Thursday, December 30, 2010

Barefooting/Vibram Five Fingers for Rheumatoid Arthritis Feet

A while back a chiropractor I was seeing suggested I go barefoot as often as possible to help the pain in my feet caused by rheumatoid arthritis. (Even with my improved health I have only one pair of shoes I can wear regularly that don't kill the balls of my feet.) His belief was that as the pain in our feet worsens with RA, we tend to rely more on shoes with a lot of support and the muscles in our feet become weak.

I grew up with a caring father that didn't appreciate barefooting. I can only really remember a few times of being barefoot as we were always reminded to put our shoes on before leaving the house to make sure we didn't step on something and hurt our feet. I have to admit that I have tried to enforce similar rules on my own children. Sophia, however, has never bought it. She has always loved being barefoot. She has a special way of showing her true feelings through her facial expressions and I have observed over the years a true love for having her feet touch the earth. There is almost something magical to being outdoors and having her feet experience the different sensations. So, between my chiropractor's advice and my observations of Sophia, I decided to do some research and found lots of exciting information out there about a growing movement towards barefooting. This article and many others like it shared the benefits that can come from barefooting:
• The introduction of the elevated heel and the pointed toe marked the beginning of modern foot disabilities. Children left to go barefoot more often had less toe deformity, greater ability to spread toes (this sounds glorious) and denser muscles on the bottoms of their feet.
• Keeps feet from getting lazy.
• Fights varicose veins.
• It is more relaxing.
• Greater amount of Chi can be absorbed.

While I have been researching barefooting benefits, I have also been moving away from wearing slippers in the house this fall/winter and working out barefoot as a way to slowly prepare my feet for this spring and summer when I plan to dive into minimalist shoe wearing/barefooting on walks with Izzy and when we hike. As always when I research something, everyone in my family has to hear all the details of my excitement. What a nice surprise for me on Christmas morning to unwrap a pair of brown Vibram Five Fingers without even asking for them. Someone is obviously listening to me.

There are a ton of reviews out there on Vibram Five Fingers, a minimalist shoe that fits your feet like a glove, but I couldn't find anything about how they work with RA feet. Here is what I have to say so far:
• Once my feet are in the shoes, I have absolutely no pain in the balls of my feet. (I can’t wear regular tennis shoes at all. They kill my feet from the moment I put them on and continually get worse as I wear them.)
• These shoes are super lightweight.
• I have worked out in them twice. My feet experienced some swelling, but these shoes allowed for the changes and there was no pain at the end of my workout.
• I wore these shoes all day at home where I am getting a good feel for them. At the end of the day, no shooting pain when I took them off. This is huge!
• The KSOTrek pair can be worn with toe socks for extra warmth.
• Although these shoes look a little wacky and I plan to only wear them for walks/hikes, I can see how they will be so comfortable that I won’t want to wear other shoes.

• They are initially a challenge to get on the feet. I especially had a difficult time working my baby toe into the toe slot and wonder how other folks with more deformities in their feet would do with these shoes.
• During a flare in my hands or shoulders, there is no way I would have the energy to put these shoes on.
• The Trek version of Vibram Five Fingers that I have can be worn with socks (Steve bought me Injinji socks) as I mentioned in the "pros". However, with poor circulation that causes my feet to become extremely cold even with a regular pair of socks under wool socks and insulated boots, there is no way I will be able to wear these outside until it warms up.

As I continue wearing the Vibram Five Fingers and transitioning into more barefoot walking, I will do some updates to let you know how it is going. In the meantime, here is a great video to watch on barefooting put out by Harvard Professor Daniel Lierberman, who is known for his research on barefoot running.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Complete Happiness: My Rheumatoid Arthritis Has Come a Long Way!

Yesterday the weather warmed up after the snow arrived making it bearable to be outside for long periods of time. I couldn’t resist taking advantage of this warmer weather and the new snow. After walking Izzy and shoveling the driveway with Alexander (something I couldn’t do last winter), we loaded up the car with sleds and Izzy and headed to our “secret” sled hill.

Alexander and Sophia.  We took advantage of being homeschoolers and made it to the hill before anyone else. 

When we got to our sled hill, I attached Izzy to a long leash that I use when it is snowing so she can frolic in the snow ahead of me. I had planned to stay and sled with the kids, but Izzy had other plans for us. She was so excited to be somewhere new where she could play in the fresh snow. She took off in a run and I was swept up in her excitement and ran with her. I was laughing out loud as we ran thinking, “This is how Santa must feel when the reindeers take off with the sled.” It was exhilarating. We ran up hills and through trees. My legs were so tired, but I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to enjoy this time of complete happiness. I wanted to run with Izzy and feel her freedom and I did.

 I wish I could have captured the excitement radiating off of Izzy.  I love to watch her run and hop through the snow.  It is a joy like no other. 

As we were returning to the kids, my laughter turned to tears. All the sudden I was caught up in a realization of how far I have come since last year. Last winter walking through any amount of snow was exhausting and painful. Last year sledding was not an option as my knees were too swollen to sit down on the sled and getting up by myself was impossible. Yesterday I was running in at least five inches of snow with the only pain coming from pure exhaustion that one gets when running through piles of fresh snow. I suddenly realized that I was not sitting on the sidelines any more. I was living life the way I want to live it. I was having fun! I think Izzy realized this too and didn’t let me stop. She knew I had it in me and pushed me on a little further.

This sweet Border Collie that made me so happy yesterday started off our day by stealing my breakfast sausage out of a cast iron pan while it was cooking and knocking the pan to the floor.  This was the first time she has ever stolen food while it was cooking.  She was banned from the kitchen the rest of the morning.  

After the sledding was over and we were all pooped out, the four of us took the long way back to the car so we could enjoy the trees, the snow and the quiet of the park. I shared my feelings of accomplishment and happiness with Alexander and Sophia. Sophia said, “Last year lifting a cup of tea was hard some days. Now you can do everything.” It is true. There is little I can’t do these days. Coming from where I was to where I am brings me pure, complete happiness.  I have been given a wonderful gift of health and I plan to use it.

 The always gorgeous Sophia. 

My adorable Alexander.

The completely happy me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Christmas Ornaments

All of my shopping is done except going out tomorrow to buy food for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  I am on a one month break from work.  Homeschool group doesn't meet for two weeks.  Today begins the first of my relaxing days.  I feel the spirit of Christmas filling me as I begin to appreciate these quiet moments. 

Every year since the kids were little I have given them a Christmas ornament that represents something they were interested in during that year.  This year life got crazy and I didn't have anything the day we put up our Christmas tree which traditionally is when I give them to the kids.  Over the weekend I shared with Steve my ideas for their ornaments this year and how I planned to make them.  He suggested I go out and look around for something or see if I could have something delivered in time rather than burden myself with making them. 

This project isn't a burden.  All week I have been looking forward to this morning when I would have several hours before the kids woke up to roll clay around in my hands.  I have looked forward to creating something special for them that I know they will treasure for many years. 

This morning I spent about two hours creating the ornaments.  For Sophia I made a guitar out of Sculpey clay.  This year she bought a Taylor guitar and has been taking lessons with Steve.  He is really impressed with her abilities.  He has taught guitar to many kids her age and said she is the first one that really just seemed to have a natural ability for it.  I guess she takes after her daddy.   For Alexander I created an Animal Farm ornament.  This year has been amazing for him.  He constantly has a book with him and loves to share the details of the books he reads. This year I have seen a change in how he thinks.  He has become more opinionated and questioning.  It is fun seeing his mind evolve as he seeks to find answers.  I love his enthusiasm.  In fact, I started rereading 1984 (I haven't read it since college) based on his morning descriptions of the book.  I think they are going to love their ornaments.  (Sorry, no pictures because they are sitting in the oven right now since Alexander woke up just as they finished up.)

The ornaments were a way to relax this morning.  To not be in a hurry.  To quiet my mind.  Also, they were a great way to work my fingers.  I have continued to do my hand exercises since completing physical therapy but have not yet been able to make a complete fist.  I am getting closer and my physical therapist recommended doing crafts like this to work the fingers, so hopefully it helps.   

As many of you finish up your shopping this week and begin Christmas preparations, I wish you good health, happy joints, and wonderful memories.  

Reusable Bags Great for Christmas Shopping

Although most grocery stores have become accustomed to customers bringing in their own bags, retail stores have not.  I do most of my shopping online as I find that to be more pleasurable than going out shopping, but a few things had to be purchased from the mall and elsewhere.  When I mentioned to the cashiers that I had brought my own bags, they were often surprised and had to be reminded again as they tried to put my purchases in a regular bag.  The great thing about using reusable bags at Christmas is that you can come home with all your bags and your family has no idea which stores you have been to.

The bag in the picture is one that folds up real small in my purse.  I use it only for "pretty" things such as new clothes.  After the surprise of me having my own bag, the clerks are always complementary of how beautiful the bag is.  Thanks Mom!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Frequent Lab Work

One thing I definitely didn't miss while being medication free for RA was the frequent trips to have blood drawn.  I have put it off long enough that I was only given a partial refill on my methotrexate.  So, this morning I am forcing myself to do it.  Here I go.  Well, maybe one more cup of tea first.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Spoon Theory - Chronic Illness

My always supportive friend Debbie at The Gluten Free 'Dish' sent this video to me.  If you live with chronic illness, you will completely relate to the spoon theory.  If you don't live with chronic illness, this may help you to understand that even though we don't "appear" to look sick, we are often juggling our spoons throughout the day.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Regrets About My Degree? No Way!

Yesterday Sophia asked me, "Do you ever have regrets that you went to college for education?"  My immediate response was, "No."  She went on, "You never wish you had done something else or wondered about what another job would be like?"  Again my answer was "No."

When I set out for college at 18 years old I knew I wanted to be an elementary teacher.  I totally absorbed myself in my education classes and couldn't wait to have a classroom of my own.  For five years I taught fifth grade full time and then for two years I taught part time (Alexander was born and Steve and I had opposite schedules so one of us could be with him) in elementary and middle school teaching ESL.  I loved it.  Everyday was different.

I took a break from teaching when Sophia was born and we moved from Kansas to Illinois.  For the last nine years I have been teaching adult ESL part-time and I have to say it is by far my favorite age of students.  I love creating lessons, delivering lessons, and interacting with students who realize it is a privilege to be educated.  I love that with adults I can do what I love without having to deal with potty breaks, discipline, or a strict curriculum.  My job has always felt more like a hobby to me!  It feels like me. 

At the end of every quad we have a party to celebrate the hard work the students have accomplished.  As my morning class was planning the party on Tuesday, I volunteered to bring something.  One of my students said, "No teacher, this is a celebration of YOU."  Wow!  That really warmed my heart.  While I have been thinking we were celebrating them, they were thinking we were celebrating what I gave to them.  Oh my, the food was incredible.  We had the most delicious seasoned pork, Puerto rican rice, tamales, a shrimp salad, jellos, and lots of flan. (Yes, all diet restrictions are ignored for these parties.  I am not about to reject these gifts from my students.)

As each student left yesterday, I was received with hugs from each and every one of them along with a "Thank you Teacher."  From some I also received, "I love you Teacher."  I also received other gifts (gift card, candy, homemade flan, candle) and nice cards.  Many of them asked if there was any chance I could move up with them next semester.  I have done that on a few occasions, but over the years I have learned that each new set of students quickly becomes my favorites so I might as well start enjoying them. 

My answer to Sophia is a solid answer.  I love what I do!  When I teach my students, I leave each and every class feeling that as much as I gave, I received that much more.  Saying that, this semester has been exhausting. I took on an additional ten hours of teaching this quad and I am looking forward to a month long vacation.  My family has missed me and I feel the same way.  January 18 will be here soon enough and again I will be ready to meet all the wonderful loving people out there who work so hard to learn English while also maintaining jobs and families.   


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Walks and Renewed Health

Last year at this time I was off of dog walking duty due to the fact that moving any joint in my body caused pain and at that time in my life, I was just trying to make it through the day.  For many people, being relieved of walking duty during Chicago winters would be welcome.  Not me.  I really missed getting out with my dog each morning.  Sure, I sometimes dread getting out in the cold and many times have to rush home because the tips of my fingers and toes are so cold I think I am going to pass out, but I also love the energy I feel when I return home.  I love that each day seems to bring something new to me.  Twice now Izzy and I have seen the neighborhood fox.  Once we were even fairly close and the two of them looked at each other and then moved on.  I have enjoyed watching the leaves slowly disappear so I can now see the squirrels nests and watch them chasing each other in the trees.  I like meeting fellow dog walkers on the path so our dogs can have a quick sniff with a friend.  I also like that with the cooler weather Izzy gets into her crouched play stance when she sees her friends.  I like mornings like I had the other day where I start off my walk in the dark and get into deep thought, looking down to make sure I don't fall on the ice, turn the corner, and realize the sun is coming up.  What a beautiful start to my day.

With joints that are now cooperating with me, I have gained new strength and flexibility and have been having a little fun!  Izzy and I are now running up and down small hills in the neighborhood rather than avoiding them.  I sometimes find myself smiling like a kid as I try to keep up with Izzy.  She seems to like it too.  I have been balancing on curbs while being pulled by Izzy.  I sometimes think my neighbors must think I am nuts, but then I don't care because the two of us are enjoying ourselves so much.

What I have discovered from walking each and every morning is that every day has something different and wonderful to give to us.   When I wake up in the morning, I might be able to predict my entire days activities, but my walks are always unpredictable.  Even walking the same path, I never know what critters we will encounter, I never know which of our neighbors we will get to visit with, I never know where my mind will be allowed to venture into with the quiet of the morning.

Knowing that each morning I am now able to walk my sweet Izzy is one of the greatest gifts I have been given with my renewed health.  Not only do I enjoy spending time with my border collie, but I also love discovering what gifts nature has in store for the day.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grandma's Ring

My grandma on my dad's side has always held a very special place in my heart.  I remember her and my grandpa turning off the tv when we arrived so they could spend time with us.  My grandma always took us girls to her backroom so we could see the projects she was working on.  Every year she made all the gifts for the six of us kids and later for our spouses and kids.  She always made me feel special.

Before my grandma died she gave me a ring that was given to her on her very first Mother's Day by my grandpa.  I love this ring.  Some days when I am putting my jewelry on for work or going out, this ring calls to me and I wear it.   I don't know if the ring gives me strength, a feeling of specialness that I always got from grandma or a need to feel connected to her.  Whatever the reason, I always wear it when it calls to me.  Today was one of those days. 

My mom is having a heart cath today.  She is in right now.  She went in knowing that there is a chance that she will also need open heart surgery.  Like my grandma, my mom is very special to me.  She is a role model for me.  She is strong woman.  She inspires me to keep going and achieve all that I can.  She loves me lots. Any healing thoughts you have for her today would be greatly appreciated.    

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Office Party

A week ago Saturday was Steve’s office party. It was fun. As he introduced me to his colleagues, I felt like each person was a character in a book because I hear so many stories about each of them. Seeing their faces is like going to a movie and being a little surprised that they don’t look as you imagined.

Whenever we eat anywhere except home I worry about consuming foods I have eliminated. I was in luck with this party. Everything was served “family style” so I skipped the pasta and breaded chicken and stuck with the salad, salmon and steak. Yummy.

We ended up not staying for the dance. We have been getting up around 5am to work out and we are both beat by 10pm. But we had fun dressing up, eating good food, drinking free wine, and socializing with Steve’s co-workers. 

When we got home from the party, Sophia asked how it went. Steve replied, “Cathy was the prettiest one there.” Seriously, this man makes me feel like the most beautiful woman alive. In our many years together, it has always been that way.
*Yes, that is me in heels!  I was totally surprised that I could wear them all evening.  I have never been a "heel wearing gal", even pre-RA, so this was a step outside my comfort zone.  Since feeling better, I am trying to move out of my comfort zone more often.  It is fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Last night was fun.  Since Sophia was at a friend's house and we had about a three hour block of time before we had to pick Alexander up from a party, Steve and I ended up with a date night.  As we were eating we discussed Steve's Christmas work party we are attending tonight.  Steve mentioned that he would love to see me in a little black dress.  I don't own one.  So, we decided to head to the mall afterwards and just see if we could find something.

I don't like shopping.  At 5'0 I generally have a difficult time finding dresses the right length and then with a size five foot, shoe buying (except online) is a huge chore.  Nevertheless, we headed out to see what we could find.  I recommended the first store where we found nothing that interested us. Then Steve suggested a store we had passed by earlier and right away he found two dresses he liked.  They looked like something I would feel comfortable in too.

I didn't realize when we entered the store that it was was about to close.  It obviously didn't matter to the two gals helping us.   They were truly wonderful.  As I headed to the dressing room, they asked my shoe size and within minutes I had a few selections of shoes sitting in my dressing room.  When I came out to show dress number one to Steve, his eyes popped!  Of course this is the reaction any woman appreciates from a man, but it is especially welcome from a husband of 22 years.  From that moment on he took charge of this little unplanned shopping spree.  He asked the gals, who were having a ball dressing me up and seeing his reaction, for ideas on necklaces.  He even had ideas of his own.  Then I tried on dress number two.  The same reaction!

Deciding on which dress to purchase was difficult.  It is very rare that I walk into a store and find clothing that fits perfectly.  As I headed to the dressing room to dress I told the gals it was up to Steve which one we purchased.  Guess what?  I now have two dresses, a new pair of shoes, two necklaces, a pair of earrings, a sweater and panty hose.   I love it!  Steve felt like both dresses are classic styles that I can wear for a long time and something I have needed for a while.  Plus, he is looking forward to seeing me in one of the dresses tonight at his party.

This experience was so fun! As I originally headed to the dressing room I thought, "Well, if this dress does fit I am going to spend all of tomorrow looking for shoes and accessories."  But this was truly the most fun I have had shopping.  It was fast.  Everything just came together perfectly.  I loved the attention I received and I especially loved the way the gals laughed and worked off Steve's reactions.  I felt like Cinderella.  Now I just need someone to come do my hair and makeup!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bath time!

Yesterday afternoon Sophia asked what I was doing.  "I am getting ready to take a bath."  She was surprised and said, "You don't take baths."  She hesitated and then added,  "I guess you have been taking more baths lately."  I explained that since I can now get in and out of the tub by myself, I can once again enjoy baths.  When I was in pain, I had to make sure Steve was home to help me out but generally the pain of maneuvering myself into the tub and then redressing wasn't worth the warmth of the water.

Almost daily Sophia gives me a big hug and says, "I am so glad you are feeling better.  Aren't you glad?"  She said now that I am better, it is almost like all the pain wasn't there.  Fortunately, those memories do leave your mind quickly.

*Update on Enbrel shot:  I have mentioned before that I get a small rash within 24 hours of giving my shot.  I discussed with my rheumatologist changing to a different combination of Enbrel that a few of you suggested.  She felt I might have better success moving to a fatter part of my body - my stomach.  The idea kind of freaked me out so I have been putting it off.  Yesterday I decided to go for it.  The sting was actually less intense!  However, this morning I did wake up to an itchy tummy.  :(