Thursday, October 27, 2011

Somebody's Been Sleeping in My Bed

Every morning before leaving for work I make my bed and every afternoon I come home to this:

For a while I thought the kids were cuddling up in my spot after I left and enjoying a few more minutes of sleep.  Then I learned who was really behind unmaking my bed:

Alexander told me that every morning after my car takes off, Izzy runs up to my bedroom and begins "fixing" the blankets.  Then she lays down and takes a little nap right in my spot.  I guess she likes to be close to me when I am away.  So sweet. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Early Morning Walks

Mondays and Wednesdays are a little crazy for me.  I am up by 5am to work out with my husband, out the door to walk with Izzy by 6am, on my way to teach a four hour class by 8am, home again by 1:15pm generally to run a few errands with the kids and make dinner before heading out to teach a five hour evening class.  I get home around 10:30pm.  It is a long day.

With so much going on Mondays and Wednesdays my daily walk with Izzy means I need to be out the door before the sun comes up.  Now that the temperatures are dropping, I am always reluctant to make this walk.  The thought of starting out my day walking in the cold on a dark morning doesn't seem too appealing.  Yet, I do it.

The amazing thing is every Monday and Wednesday, I love this walk once I get outside the door.  At first it takes me a little time to adjust my eyes to the dark.  Our neighborhood does not have street lights so I depend on the light from neighbors who still have working yard lamps or who leave their porch lights on all night.  A big portion of my walk with Izzy is through the commons area where there is no light and here I rely on the light of the moon and my ability to read Izzy.  On these dark mornings I must pay attention to her movements because I know she is more aware of what is ahead of us than me.

As we continue our walk my eyes adjust to the dark and I become more aware of my surroundings.  I pay attention to things I normally don't notice on walks during daylight.  I find myself feeling a little nervous on my walk because we don't know what might be ahead, yet excited by that very thought.  

As we continue on our walk, we see the beginnings of light shining through the trees. 

We come home from our walk and I feel happy that I had this time in nature while everything was still and quiet.  It is a nice way to start a crazy day full of activity.  I am always so thankful for my beautiful border collie and her need to get outside of the house often and explore the neighborhood.  Without her, I would be missing much from this wonderful world. 

While I hurry off to work, my sweet Izzy jumps back into bed and gets to go back to sleep.  Lucky girl!

*I save my pictures one direction and they show up on here another direction.  Please just turn your laptop sideways to view pictures. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Breast Cancer: My Personal Journey Away from the Pink Ribbon

Around the time I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2004, I was beginning to realize the connection between how the foods that enter our body contribute to how we feel and possibly even to the diseases that our bodies take on.  I began searching for food choices that eliminated artificial food colorings and preservatives, hormones, and other undesirable ingredients.  I wanted to make choices for my family and myself that not only nourished us, but also kept us as far from disease as possible.   Researching food choices eventually lead me to researching safer personal products for my family and me.  To read more, visit my post at MyRACentral

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Sad Day for My VFF and Me

As the cooler temperatures arrive in the Chicago area, my mind is beginning to come to terms with the fact that my days outside with my VFF are limited.  At about 35 degrees in the morning, my feet are still hanging on without freezing, thanks to the wool Inijini toe socks I recently bought.  But, I know my days are limited and soon I will be back to my winter boots.  It makes me sad. 

Speaking of sad, my heart shrank a size one morning a few weeks back when I saw this:

What happened to my VFF sole?  I emailed Vibram and after waiting many days for a response back learned the shoes are not under warranty but I might possibly be able to repair the shoe.  I emailed them back for ideas on how to repair the shoe, but still have not heard back from them.  Guess what is now going on my Christmas list? 

A Look Into Alexander's Mind

Alexander is now writing a blog: A Look Into Alexander's Mind.  So far it is a combination of reviews on games and movies and his thoughts on growing up.  Check it out if you have time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Too Many Plans and Dreams to Be Slowed Down by Fibromyalgia

Recently my 13 year old daughter told me, "I really admire Grandma. Even though she is old and has a difficult time getting around, she gets out and does the things she loves to do." Wow! What an amazing observation from my daughter and what a wonderful gift my mom has unknowingly passed onto my daughter.

My mom is amazing. Although she will be 71 years old this month, she still lives her life as if she was 30 years old, minus the miniskirts and high heels. She often says her mind still wants to get up and go like she was 30 years old, not almost 71 years old.  To read more of this post, visit MyRACentral.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How We Look May Be Different Than How We Feel

Yesterday’s post was titled 115/36/44.  These numbers were used to share my weight when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, my age when I was diagnosed, and my current age.  Bloggers used these numbers yesterday to hopefully dispel the common misconception that AUTOIMMUNE arthritis - Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA), Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), Sjogren's Syndrome (SS), Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE), Still's Disease, Juvenile Arthritis (JA), Mixed and Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Diseases (MCTD/UCTD) is brought on by being overweight or elderly.   As you can see from my weight, I was not overweight when I was diagnosed.  In fact, I felt very frustrated when I was first diagnosed because everything I read mentioned eating a healthy standard American diet of whole grains which I was doing at the time, losing weight (I didn’t need to lose weight), and exercising more.  I was already working out 4-5 times a week plus I was the mother of two young kids and working part-time.   How much more exercise did I need?  I also wasn’t elderly.  At 36, I felt vibrant and alive.  

Rheumatoid Arthritis is often misunderstood even by those who are close to us.  How can we look fine and still have a disease?  How can we continue with everyday life and really be in as much pain as we say we are?  Rheumatoid arthritis and other types of autoimmune arthritis are a challenge even for those of us who live with it. The intensity of our symptoms vary from day to day and sometimes even from hour to hour.  Sometimes we feel completely like our old selves and other days like we have aged 30-40 years overnight.  It makes planning and living your life a challenge because you never know what the day will hold for you.  An example of this was yesterday.  I woke up and worked out with my husband.  I then took a two mile walk with my border collie.  I felt great.  By the time I made it to my first teaching job of the day at 9:00am, my feet were on fire.  Walking felt like I had rocks under my feet and when I stood still at the board, the pain shot right through every part of my feet.  By the time I made it to my second teaching gig that evening, my legs felt like they had added 20 pounds to them.  It was difficult to stand for long periods.  Did anyone know?  Of course not.  I mentioned it to my husband, but that was it.  Rather than whining about it, I prefer to release the pain  as much as possible through laughter. I laugh as much as I can.  It is amazing how much laughter quiets the mind of the pain you are experiencing.   

We each have things going on in our lives - stress at work, divorce, health, money, etc, etc.  Although it is frustrating for me when friends obviously have no idea what rheumatoid arthritis is even after seeing me go through some of my worst flares, I don't feel upset with them.  I know that unless you are dealing with a certain situation yourself, it is difficult to understand what it is really like to go through it.    My daughter recently shared a wonderful message that she herself learned at camp and that I am trying to incorporate into my own life more.  She said, “I need to be nicer to people because they might look like everything is fine, but then you find out there is a lot more going on inside.”  I think if we could each incorporate this wonderful lesson into our lives, we wouldn’t need to have World Arthritis Day or any other day of awareness because it wouldn’t matter what is going on in the lives of those around us if we were all a little more patient and understanding with what might be going on with people that doesn’t always show on the outside.    

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This Saturday marks my 44th year of life! Wow! 44 years old. I know most women my age choose not to share their real age, but I am proud to be 44. I am proud to be exactly where I am right now.

When I was 36 years old I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. At 36, my body quickly went from being an active mom with young kids to a woman who physically felt like a 70+ year old woman. I struggled to get out of bed each morning and often required the assistance of my children to help  me undress at night.   

Looking back now I can see where rheumatoid arthritis was slowly showing its face. I remember working out and thinking, “I must not have stretched enough because my knee is really sore.” However, the symptoms that lead me to getting a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and began the roller coaster of pain and stiffness in my body began with my fingers. I went to bed and woke up several times throughout the night unable to move my fingers. They would swell up. I was confused. I kept trying to think back over my days to see if I could figure out what I had done to make my fingers so sore.

I rarely go to the doctor but something told me my sore fingers weren’t right. My family physician gave me a prescription which I took and within ten days I was back in his office because the prescription wasn’t helping. In fact, I felt worse. He put me on prednisone.  My family physician isn’t one to wait on sending me to a specialist so an appointment with a rheumatologist was scheduled for four months into the future.

What I remember the most about the four months of waiting for my appointment was the quick decline my body went through. Paperwork from the rheumatologist’s office was sent as soon as the appointment was scheduled and I dutifully filled everything out right away. When my appointment time arrived, I reviewed all the symptoms and remember feeling extreme panic at where I now was. The pain and swelling was no longer confined to my fingers but I now could barely walk on my feet because the balls were so swollen. I could no longer skip down the stairs but instead took each one step by step. I found myself in tears each morning when I couldn’t open the coffee canister. I was tired. I was scared.

I have now lived with rheumatoid arthritis for almost eight years. Initially I took the medication route only. When my symptoms continued to worsen, I saw a naturopath and began an elimination diet. Working with a naturopath allowed me to wean off prednisone and cut back on my Methotrexate. I went into remission for a few years. Then I came out of remission in 2008 and went off all medications for two years. The two years I experimented without drugs and focused only on alternative methods were a tough  couple of years. However, I would repeat those years in a heartbeat. They were years that allowed me to really focus on where I want to be with this disease and most importantly to understand and accept that although I do have control over my feelings, the stress in my life, and the way I eat, I don’t have control over the flares that come as they want. August of 2010, I started on Enbrel and also tweaked my diet again by eliminating all grains, not just the gluten free ones. This last year has been amazing for me. Although I definitely still feel signs of RA in my body, I feel that my RA is managed.

I will be 44 years old this Saturday. I want to brag about my age because I went from feeling good as a 36 year old woman to feeling like a 70+ year old woman within months. After that experience, going back to 44 seems like a dream most people would kill for.

This last year has been good to me, but I have also been good to me. I know that the gift of health I have been given again is not something to be taken lightly. I know that it is a gift that can be taken away from me again at any moment and I have to live this life in the moment I have now. I have been eating in a way that not only feeds me but more importantly nourishes me. I eat grass fed cuts of meat, eggs, organic veggies and a few nuts and fruits here and there. I have returned to activities like bike rides with my family and long nature walks with my border collie that provide both fun and calm for me. I have even completed several rounds of P90X with my husband. I have uncluttered my life of many activities and people that bring stress rather than peace of mind. I have taken time to treat myself well and the results are amazing. So, on this World Arthritis Day, I feel proud to be where I am with my rheumatoid arthritis, proud of the accomplishments I have made along this journey, and excited to see where my 44th year of life takes me.

For more information about rheumatoid arthritis, check out RA Guy's 60 Second Guide To RA.

*Numbers from title: 115 = weight at onset of ra, 36 = age at onset of RA, 44 = current age

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What to do? What to do?

My barefoot experiment this year has been fun and very rewarding.  I have discovered that when my feet are free to move, they feel better.  Without shoes I am often wiggling my toes throughout the day rather than keeping them confined in a shoe all day without any movement.  On rare occasions lately that I have worn socks and shoes I noticed that my toes are stiff when I take them off, as if they forgot in one short day how to move.  I spend some time retraining them but then experience shooting pain throughout the night.

My barefoot experiment has shown me that I need to be able to allow my feet to have as much movement as possible.  Since I can't go barefoot at work and doubt my VFF will be approved for work, I decided several months ago that the next best thing would be to wear my sandals as often as possible, perhaps even changing into them at work on really cold days.  That way I can keep my toes moving the 9-10 hours I spend on my feet teaching some days. 

Well, my brilliant idea was challenged late last week when we received an email from our new manager (I work at schools and this is the newer school I teach at which I don't like so well) that open toed shoes are not permitted because they are not "professional".  Unlike many women, I have a limited number of shoes.  I buy well made shoes that are expensive but buy very few of them.  I have a pair of Dansko sandals that are open toed, two pairs of Ecco sandals that are open toed, Dansko clogs, Merrell snow boots that look like tennis shoes, and my Vibram Five Fingers.  My choices are pretty limited.  Throughout the winter I wear my Dansko clogs everyday but found that last winter the socks and shoe mixture wasn't working and I often sat down so that I could slip my feet out of my shoes and try to wiggle my toes a little bit. 

I have only taken one day off work due to rheumatoid arthritis in the last eight years and that was when I tried sulfasalzine and realized I have an allergy to sulfa.  I was covered in a rash from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet along with a fever and headache.  Otherwise, I have always made it into work despite how awful I may have felt.  I never wanted RA to be an excuse I used.........until yesterday. 

Yesterday I called my rheumatologist and asked for a note stating that I can wear open toe sandals.  The nurse said she would check on it and within ten minutes called back and said they were mailing the note right away.  All the sudden I felt guilty.  I felt like I was taking advantage of the situation with my illness.  I wondered if I was making the right choice.  My other employer has been very accepting of my diagnosis, but I have never shared my diagnosis with this employer because I haven't needed to since I have felt pretty good since working there but also because I don't trust this employer.  The overall feeling there is negative from the way they treat their employees to the way they treat the students.  So, I now have a dilemma.  Do I give my doctor's note to my employer and open myself up to them knowing about my rheumatoid arthritis or do I suck up my new idea and wear socks and shoes despite how they make my toes feel?         

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My "No Poo" Experiment

I remember when I was a little girl my grandma went to the salon every Friday to have her hair washed and set.  I remember being amazed that she could go all week without washing her hair.  I am proud to say that I now know her secret.

I have been on a quest to find a shampoo and conditioner for years that had minimal ingredients and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  I knew there was something out there that wasn’t full of ingredients that were both harmful to my body and the environment, but I hadn’t found it yet.  Then last year, I began reading about a method known as “no poo”.  The “poo” means shampoo.  Hmmm…..I love self experimentation and had to give this a try.  Here are some blogs that I have found helpful along the way about the “no poo” philosophy.
The first step in my own experiment was to see how long I could go without washing my hair.  Nature Moms' post explains the relationship between shampoo and scalp oil in a way that makes sense to me, “It's a supply and demand relationship, much like nursing a baby. The more your baby wants to nurse, the more milk your body produces. If you suddenly stopped nursing your baby there would be a lot of excess milk, engorgement, etc., for a while until your body returned to a state of balance.” 
The results of the first part of this experiment were amazing.  I was able to go about three weeks before I felt that I absolutely had to wash my hair.  Now, before you start thinking I am totally disgusting, let me say this; I did shower every day.  While showering, I would scrub my scalp well with nothing but warm water.  I didn’t want to use any products on my hair during this time period because I wanted a retraining period for my hair.  At first, I got that yucky feeling around the neckline when you feel like you have to shower and my scalp was definitely itchy, but I just kept on going.  Each time I showered and then dried and styled my hair I would ask my biggest hair critic, my teenage daughter, how my hair looked.  She wasn’t aware of my experiment at the time.  Each time she gave me good feedback.   It almost seemed that once I passed the first week, my hair looked better and better.  I will say that I have normal to dry hair and have never had an issue with too much oil.
The second step in the experiment was to wash my hair after I felt it had time to detox from its addiction to shampoo.  For this first try, I used Dr. Bronner’s soap to clean my hair.  I was a little worried because I had always used conditioner on my normal to dry hair and I would not be using any conditioner during this experiment.   The soap worked fine although I did have some fly-aways.  I think since I had developed a bit of an oil base on my scalp, it didn’t require the conditioner as it had in the past. 

With time I noticed something I never expected to happen.  The longer I went without “washing” my hair, the dryer it became.  How could that be?  Isn’t your hair supposed to become more oily?  I decided to change things up a little in this experiment.  Rather than using Dr. Bronner’s soap, I switched to a paste made of baking soda.  I massaged the paste onto my scalp and rinsed with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water.  The apple cider vinegar helped restore the ph balance and made my hair very soft and shiny. 

I am continuing the “no poo” method today and don’t see myself switching back to regular shampoo anytime soon.  I love that my hair is no longer dependent on shampoo and it makes traveling super easy.  Plus, the cost of baking soda and apple cider vinegar is extremely cheap.  What I have been doing for about four months now is “washing” my hair once a week with the baking soda paste and apple cider vinegar.  (Ha Grandma! I am now a once a weaker too!)   Since my hair tends to be on the dry side, I use apple cider vinegar a few more times a week without the baking soda paste to keep my hair moisturized.  If I use a little too much apple cider vinegar the ends of my hair look oily and I have to run it through warm water again.  So, there is definitely a learning curve with all of this. 

I LOVE discovering new things about my amazing body.  I have been super happy with this experiment.  It has not only satisfied my need to find a shampoo and conditioner that is safe of chemicals (I can eat everything I put on my hair) but I have also eliminated gels that I used before.  I always used a minimal amount of gel, but now that my hair has a bit of an oil base to it, (not to be confused with a dirty, oily head) I don’t need the gels.   Plus, I have once again learned that my body (scalp included) are uniquely different than every other person’s and what it requires is quite different than what other people require.  I love learning new things about myself and my body.