind these days. He’s taken to concentrating most of his fury on my wrists, hands, and fingers, and I sort of need those to make art. But I figure I’ll just take it slow. Do what I can, rest, pace myself. Make the whole process more contemplative, and use it as a distraction from pain and frustration.

When my new “studio” is put together, I’ll post a photo.

For me, the decision to buy these artistic tools cements my determination to be visually creative again, something I can add to my writing as a way to express myself and help me cope with life’s stresses and the particular anxieties that having rheumatoid disease causes. I’m  now a step closer to making that happen.

Wrist Watch

I’ve just got to tell you! I’ve reached an significant milestone in my long battle with the rheuma-dragon: wearing wrist braces.

Wow! Earth-shaking, right? I know, I know. Pretty low on the excitement scale, isn’t it. But here’s the thing: I’ve tried using wrist braces in the past, and I’ve always ended up taking the miserable things off within a few hours. Purchased at a drugstore, in the smallest adult size available, they were nevertheless too big, heavy, clunky, and uncomfortable. Within a few minutes my aching wrist was aching even worse. What’s more, it wasn’t long before the stiff brace began chafing the skin around my thumb where it meets the palm, the top of my hand at the knuckles, and where the brace ended on my forearm. Finally, the

AN IMAK COMPRESSION GLOVE with an elastic support bandage helped with wrist pain, but wrapping and unwrapping was a PITA.

AN ISOTONER COMPRESSION GLOVE with a sticky elastic support bandage helped with wrist pain, but wrapping and unwrapping was a PITA.

rigid metal bar inside the brace, meant to prevent my wrist from bending too far, in fact merely impeded any attempt at normal movement.

It was all very frustrating.  Having some sort of wrist support when my wrists flared would have been a relief, but after trying a couple of different brands, I gave up. In the end, I just wrapped my hand and wrist firmly with an elastic support bandage. It was cumbersome and came undone easily, but it was better than nothing.

So you can imagine how intrigued I was when I ran across the Wellgate for WomenWellgate for Women PerfectFit Wrist Support PerfectFit Wrist Support on Amazon.com. The company claimed these braces were light and slim, made with the slender contours of a woman’s wrist in mind. Furthermore, the company claimed they were actually comfortable.

Unconvinced, I added them to my wish-list. They were a bit pricey–$18.99–and I needed two, since I never knew which wrist was going to act up. Having been burned on this type of product in the past, I wanted to think about it before I spent that much.

Months passed. And then a couple of weeks ago I was glancing through my Amazon Wish List again. My wrists have been giving me particular hell over the last couple of months, so I pulled up the info on the Wellgate braces again. They were still tempting, but …

… Oh … oh, wait!

The price had dropped considerably. I almost couldn’t afford not to get them! And they were rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, with more than 900 reviews.

So I took the risk and ordered braces for each hand. I figured if they didn’t work out I’d just send them back and get a refund.

I WEAR MY Wellgate for Women PerfectFit Wrist Support, Left Hand, with my Imak Compression Glove. I have a brace and glove for the right hand, as well.

I WEAR MY Wellgate for Women PerfectFit Wrist Support, Left Hand, with my Imak Compression Glove. I have a brace and glove for the right hand, as well.

Well, no way that’s gonna happen! You’d have to shoot me to get my new wrist braces away from me now. I mean, I. Love. These. Things! They’re everything Wellgate claims they are: soft and comfortable (made with memory foam), slim and form-fitting, plenty of support, lightweight, and they fit neatly beneath long sleeves. They don’t rub, cause hot spots, or chafe my skin. They’re also pretty decent-looking for something as dull and utilitarian as a body-part brace. The artist in me approves.

But best of all, these braces work. Wearing them lowers my pain levels. There’s a stiff support sewn into them, but it isn’t hard and obstrusive. It’s gentle. The braces are fully adjustable for tightness, too. The part around the thumb and palm fits close, with no gaps, and it feels good and secure. The only time I really notice I have them on is when I try to bend my wrist more than 10 degrees in any direction. They stop the movement gently but firmly, without raising my aggravation meter.

Finally, the materials they’re made of breathe. My skin got hot, damp, and sticky in no time when I wore the old braces. These don’t, though–and that’s even when I also wear my Imak or Isotoner gloves (for the extra compression and warmth). The Wellgates seem to be extremely well-made, too, with secure stitching and high-quality materials. I’ll let you know if they start falling apart, but honestly, I don’t expect them to. They’ll probably outlast me.

Wellgate didn’t ask me to promote this product, and I’m not getting any sort of payment or reward for doing so from them or anyone else. I just wanted to pass along this very good news about their very, very good wrist supports/braces to people who I know will really appreciate it. 🙂

Even better arthritis-friendly key caps!

I have some good news!

In July of last year I posted about a nice little product called “Label Label Key Caps.” They’re small, stretchy, color-coded rubbery covers for all the keys on oldkeycapsyour key chain, and they come with nifty labels so if the colors aren’t enough to help you tell them apart, you can label ’em, too.

That’s all great, but the real reason I reviewed the key caps was because of their arthritis-friendly qualities. Because they make the top of the key a little bit larger, thicker, and softer, they’re easy to grasp with dodgy arthritis fingers. Keys can be hard enough to turn without also digging painfully into tender joints, and the key caps helped with that, as well.

I liked the Label Label Key Caps a lot, except for one thing. They were kind of hard to put on the key. It took some twisty maneuvering and a surprising amount of muscle to stretch them over the top of the key. On a bad-hands day I’d need to have someone who doesn’t have rheumatoid disease or osteoarthritis do it for me. It wasn’t a deal-killer, but it was something to consider.

Eight caps, 16 labels, both pre-printed and blank.

Eight caps, 16 labels, both pre-printed and blank.

So what’s the good news? Label Label Key Caps has come out with a new and improved version of their product! I like them a lot better.

They’re still colorful, and there are still those nice, sticky little labels. The difference is in how stretchy and malleable the small, rubbery caps are now.

My hands are about the sorest and tenderest they’ve been in two years right now. Almost everything I do makes me mutter “ow” under my breath. Occasionally, the “ow” is accompanied by an explosive expletive.

But as I stretched one of the new key caps over a largish square-topped key, my “ows” remained soft and of the single-syllable persuasion. It took about

My pretty new pink Laundry/Gym key.

My pretty new pink Laundry/Gym key.

15 seconds to work it onto the key. (That’s about half the time as last time.) And not only that, the soft, rubbery material they’re made of is even softer than it was before. They make the key even easier to grip–and they stay on the key better, as well.

The packaging is still super-easy to get into. None of that awful, tough, clamshell plastic that you end up prying off with the help of scissors, muscle, and blood. The key caps are arranged on a small card, along with the labels. The plastic is formed over them, but merely folded over the edges of the card and fastened down with a single staple on each side. No pain. No blood.

It is to like.

There are still eight key caps and 16 labels. Eight of them are pre-printed with words like OFFICE and HOME, and the other eight are blank so you can fillLabelLabelKeyCaps them in yourself. I labeled my test key WASH/GYM. You know. The laundry room and gym at my apartment complex.

If you’d like to try out some Label-Label Key Caps for yourself, visit www.LabelLabelKeyCaps.com. The 8-Pack in bright colors is just $8.99, and shipping is free. That’s a pretty decent value for something this arthritis-friendly. And they’ll last for years and years.

Driven to Distraction

Renoir-woman-at-the-garden-1873self-portrait-pierre-auguste-renoir-SAFEThe pain, fatigue, and malaise of RA can be completely overwhelming. It can keep us from working, going out with family or friends, or simply stop us dead in our tracks. How was the beloved Impressionist Pierre-August Renoir, who had severe, disabling RA during the last 20 years of his long life, able to keep on? His art–and with the power of distraction.

Read about how Renoir’s drive and courage can apply to our own lives with RA in my latest post at RheumatoidArthritis.net.

Gone Shopping

I dreamed last night that I was trying on new hands.

I know. Creepy. But as in most dreams, trying on fresh, new pairs of mitts was as unremarkable as doing the same with new shoes. Except … like it is when I get new shoes, the dream process was fraught with pain and frustration.

See, when I put the first shoe of a new pair on my foot, I know instantly whether the pair will be coming home with me. More often than not, knife-like pain shoots rack of shoesthrough my foot the moment I put my weight down on it. Groaning–and silently shouting expletives in my head–I yank that instrument of torture off my foot, slap it and it’s mate back on the rack, and continue looking. But the fun has gone out of the hunt.

In this dream it was the same thing. I’d pick out a nice, attractive new pair of hands from a row of towering shelves like the kind you see in discount stores.. I’d work the new pair on gently, like gloves (this made absolute sense in the dream), and bend my fingers. Instantly, rude pain would jab into my joints and I’d have to pull the offending hands off and keep looking. With each failure, I became more glumly resigned to keeping the hands I had, even though they were painful and frequently dysfunctional.

I woke suddenly, frustrated and disappointed. Good morning, world.

I’ve only rarely dreamed about my rheumatoid disease. Which is odd, really, considering its grumpy, growl-y domination of my thoughts–of my life–most days. There are a number of creaky body parts I’d love to replace too.

For instance, I’d love a new pair of feet. These old ones are pretty much worn out. They hurt even without shoes, even when they’re warm and toasty. Imagine how nice it would be have new ones! I could walk all over the place, on any surface–even on sharp, uneven gravel–with little or no discomfort. I could wear any kind of shoe my fancy fell on: frivolous little things with wafer-thin soles, gorgeous, dangerous stiletto-heeled pumps, long, sexy, calf-hugging boots, strappy little sandals crusted with glittery jools. I could wear any pair of athletic shoes I wanted, and I could have classy leather oxfords to wear with slacks.

Instead of any of those, the shoes I have to buy must be flat or –maybe–have a very low heel of two inches or less. The toe box must be wide and round, and there has to be a sturdy arch support. If I need to wear the shoes more than an hour or so at a time, the soles need to be soft and–ideally–padded.

So, I have a rack full of overpriced, clunky-looking, old-lady shoes in my closet. My single pair of nice leather pumps are simple and black, with a small, rounded toe and a two-inch heel. I only wear them if I know I won’t have to walk any further than the parking lot and back. Once.

I could really appreciate a new pair of hips, too. To start, I’d get a smaller pair, since the ones I was born with have always beena little too wide for my taste. But more importantly, I’d choose hips that didn’t hurt. I’d get a pair that didn’t jab me every time I took a step, or start aching when I sat still for more than a few minutes. I’d love a pair that didn’t throb during the night, waking me up and forcing me to roll to one side, then the other, over and over until morning.

Dreams can be fun, and they do have a tendency to put images to amorphous longings. But that’s all. Reality requires that I live with the hands, feet, and hips I have, however grumbly they make me. And being realistic also means that I’m grateful. For what? That my rheuma-dragon hasn’t caused more damage than this; that the meds I’m taking for it are keeping the old monster drowsy and bumbling; and that there’s always hope for the future.

So much of life depends on our attitude and outlook. I try to keep mine positive and optimistic, to keep smiling, and to keep my eyes peeled for the gifts it offers every single day.

And, of course, I dream of a cure.