Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Healing Thoughts Requested

Please keep my sister Stacey in your thoughts and prayers today as she undergoes a day long surgery to remove a large benign brain tumor.  A little less than two months ago Stacey was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma.  She thought she was experiencing some sinus issues.  Fortunately she sought out a specialist rather than go through her family physician's routine procedures and the tumor was quickly discovered.  She will lose complete hearing in one ear with a long list of other possibilities.  However, we are not concentrating on the "what ifs" but rather imagining her smiling face as she recovers.

Last summer Stacey (right) and her two boys visited Illinois for a week.  Here we are at Starved Rock.

As many of you know from my blog, Stacey is also my best friend.  She has supported each and every choice I have made along my rheumatoid arthritis path and as an amazing positive outlook on life and whatever it brings.  I do believe our thoughts are powerful and ask that you take a few minutes today to send healing thoughts to her.   

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Simplest Things: Perfect Work Environment

It has taken me several years to find my happy work spot at home.  I have had my desk in our bedroom, in the family room, and in the dining room along with the dining room table.  A few years back we moved the dining room table into the kitchen and made the dining room my very own office space.  I love it!  I have windows on both sides of me.  If I look to my left I see a large tree in our backyard which usually has a few squirrels chasing each other up, down, and all around. In the morning the sun gently makes it way through this window.   If I look to the right I see out to our front yard and witness all the neighbors running/walking by, rabbits munching on our plentiful dandelions, and have my Izzy nearby sitting in her favorite chair.  By late afternoon the sun is pounding its way through this window and I either embrace the sun or closed the curtain a bit and hide from it. It is a perfect work environment.

When the kids wake up several hours after me they immediately head into my "office" area.  I can either turn away from my laptop in my desk chair or take my tea and move over to another chair and talk with them a bit.  I love when they come and hang out with me.  On Saturday mornings, Steve will often do the same thing.  He will head out for coffee and come back and sit with me in my "office".  I don't miss having a dining room at all!          

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Be Who You Are and Your Natural Beauty Shines!

When I make a choice for myself, I am generally pretty committed to that choice because for me, it feels right. I don't worry too much about what other people think because I know that I have to be comfortable in my own skin to be happy.

In 2008, after two years of coloring my graying hair, I stopped cold turkey.  It never felt like "me" to color my hair.  I personally don't think there is anything wrong with a person coloring their hair, it just wasn't the right choice for me. At the time I was and still am trying to reduce all chemicals that enter my body and I believe anything that goes on my skin is as harmful as ingesting it. But most importantly in my decision making was that coloring my hair just didn't feel right to me. It didn't feel like I was being true to what I wanted for myself.  So, I stopped.

Since deciding to go natural with my hair, I have had many women comment, or perhaps I should say, "apologize", for not keeping their natural color.  This makes me feel very uncomfortable. I have not made the choice to stop coloring my hair so that I can stand in judgement of others, I do it because it feels right for me.  In fact, I often think women that color their hair look very attractive.  I like the creativity that many teens and women of all ages express through their hair.  It just isn't me. 

Although I don't color my hair, I do enjoy wearing make-up.  I look for options that I feel have the least amount of chemicals, put it on my face, and enjoy it!  I don't apolgize to my friends that go without makeup when I wear it because I know I am wearing it because I enjoy wearing it.  To me our bodies are like a couch.  A couch can be totally beautiful on its own, but often we like to spruce it up a bit with some colorful pillows. My face, rather than my hair, is where I like to play around.

I think the human body provides us with a lot of creativity.  We have the option of showing our natural beauty when we want, but our body can also be a canvas for creating and exploring.  When my daughter was around two or three years old she started drawing on her body with markers which is a hobby that has continued into her teens (before that she painted her body).  One day she had pictures all over her body with marker.  I told her I was concerned about the chemicals that might leak into her body from the markers.  She looked so sad and disappointed in my response to something she obviously felt so good about.  When my husband came home he looked at her body and said something like, "Wow! Those are really cool."  She lit up!

This was a good learning lesson for me.  We all have our own desires for what we want to do with our bodies.  I know 100% that my daughter will have a tattoo when she is 18 years old.  Does that make her a person that is weak or trying to cover up her own natural beauty?  No way!  In fact, I love listening to her ideas of tattoos that she hopes to get one day mostly because I like seeing her face light up and also because she is a person that is totally sure of herself and makes no apologies for who she is or what she wants.  How could I not admire that?

Our bodies are our very own and however creative we want to get with them is a very personal choice depending on who we are and where we are in life.  No person should ever apologize for being who they are.  If you love being completely free of hair coloring, make-up and other body creations - do it!  If you love coloring your hair - do it!  If you love wearing make-up as I do - do it!  If you love tattoos on your body - do it!  I would rather see a woman go to the hair salon and come out with colored hair, polished nails, tons of makeup, and a GREAT BIG SMILE of complete pleasure than someone who is avoiding what makes them feel good because they feel it doesn't fit in with the group of people or ideals they admire.  Be who you are and feel good about who you are.  That is really when our natural beauty shines!     

To see my progress from colored hair to natural hair, visit posts here and here. 

This is one of my favorite photos of Steve and myself. On this evening I dressed up, put on my makeup and fixed my graying hair for an evening out with my husband.  As I looked in the mirror, I felt beautiful and this photo reminds me of that great feeling I felt about myself and how I could see that my husband felt the exact same way.  Be who you are!

Searching for the Next Path of Our Educational Journey

On Monday, Sophia and I visited a Waldorf school in the city.  Wow!  It is a dream school.  My first impression was good as we walked through the door and immediately Sophia was addressed as the person who had the appointment rather than me.  Since Sophia is the one who researched and discovered the school and made the appointment as well as all email correspondence, I was so happy that she was respected as the person driving this interview.

Right off I also felt a sense of community and peace with this school.  I have been somewhat familiar with Waldorf philosophy, but sitting there with the admissions adviser, I felt a sense of love and care would be given to my daughter if she attended.

The adviser talked a little about the school but also wanted to know about Sophia and her background.  It truly makes me giddy to hear Sophia talk about her background.  She knows herself so well.  At first she struggled a bit in regards to explaining how she spends her days, but then shared how she isn't someone that likes to repeat activities.  She likes to experience a lot of different things and then move on to the next experience.  This is exactly as I have always seen her too!

During the high school years the school offers a more stringent curriculum which Sophia is actually looking forward to, while also providing lots of fine arts and travel which is an environment Sophia would no doubt thrive in.

However, there are disadvantages.   This dream school comes with a hefty price tag.  Even if we qualified for the largest amount of financial aid, it is still out of our league.  Also, the commute would be awful.  Sophia would have to take two different trains to get there with a commute of almost two hours each way.  Plus, Sophia seems to want a potentially larger group of people to interact with.  

Yesterday was only one day of the journey towards finding what Sophia wants and needs to fulfill her life learning journey.  It gave us an idea of what choices are out there and also provided us with a lot of ideas we hadn't thought of before that we can start working on this year as she continues to live life at home.  Overall, a great experience, but the search continues.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to School As a Teacher Diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Starting back to school as a teacher diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis always comes with some apprehension.  As a teacher, I am on stage for four to five hours at a time and all attention is on ME.   If I show signs of rheumatoid arthritis through limping or not being able to lift a classroom book without trouble, I get questions from my concerned students.  To read more visit my contributing post at  MyRACentral.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Always a New Path To Take

After two awful nights of pain in my hips that I haven't experienced in a LONG time, I am back to being in good shape again today.  With another lovely day here in Chicago, I took my bike out for another solo ride as I waited for Alexander while he was in class.

Today I started out on the same path but went the opposite direction from my ride on Monday.  This path soon lead me to a new path that I didn't explore on the last ride..  I felt excited trying out a new  path and rode along happily until the path came to an end. I then turned around and followed a path I was already familiar with.  It too led to other paths I didn't take on Monday.  One of the paths I chose to follow was less traveled, which seems to be the path I tend to like taking in many areas of my life.  I followed it for a while enjoying the quiet, the butterflies, the sun, and the prairie flowers.  After a while, this path also ended and I once again found myself turning around and following the same path again, yet this time I knew that no matter how many times I took the same path, it would always be different.  I would always run into different people, always see a plant I missed the last time through, and always be thinking something different each time I took the same path.  I might decide to keep following the familiar path or I might decide to branch off and see where the new path would take me. There were always new possibilities.  Quite possibily the new path might take me to another dead end or it might take me down the path that would lead me to exactly where I want to be.

These paths I followed today reminded me much of my experience with rheumatoid arthritis and life in general.  I am often following a path that has been followed by many, yet me going down the same path will never be the same as it was for someone else.  With rheumatoid arthritis I have taken off on several familiar and unfamiliar paths and many have ended up as dead ends.  Not that the dead ends didn't provide growth for me, it just meant it was time to turn around and look for different possibilities.  There has never been a path I have followed that didn't provide something for me, just as each path I rode on today provided something for me until it was time to turn around and rethink my next steps. 

This ride today gave me time to think about other life issues besides rheumatoid arthritis, mainly how I have been feeling lately about our unschooling journey.  For the last three years or so I have felt we have needed to move onto a new path with our unschooling, yet the familiar path has been the easiest since my flares left me with little other energy.  This last year I have gained lots of strength and energy as the inflammation has diminished. The familiar path, that seems to be going nowhere, is now shouting out louder to me that we have been down this path way too long.  It is time to adventure out and see what new paths are ahead for us. 

Riding today made me realize that although I am a person that needs security and structure, I am also a person that loves change.  In fact I crave change.  I don't always embrace it right away, but I need it and when it comes, I feel good.  I think that is why I have been able to embrace rheumatoid arthritis. For me it is a continous change that forces me to look deeper into who I am and what I am doing.  Now that my health is back, it is time to do that same thing with our unschooling journey.  It is time to branch off and possibly away from people that we have shared this journey with for a long time.  It is scary because right now we don't know what path to take and it even seems like there aren't any paths branching off from the familiar one right now.  That is the part that makes me feel confined.  I know the change is there, but I don't see the possibilities, YET.

This ride was awesome for me today.  It cleared my mind and put a lot of things into perspective for me. As I rode I felt more sure that even though we don't know what path we will take next with unschooling, I do know that like with rheumatoid arthritis, the paths will always open up and something new will be around the corner waiting for us.  Life is always full of new opportunities, sometimes they just don't come to us as quickly as we would like.

To top off my ride today I ran into a fox.  It was just the two of us, me on the path and he in the prairie grass.  I slowed down to look at him and he stopped to look at me.  I knew not to waste my time getting my camera out but instead needed to just enjoy this beauty from nature while it was in front of me.  After a few seconds he seemed to have had enough of me and turned around.  He went down his path and I went down my path, just as it should be.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Barefoot Art

This morning was too gorgeous to walk in shoes.  Once again, nature chose to cling onto me. 

Parenting Choices and RA: Extended Nursing and Medication

Breastfeeding is one of the greatest gifts I have given to my two children and myself.   It is a gift that has benefits far beyond providing nourishment to an infant/toddler.  It is a gift that bonded us early, kept us bonded during growing spurts, provided safety and calm during difficult transitions, plus numerous other benefits that I will forever be grateful for.

Nursing didn't come easy for me with my first child.  I had to work at it, but once the two of us figured it out together, it wasn't something we were about to give up quickly.  Luckily for me, I was introduced to La Leche League during my first few weeks of nursing.  The lessons I learned from this group of nursing moms forever changed my outlook on parenting and health.  I felt empowered to follow my heart when it came to my children in all aspects of their lives.  As the person who knows them best, I learned I had earned that right to make decisions that felt right to me, rather than what society or even "professionals" felt was right for them.  The closeness we experienced together through nursing gave me a unique look into their lives.  The empowerment I learned through nursing my children continued into the decisions I would later have to make about my own health with rheumatoid arthritis.

To read more, visit my contributing post at MyRACentral.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Wise Choice

Today I made a wise choice. Rather than sitting at Starbucks with my laptop, waiting two hours for Alexander's drivers education class to finish, I had him load my bike in the car.  I parked the car in the drivers education lot and then rode my bicycle the 1.5 miles or so to the forest/prairie preserve and rode for about 1.5 hours.

This was my first time on this bike trail.  It was an easy trail with few hills which was exactly what I needed today.  I woke up around 2am to hip pain that pretty much kept me awake the rest of the morning and hoped the ride would work out whatever was going on.  The funny thing is that when I was riding, the hip pain was completely fine but as soon as I got off the bike, it hurt like crazy again.

I had a great time riding by myself, something I seldom do.  I was craving the sunshine and it was 100% appreciated this morning.  Although this bike ride didn't stop the hip pain, it did allow my mind to wonder somewhere else than on the pain.  I call that a wise choice for today. 


A Few Cool Blogs and More to Gluten Free Diet Than Just Eliminating Gluten

This week I found a couple of cool new sites that motivated me mentally, nutritionally, and physically:

I learned about Mission Possible with Jenna Phillips on a podcast with Jimmy Moore of Livin' La Vida Low Carb.  Jenna has a wonderfully optimistic view of being lucky.  As a high school student she suffered a major accident that left her in a coma with head injuries and was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  Read her biography here.  I think that reading stories of success, whether with RA or not, is exactly what I need to hear.

Also on a podcast of Livin' La Vida Low Carb, I learned about the blog of Cate's Nutrition Kitchen.  This gal is full of energy and fun.  Check out her blog for tons of nutrition advice.

What I liked most about each of these blogs is that these young women listened to and respected their bodies enough to make changes that helped them to not only survive, but to nourish their entire beings.  This is what probably most draws me to the paleo lifestyle in general.  Whole Foods are considered one of the most important aspects of a healthy lifestyle but so are being environmentally conscious, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, allowing time in your life to play, spending time with family, relaxing, and finding your passions.  It is everything wrapped up into one beautiful complete package.

Now for a rant on gluten free diets. Early last week I woke up with a text message that said, "Nightline on TV now talking about safety of gluten free diets.  Long term loss of Vitamin B and calcium."  Immediately I was frustrated, not with the text sender, but with what I expected to find on the show's segment.  It was pretty much as I expected.

The show portrayed switching to a gluten free diet as a fad that is not necessarily helpful and might even be harmful.  They mentioned losing out on certain vitamins and minerals by switching to a gluten free diet because one was no longer receiving the benefits of fortified foods.  Hmmm.....why do I need fortified foods when there are tons of whole real foods that provide those for me?

What you will find in following a paleo lifesytle and the blogs of the above mentioned women is that to be truly healthy and environmentally conscious, we can't switch from a standard American diet of sugar and processed foods and assume a "gluten free" diet of sugar and processed foods is going to magically make us healthier.  In fact, this assumption makes me very frustrated as does all the easily accessible "gluten free" processed foods that are now available and thought of as "healthy".  When I eat an occasionally gluten free pizza from our local pizza place, I have no delusions that I am choosing to eat junk food that night. "Gluten free" doesn't make it healthy although hoosing a gluten free pizza over a regular gluten pizza does for me make the consequences of eating junk food less severe, but it is still junk food.

For many of us who have chosen to eliminate gluten from our diets, we have done so very consciously.  Removing gluten has only been a small part of the changes we have made.  We have removed gluten as well as all the processed foods that it is in and instead replaced it with real whole foods like tons of organic veggies,good fats, grassfed meat, and free range eggs.  We make almost all of our own meals so that we can ensure that our food is nourishing us rather than robbing us of energy and nutrients. There a quite a few of us out here who are not going to our local Whole Foods, as shown in the Nightline segments, and filling our basket with processed gluten free cookies, pasta, cereals, breads, and cakes.  Instead we are filling our grocery carts full of a variety of veggies (if they haven't been purchased from a CSA or a farmer's market), coconut oil, avocados, meats, teas, and other foods that nourish us and will make fantastic tasting meals.

There are of course many "gluten free" folks who have moved from one terrible diet to another terrible diet only "gluten free" style. That doesn't represent all of us who have gone "gluten free" and I felt frustrated that a gluten free diet was only presented as a junk food diet when a lot of us are spending quality and quantity time in our kitchens making meals and out meeting our local farmers to ensure that all of our nutritional needs are met through real foods rather than through fortification, vitamins or other processed means.  Seeing a "gluten free" diet portrayed as another fad diet that is basically a diet full of processed food is an insult to many of us who have overhauled our entire way of thinking about food.   


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vibram Five Finger Foot Art

One of the fun things about wearing Vibram Five Fingers is that little pieces of nature like to join me on walks. 

Friday, August 12, 2011


Yesterday afternoon I went out to start my car and it wouldn't start.  It made a weird noise and the lights  flickered.  Generally Steve would take a look at it if it was something like a battery, but he has been working tons of hours lately and really didn't want to deal with it.  I don't blame him.  He is exhausted.

We had the car picked up around 2:00PM and by 3ish I had a call from the mechanic we have used since moving to the area 12 years ago.  It was the battery.  When I got off the phone, Alexander and I started talking about how lucky we were that the battery died at home instead of today when we had originally planned to go to Indiana.  As soon as Steve got home he also mentioned how lucky we were that it died at home rather than when we were out and about.

This got me thinking about luck. Whenever negative events have occurred in our life all four of us have always gone to thoughts like,  "Wow, we were really lucky because __________ could have happened instead."  We don't intend to say it, but all four of us always look at situations in our life that could have been a misfortune as being lucky.  Are we really lucky?  I think it is a matter of where we put our energy. 

When I think about all the places the car could have broke down, I feel so relieved and lucky that it was at home on an afternoon that we didn't have anything else planned and we could just relax.  This is much easier than thinking, "Geez, why did our car have to break down right now when I am on vacation from work and won't receive another paycheck for two months?"

When rheumatoid arthritis came into our life, we were the same way.  "Wow, we are really lucky it isn't cancer or something worse."  "Wow, we are lucky this happened after our kids were born and had finished nursing."  "Wow, we are really lucky this happened when we were financially capable of me working part-time rather than full-time."  "Wow, we are lucky that the med/diet combo is working for me right now."  I like this about us.  I observe so many people in life focusing on how situations in their life make them unlucky and how unfortunate they are.  Are they less lucky than me?  I don't think so.  I think it is just how you look at life as a whole.  I tend to want to think a situtation could have been much worse than it really is while others like to focus on how awful their current situation is.

I feel extremely lucky right now.  Some days I look at all that I am accomplishing physically and mentally now that my rheumatoid arthritis is under control and my eyes fill with tears of gratitude.  Some days feeling this good feels completely normal and other days I feel like I am playing a part in Freaky Friday and my body has been placed inside a strong capable person's body for a limited time.  I feel like I have to enjoy each and every minute.  Am I lucky right now?  You bet I am.  I have been given an amazing gift of health in which I can do everything I want to do and I realize this is a gift.  Will this luck last forever?  Possibly not.  Next week, next month, next year, or in ten years my RA body may be ready to switch places again and this could all be over.  Somehow, I think if that is the case that I will still think I am lucky.  I will think I am lucky for having the time I have right now to do the things I want to do.  Whoever or whatever created this positive outlook in my head and the heads of my family definitely did something good for me.  I am indeed a lucky girl!  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rheumatoid Arthritis Update

I had an appointment with my rheumy yesterday.  The wonderful news is that my inflammation rates are at an all time low.  Yay for me! 

The other news is that she is concerned that I have developed new nodules since our last visit.  Therefore, I am stopping Methotrexate immediately in case it is contributing to the nodules.  I will be giving Arava another try.  I will start out using it every other day at first to see if my body responds differently than when I tried it last year.  I actually have some anxiety about making the switch.  Everything is going so well for me right now that I hate to change anything I am doing with my meds or with my diet. However, I am willing to do it.  Wish me luck!

One other good piece of news to share today is that I added sprints to my walk today. I am not really sure what made me decide to take this step this morning.  It wasn't part of the plan when I started out.  I have been reading about sprinting (but not seriously considering it for myself) and for some reason, today just seemed to feel right.  I loved it!  I ran my hardest and loved having Izzy, my border collie, at my side perfectly happy with this addition to our daily walk.  When I stopped to walk she looked up at me as if saying, "why haven't we been doing this forever?"  Well, we all know the answer to that question, right?