Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Health Journey

I shared with you earlier in a post that I have had some swelling in my knee. The last week it has become very uncomfortable. In a moment of weakness on Monday, I made a mad dash around the house opening boxes and cabinets trying to find a bottle of prednisone. I haven't been on predisone for two years or so and I threw my last bottle away a long time ago. I remember doing it, but thought, "maybe I hid it from myself." (Do I sound like a drug addict?) I threw it away because it isn't something I want to be on again. When I threw it away, I knew I might have a moment like this and didn't trust myself with it. I guess I was thinking, "Well, I could take just a weeks worth to get rid of the swelling and then wean back off." After lots of tears that it wasn't there and feeling defeated, I calmed down and thought through my health goals. I am glad I threw the bottle away. In one day I was put on predisone at the rheumatologists office and it took about a year of slowly weaning before I could get off it. I don't want to go through that again. Instead, I went to the health food store and bought a bottle of curcumin and a bottle of bromelain and contacted my naturopath. She gave me a couple of homeopathy remedies to try which I started yesterday.

Please don't get me wrong, I think medications have a place and can be helpful and for many with rheumatoid arthritis, this is the answer. However, RA drugs are not in the health journey I see for myself which is why I have worked so hard to get off medications. I genuinely trust that my body is working something out and if I cover it up with drugs, I will never allow it the chance to finish working on what it needs. Does that make sense? Besides, even on the drugs, I had flare-ups like this.

So, this morning I am seeing a new health practitioner that has been highly recommended by a friend. This friend has been by my side since about the time I was diagnosed and has endured all of the ups and downs of this disease. I feel this is a good path I am getting ready to take and feel excited. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gluten Free and Very Yummy Sweet Potato and Cranberry Loaf

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Loaf
Recipe comes from The Gluten Free Gourmet Cooks Comfort Foods by Bette Hagman

I have been experimenting with teff flour and really like it. It gives baked goods a wheat like texture. This bread is super moist and yummy. I did make some substitutions which I added beside each ingredient listed by Bette Hagman. Enjoy!

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup Featherlight Mix*
1 cup teff flour (dark is excellent)
2 scant teaspoons xanthan gum
¾ cup sugar
1 rounded teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt ½ cup chopped pecans (optional)

Wet Ingredients
1 cup sweet potatoes, mashed (I used canned pumpkin)
1 cup whole cranberry sauce
3 slightly beaten eggs
1/3 cup cooking oil (I used coconut oil)
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used coconut milk)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9” X 5” loaf pan and dust with rice flour.

In a large mixing bowl, whish together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Add the beaten eggs and oil. Blend well, beating with the buttermilk. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, beating just until blended. Fold in the pecans (if used)

Spoon the dough into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, then test for doneness. If the tester does not come out clean, bake for an additional 8 minutes or so. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely. Cool before slicing. The flavor is best if the loaf is allowed to cool for several hours or overnight. Makes 18 servings. (We must eat huge pieces because it didn't make 18 servings for us!)

Nutrients per slice: Calories 190, Fat 5g, Cholesterol 35 mg, Sodium200mg, Carbs 33g, Protein 3g, Fiber 2 g.

*Featherlight Recipe – Rice flour (1 part) Tapioca flour (1 part) Cornstarch (1 part) Potato Flour (1 teaspoon per cup)
I replace the tapioca flour with quinoa flour in this recipe. In fact, I use quinoa in almost all of our baking. I feel it is more nutritious than some of the other gf flours and we love the taste. If you are new to quinoa flour, add it slowly as it does have a distinct taste that some people don't enjoy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thanks to Blogger Friends

Many people enjoy waking up every morning to a newspaper or popular news show to hear the latest news. Not me! I find that even while trying to avoid the daily news, I usually know basically what is happening around me just by participating in conversations with others, opening up my yahoo page in the morning and glancing through headlines or watching late night comedy shows that make fun of the daily news, so why saturate myself with it?

When I wake up in the morning, I prefer to head to the computer and read all the new posts on my Google Reader. I find other people's lives so much more enriching than the daily news. I learn about recipes that I can actually use from gluten free bloggers, I can learn how other parents are raising their children as unschoolers, I can find support from blogger friends experiencing the ups and downs of rheumatoid arthritis, I can keep myself updated on the lives of my family and friends and I can learn from and enjoy lifestyles different than mine.

So, I want to thank each of you for keeping me company each and every morning as I sit at my laptop with a cup of Zen tea and a few quiet minutes in the morning before everyone is awake.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Simplest Things

"I find relaxation, enjoyment, and healing in the simplest things in life." - Louise Hay

Family working together. Steve and the kids work side by side on Christmas Eve to clear all the snow from our driveway.

Spreading Christmas Cheer. Steve, Alexander and our neighbor work together to shovel the driveway of an elderly couple.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas was Perfect!

Christmas was perfect! I hope your day was just as great as ours.
Christmas Eve
On Christmas Eve we made gluten free ginger snap cut-out cookies for Santa and added a cup of cider to wash them down.

Christmas Morning Sophia started waking up around 4AM. She is ALWAYS the first to wake up. We all agreed to go downstairs at 6AM so she laid down with me for two hours. We giggled and whispered our excitement until Steve was forced to put his earplugs in.

Izzy found her stocking right away.

Yep, she was right. Santa did leave her a filled kong! How lucky for us!

Santa left Sophia a huge wolf. She has tons of smaller stuffed animals but really wanted a big one to snuggle with. This one is so soft.

Santa left Alexander a spring assisted knife - just what he wanted. That Santa always knows just the right gifts.

Sibling Exchange With six siblings, we have always done a gift exchange. This year my younger sister Robyn and her family painted a beautiful picture frame with snowmen and they gave us a dvd of Bridge to Terabithia and the game Scattergories which we played for hours on Christmas day. Thanks!

Gifts from the kids
For me, Sophia crotcheted a pink and purple bag and Alexander made a wall hanging with "MOM". They are both perfect!

Alexander wood burned a magnet for Steve....

while Sophia was busy crotcheting a coaster for Steve's cups at the computer.........

and designed a great guitar pick box so Izzy can't get to his picks and eat them.

After the Gifts were Opened
We kept thinking Sophia's new wolf, Dasher, was our dog Izzy. So, Sophia decided to take some fun pictures of them together.

Sophia has been reading about Kit, a 1930's American Girl. Like Kit, she loves to write. What she wanted to experience was typing. Finding a typewriter wasn't easy, but it was found on Freecyle!

Alexander got busy playing a new Wii game - Animal Crossing. This morning I am going to create my own house in the game.

Thanks for all the other wonderful gifts we received this year. Having each one of you a part of our lives continues to be a great gift that we cherish each and every day.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Let It Snow

Here in the Chicago area we experienced a day of continuous snow. The temperature was in the 20's, I believe, which felt almost warm after our frigid temperatures on Sunday and Monday.

Around 9PM and just after watching THE POLAR EXPRESS, all four of us were sitting in the dark around the lighted Christmas tree sharing our excitement for Christmas. During the day Steve and Alexander had completed some last minute surprise shopping and all the gifts were bagged under the tree. The tree now looked ready for some fun. Outside the window, the sky was lit up, almost like it was daytime. We couldn't resist! We all bundled up, leashed Izzy, and took a late night walk in about five or more inches of snow. Maybe I should have taken my camera to share the evening with you, but I just wanted to take in the beauty of this magical night without any responsibilities.

The sky was so lit up that we could see everything. The kids ran from snow shoveled hill to snow shoveled hill. They left their mark in neighbor's yards with snow angels and boot marks. They were like little kids that have been stuck inside for too long. Izzy loved every scent! Steve and I wondered what makes snow so desirable for dogs. It was like she couldn't take in enough of the new smells. I joked that she thought she was one of Santa's reindeer the way she was pulling me from house to house. Neighbors had their windows open with beautiful trees wishing us "Merry Christmas". The snow continued to fall on our faces the entire walk which made the evening just that much more magical. What a perfect Christmas evening.

Merry Christmas to all of you! Wishing you a wonderful holiday!


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gettin' Crafty

Besides working on homemade gifts for our family in Kansas, (pictures to come after Christmas. We don't want to give away any surprises) we have been busy making a few things for ourselves.

Sophia is currently taking a crotchet class at the library. It is an excellent class. First of all, the class is FREE. Second, all supplies are FREE. Third, the teacher, Deb, is wonderful. She shows the girls (and one boy) how to make each new project and then she just lets them work. They sit around a table where they can talk and socialize as they crotchet. Sophia was so proud of how this mp3 player purse turned out. She said, "I am so proud of myself."

Alexander participates in a weekly carving class. This class is run by a group of retired men who are in a carving club together. When I talked to the organizer of the class the first time, he had such enthusiasm for what the kids are capable of doing. I love that and the fact that this class is also FREE. This is the first project Alexander completed. It took about two months work. His next project is a Colt 45.

I like that both kids have found creative outlets such as these. They both take pride in the work they do and seem to find a calm state in this type of hobby.

For me, I have been working on several sewing and knitting projects, but I am most excited about this simple project. I mentioned in an early post that I have a circulation problem that goes hand in hand with rheumatoid arthritis. If I am outside in the cold for long, my hands get extremely cold. I bought some hand warmers the other day when we were out sledding, but they are disposable. So, I had this great idea to make mini microwavable heating pads. I found directions online for stuffing fabric with long grain rice and cinnamon and then heating in the microwave. The size fits perfectly in the palm of my hands with my gloves on. It won't keep them warm for super long periods, but I think they will work for at least 10-15 minutes which should allow me another 15-30 minutes without panicking from the extreme cold.

*Note: On a cold, snowy day, I tried the heat pads out in my gloves. They are wonderful. They fit in the palm of my hands but kept my whole upper body warm while walking Izzy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Simplest Things

"I find relaxation, enjoyment, and healing in the simplest things in life." - Louise Hay

Izzy with her sweet disposition sits so calmly as Sophia has fun dressing and photographing her in her winter gear.

Holiday Party with ESL Students

Thursday night was the last night of classes for this quad. With each group of students I have, I always think, "This is my favorite group." I feel disappointed that we only had eight weeks together and feel a sense of pride that they feel the same about me when they ask if I will move to the next level with them. Sometimes in the past I have, but generally I just wait and see what level I am most needed because after seven years of experiencing a "favorite group", I know it will happen again at whatever level I am teaching.

This quad the group was made up mostly of students in their early twenties. They came to each class ready to socialize and have fun as each one works hard during the day. Mayra, a beautiful young girl,organized a gift exchange for our last party. I was surprised when almost every student agreed to participate. They came to class dressed up for the party, each with their gift and a platter full of food to share. It felt so festive. As each gift was given, a hug was also exchanged. For me, I received a beautiful sweater from Maria.

Maria is around my age with two high school daughters. She moved to the states from Mexico 18 years ago. In those 18 years, she and her husband have worked hard to make a good life here for their daughters which meant sacrificing learning English themselves. Now that the girls are older and more self-sufficient, Maria is taking the time to learn English. She works hard at it and really wants to learn. She is always the last one to finish an exam, as she diligently goes over each and every answer. She has no extended family here and was sharing with me at the party how much she has missed her family the last 18 years.

The stories my students share about their journeys to the states and the lives they have led, always makes me reflect on my own and realize how lucky I am to have had such an easy life. Their stories also give me such respect for them because even though life has not been easy for many of them, they remain so positive about their futures. I am the teacher in this group, but I learn so much from them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Perfect Person

Do you ever have days when you look at your spouse and just realize how lucky you are to have found this "perfect" person for you? After twenty years with the same "perfect" person, I have been having a lot of days like that. Lucky me!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose

A few years ago, my good friend Olif and I read the book The Life You Were Born to Live: A Guide to Finding Your Life Purpose by Dan Millman. She recently reminded me that I might want to revisit this book. I am glad I did. The book is based on energies and how we were each born with certain potentials. Sometimes the potentials that we are born with can be the biggest hurdles we have to overcome if we aren't using them as a positive.

This book makes so much sense to me and I felt my number described what I have been learning about myself over the years - I fit into the expressive/emotional group. I have a high need to express my emotional side but also that of others. This can be a positive when used to help people while teaching or sharing in small groups but can also be a negative in the fact that this group of people tends to take on the feelings of friends and family as if their problems were their own.

The book is a good reminder to me of the positives in my personality but also a nice reminder that I have some things to work on that will not only help in my relationships with others, but also in my physical well being.

Unschooling Blog

Over the weekend, I decided to start a new blog titled "Born to Learn...Free to Learn". I write about unschooling here and will continue to do so, but I have much more to say about the topic and decided "why not?" Unschooling has been my passion for many years now so I would like to devote more time to the subject and share some of the joys my family has found with this type of learning. I plan to include some previous posts from this blog and constantly add new ones. I hope you can check it out.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Here I Go Again

Maybe the stress of the week did catch up with me or maybe it is the change in the weather here in Chicago. Whatever it is, I am now officially in a heavy duty flare-up. I just want to cry. This is the most frustrating thing about rheumatoid arthritis- just when you think you have a normal life again, it is interrupted by a day without the ability to do much at all. You know you need to move to keep the joints from stiffening up even more but because of the things the flare-up is doing to your body, you are completely wiped out after doing one small task like walking downstairs to get a cup of tea.

Okay, I need to put my flare-up plan into action. It works almost 100% of the time.
1. Feel sorry for myself.
2. Have a good cry.
3. Get mad at this thing for trying to take over my life.
4. Decide to fight back.
5. Repeat my mantra, "My body is always working towards optimal health."
6. Visualize my body without any flare-ups, just moving about with ease.
7. Feel better!

Friday, December 12, 2008

RA and Stress

In the last week, I have had some additional stress in my life. As the stress comes on, I can immediately feel it settling in my joints. So, I have been focusing this week on breathing in and letting it out slowly. I am amazed at how much stress just leaves my body when I concentrate on my breathing. So far, I have been able to avoid any flare-ups!

The Walk To Work

A funny thing happened the other night when I walking from my car to the community college where I teach two evenings a week. When it is cold, I park in the casino parking lot that is about a half block from the college and risk paying $2 if the attendent is still on duty when I leave, just to prevent walking a block in the cold. I park on the fourth floor, walk down the stairs, cross the river (the bridge is enclosed which provides warmth for most of the walk), cross two streets and I am in the building. As I was happily walking across the bridge, a couple of gals that work at the casino passed me walking the opposite direction. I thought, "Wow! I would hate to have to do this walk every time I went to work." Here's the funny part - it then dawned on me that I was in fact doing this walk every time I went to work! :)

It occurred to me then that when I am going to work, it doesn't feel like work. It feels like I am going to meet friends. Although I have been teaching adults for almost seven years now, I have not identified myself as a teacher since I stopped teaching kids in the public schools ten years ago. When I enter the classroom, I feel very relaxed. As my students enter the classroom, I am glad to see each one of them. Sometimes they share their day with me and sometimes they just smile quietly. As class progresses, we laugh a lot and we share a lot about ourselves. I feel lucky to know that work is a fun and relaxing place for me. A place that feels more like I am just hanging out with friends while getting paid!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

We Made It!

Last week Steve found out his employer was laying off 300 employees today. Needless to say, today has been stressful waiting to find out if he was included in the layoffs or not. I am relieved to say that for now, Steve still has a job!!!!!

Thanks to all my family and friends that sent us positive thoughts! We greatly appreciate it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Traditions - Reusable Gift Bags

I have a long history of recycling when it comes to Christmas gift wrap. Growing up in a family of six children, I am sure it was financially difficult enough to buy all of the wonderful gifts my parents did each year, without having to buy gift wrap also. So, for as long as I can remember, we wrapped all family gifts in recycled newspaper. It is honestly one of my favorite Christmas memories. After the gifts were wrapped in the newspaper, my mom handed us brand new permanent markers - black, blue, green and red!!! We would go to town on decorating the presents with trees, wreaths, snowmen, or whatever else we could think of. The best part was we never had someone telling us it was too much or too little. We could just decorate the way we wanted. I like to think each gift had a "one of a kind" gift wrap.

Since leaving home, I have tried reusing paper grocery bags but mostly I have used gift wrap or paper gift bags, always feeling like it was a waste of money and resources.

A few years ago my friend Darcy introduced me to a tradition her family has had for many years. Instead of gift wrapping presents, they reuse cloth Christmas bags. When I first heard of the idea, I liked it but worried we might miss the sounds that come with paper - the tearing of the paper, the crinkling, and of course, picking up the mess afterwards. But, I decided to give it a try last year and made bags of all sizes. Every gift that came from our immediate family was wrapped in a gift bag - Sophia even insisted the last present without a bag be wrapped in a purple pillowcase so we didn't have to use any gift wrap.

On Christmas morning, I was pleasantly surprised that we didn't miss the sounds that come with wrapping paper and we definitely didn't miss the wrapping paper mess we generally have to clean up after all the gifts are opened. The cloth felt more personal, like each gift had been wrapped in love, which really, after Alexander, Sophia and I had picked out the fabrics together and I had spent many hours preparing them - they were wrapped in our love and will continue to do so for many years!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christas Tradition - Ornaments

Every year since the kids were babies, I have given them one new ornament for the tree each year. The ornament is supposed to signify an interest they had during the year. My original hope was that when they have a tree of their own, they will be able to fill it with memories from their past.

This year for Alexander I found a really cool revolver ornament. I loved the surprised look on Alexander's face.

Since Sophia has been totally immersed in gerbils since this summer, I found a cute wooden gerbil ornament. They wood burned Sooty and Pumpkin's name of the front. She keeps looking at it and saying, "I just love this ornment."

Alexander also made ornments for us. He jigsawed a "M" for Mom, "D" for Dad, and "S" for Sophia. Thanks Zandy!

*This is my 100th Post!!!! Who knew I had so much to say?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Traditions - Angels

Christmas always makes me reflect on the traditions of my past and present. I thought it might be fun to reminisce about some of those traditions from now until Christmas.

Growing up, my family had many traditions. One that I always looked forward to was the night we chose "angels". After we had decorated the tree, the names of all six kids plus mom and dad were put into a bowl. One at a time, we drew a name and kept it secret. From that point until Christmas Eve, we were supposed to be an "angel" to that person without them knowing who we were. We would do fun things like leave little notes in his/her room, clean his room or do dishes on her night, buy or make small gifts and secretly leave them.........whatever we could think of that was nice. The goal was that we took a little extra time during the Christmas holiday to focus on being extra nice to at least one other person. I always felt excited creating new ways to be nice. On Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, we would guess who our "angel" was and why we thought it was that person. Sometimes you had no idea (maybe because everyone was always nice, right mom?) but usually it seemed like we could each figure out who had been especially nice to us and it felt good - it connected us as a family.

When I was teaching 5th grade, I shared this story with my class two years in a row and both years my class begged to do it with their peers. It was really fun. I could see many of them trying really hard to come up with creative ways to be nice to each other and many of them guessed the "angel" correctly.

With all the busyness and stress of the holidays, it is refreshing to set aside some time to focus on personal gifts we have to share with others.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monday - A Perfect Christmas Preparation Day

This year Steve took off the Friday, Monday and Tuesday after Thanksgiving. We have decided this is how we want to do it every year. With Thanksgiving over, everything just feels calm.

On Monday morning we woke up to snow which required snuggling in a blanket next to the warm body of Izzy!

I tried a new gluten free recipe - sweet potato cranberry bread. I used canned pumpkin instead of sweet potatoes and leftover cranberry sauce I bought from Whole Foods. It was out of this world. Very moist and delicious. It is a perfect holiday bread.

The kids went sledding at a hill about 2 minutes walking distance from our house.

One of the many things I love about Steve is how he includes the kids in projects around the house. Alexander has been helping Steve put the tree up since he was about three years old.

This is our first year of putting lights on the house. The kids are so excited.

Sophia bought candy canes to put around the tree. She was in charge of this project.


Several years ago Alexander started putting lights around the tree in our front yard. I have always loved this because it is so simple.

Alexander did a lighting presentation in the evening.

Monday night we also decorated the tree. Sophia was able to put the star on the tree since Steve can still lift her - barely.

We can always count on Steve to make us laugh. Here he is pretending to drink out of his Starbucks ornament.

My little angels.

Our Christmas tree is very similiar to the tree I grew up with. It is artificial and cluttered with ornaments that are not at all evenly balanced on the tree. I love it! The kids always enjoy finding the perfect spot for each ornament and each ornament has a story behind it that brings such wonderful memories of friends and family.