Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fall...the perfect time for BOOKS!

Who am I's always the perfect time for books!

In which I decide that I want to buy books again with my birthday money this year, and so I'd best attack that pile of already purchased but never yet read books that's been waiting for my attention not-so-patiently during my summer of fantasy.  Plus one book I can't wait to buy/read.  Plus one from the library because it's short.  Plus...library!

1.  Magonia, Maria Dahvana Headley - There are two or three writers who's book blurbs I pay attention to, and so when I saw a front cover blurb by Neil Gaiman on Magonia I knew I had to read it as soon as possible.  It's amazing, and I'm very much in love with Aza and Jason, who are anything BUT the usual YA leads.  The fantasy elements are unique, and I love that they are based in odd parts of actual historical record. Curiously enough, the ending is open enough that a sequel could follow...but I'm not sure I want one.  We'll see what Headley decides to do! 

2.  The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman (unfinished) - I've heard a lot of great things about Hoffman, and about this book in particular.  The best I can say about it is that it was nice.  The writing was pleasant, but it didn't make much of an impression...which is weird given the subject matter.  Yeah.  nice.  That's it. I gave up half way through.  I just flat out didn't care enough.  I've deleted the other Hoffman book I had in my wish list/to read pile.  I can't imagine her writing getting any better for me.   

3.  The Painter, Peter Heller (unfinished) - So I put down the Hoffman book and picked this up, and was swept up within two pages.  HUGE difference!  If only...if only it had managed to hold my attention.  I do adore Peter Heller's writing, which I think is best described as lyrical.  Unfortunately, I got bogged down in the fancy prose and was really turned off by some of the plot elements. I skimmed it to get the basic plot, but did not read it as closely as it probably deserves.  Sigh.  I will admit, it was a letdown for me after The Dog Stars, but probably other people will love it. 

4.  Our Souls At Night, Kent Haruf (audio, library) - It's a slim book - only 3 hours in audio - but the sparsely told story is sweet and deeply moving.  To be perfectly honest, I think this book is probably best enjoyed as audio because the reader adds so, so much to the emotional depth of the story.  Two elderly people come together to help relieve each other of their loneliness, it's really that simple.  The ending wasn't what I had hoped for, but my imagination sees better things to come in the ever after. 

5.  We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas (audio and ebook, unfinished) - To be honest, I tried reading this some time ago, and didn't get very far before I got bored and gave up.  I have no earthly idea why I then bought a copy when it went up on the ibooks sale page...but I did, and as per this month I wanted to give it a go.  To my delight, I found the audio available through my library and so I used both.  Mare Winningham reads...and she's a delight!  Ultimately, though, this is a book about an ordinary life, and as beautiful as the prose may be and as interesting as some of the characters are....NOTHING HAPPENS!!!!  I made it through a quarter of the book this time before I decided it just isn't for me. 

6.  The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, Nichole Bernier - This was a BOTNS recommendation from a couple of years ago.  (I listened to that episode while running outside our church campgrounds in the early morning on a gorgeous June day.  Details!)  It caught my attention because it's a book about journals...and I'm someone who has a shelf full of my own journals.  Truth, if it weren't for the journal aspect this wouldn't at all be my sort of book as it's really a type of modern female lit that generally tries my patience.  But.  It does ask deep questions about journals, and about who we are, really.  Why do we write journals?  What should be done with them after we die?  Are we more ourselves in real life or in our private writings?  Do we really ever truly know each other? 

7.  The Baker's Daughter, Sarah McCoy - I'm a sucker for a WWII book, and while this wasn't even close to the best of what I've read, it was an engrossing, enjoyable read.  (Probably not smart for this allergy girl to read about bakers, though...)  I appreciated the way the modern day and the past intersected, and I really liked the characters - especially Elsie.  It is interesting in that it's a book that takes a look at how ordinary Germans suffered under the Nazi regime, which is a point of view not often taken.  Perhaps because we know Elsie is living happily in the present day, though, it's rather devoid of the type of tension I usually expect from WWII books. 

8.  The Newlyweds, Nell Freudenberger (unfinished)  - Well, this is getting embarrassing.  It's turning out to be a month of books that I bought, and just don't care about enough to finish.  The crazy thing is that I do really like Freudenberger's writing and I love Amina.  The pacing was just too slow, and there was too much repetition, and in the end I just couldn't do it.  Out of curiosity I looked up the Kirkus review, and they nailed it...blaming the 'detached and cool' tone for making it 'difficult to emotionally engage.'  Yep. 

9.  Kitchens of the Great Midwest, J. Ryan Stradal (audio) - Nope, this wasn't a book I already owned.  It was, however, on my wish list and so I decided to give it a go when I found the audio, needing some books to listen to while running.  (It's a fairly recent BOTNS recommendation.)  While truthfully I'm glad I didn't buy a copy, I am at the same time glad I listened to it.  It was fun, and light, and the two readers were really good.  I really loved the fact that Eva's story was told from a sideways viewpoint through the stories of other people who's lives intersected with hers. 

10.  Run Like A Mother, Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea - Yes, I've become slightly obsessed with running, and to paraphrase a good friend, I always dive in completely.  I stumbled on a news story about the amazing Mirna Vilaria, and the next thing you know I'm checking books out from the library and rushing to the store to look through magazines.  Might possibly have gone off the deep end.  This book is a general intro to running from the perspective of moms with real lives, and I love that it's packed with tidbits from lots of real runners. 

11. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, Catherynne M. Valente (audio, unfinished) - I adored the first two Fairyland books that Valente wrote, but I admit to succumbing to 'charm and whimsy fatigue' with the third.  There is, after all, such a thing as "too much."  I hadn't even known Valente had continued on with a new protagonist until I stumbled across this in a search of fantasy audio on one of my library's two digital services. I have to admit, I love our wee troll boy a LOT more than I loved September.  It occurred to me that these books in a way remind me of the Oz books - without that vaguely upsetting something that disturbed me so much when I read the Oz books as a child.  My one is rather a LOT of whimsy, and ultimately that got to me AGAIN.  Big Sigh.  I want to love these books, but if I'm honest I just don't. 

12.  The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith (audio) - It's soooo not my regular genre, but I do rather enjoy the Galbraith books.  (I do also wish that J.K. Rowling hadn't been outed over this pseudonym, but that's another discussion entirely.)  Believe it or not, I actually figured out who done it...even though I'm not someone who generally attempts to do so while reading mysteries.  Given that it's based on writers and the publishing industry, I do wonder about Rowling's experiences.  It was fun, and I love Robin, and I am hoping more books follow. 

13.  The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman, ill. by Chris Riddell - It was finally released in the US, and I happily preordered a copy.  My oh my, is it ever a beautiful treat!  You all know I love fairy tales, right?! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

160 Days...and Counting: Part 3, Progress At Last

We left off with the changes made in my allergy plan, which means it's now time to discuss how those changes have affected my life and health!

The very good news is that for whatever reason - be it the changes we made in my allergy plan, or the advice my doctor gave me, or maybe that it was just finally time - I seem to have turned a corner and am finally finding success that feels like it's going to last.

I'm thrilled with my progress, which includes: 
  1. I have 160 days of clean, allergen-free eating under my belt.  That's at least 60 days longer than my best attempt before, and I can promise you that the last best attempt included at least two dark chocolate bars, making it not really a good-faith attempt. 
  2. Even better, I'm at peace (most of the time) with the restrictions I live under. 
  3. I'm totally a runner now.  I love it more than almost anything and am starting to obsess about it almost as much as I obsess about knitting and books.  Fact of the matter is, I also feel best on the days that I run.
  4. My performance in tap class has dramatically improved.  My endurance is better, my mobility is better, and my accuracy is better. 
  5. My doctor had told me that I have to find replacements for all of the foods that I lost and the experiences that come with, and I've finally figured out how to do that.  Running, tap, reading and knitting have all helped fill in the gaps,  but I've also gone back to keeping tons of houseplants, am writing again, and have made regular outings with three of my girlfriends a priority. 
  6. The signals I get from my body - whether or not I'm hungry or full - now are accurate and can be trusted.  It's nice that my body no longer lies to me as it once did. 
  7. Likewise, with a few exceptions (more on that in a bit), I can also trust that if I get a craving now it's because my body needs something.  I've had cravings for citrus, salmon, sweet potatoes, bananas, cauliflower...when your body needs nutrients it will tell you exactly what it needs to get them. 
  8. In the last month my gastrointestinal system has finally begun to heal and is behaving like it should most of the time.  It took a long, long time for it to start healing, and truth be told there are days when it could be better.  I have to remind myself to be patient.  I'm working to undo a lifetime of damage, and you don't just get over that in a few months. 
  9. I no longer HAVE to take daily naps.  This is a Very. Big. Deal.
  10. Not only do I not require a daily nap, but my energy levels in general are considerably better. 
  11. I am more focused and have less brain fog, which is enabling me to be more productive in general.  Believe it or not, I'm actually tackling big projects that have been hanging over my head for years, and our household is starting to run more smoothly. 
  12. I am more present for my family.
  13. I no longer have:  headaches, acne, foot pain, joint pain, tummy problems, gas, bloating, depression, anxiety, overwhelming fatigue, or that vague sense of being sick all of the time.
  14. My female hormonal cycles are normal again.
  15. My allergist had told me for years that if I would stick to my allergy diet my body would find a happy weight without me having to diet, and darned if she wasn't right.  I've lost almost 30 lbs since April, all without having to waste one moment worrying about counting calories and/or weighing and tracking my food.  It almost feels too easy. 
  16. I'm enjoying my body and am learning to love it...for maybe the first time in my life. 
  17. I feel like a functional human being again, and I haven't felt this way in over 10 years. 

This has most certainly been a learning process, and there have been some lessons along the way:
  1. The rotation has helped me to uncover three more problematic foods: pineapple, white potatoes, and eggs.  I've had distinct and obvious reactions to all three.  (pineapple leaves my mouth and throat feeling like I have strep, and the other two have left me with a specific type of joint pain in my upper body that is for me an allergy symptom)  This is both annoying, and also very good to know.
  2. Using a rotation is surprisingly liberating.  I literally laughed when my allergist told me that it could be, but she was right.  I've never really enjoyed cooking - ok, I kind of hate it - and menu planning has always stressed me out.  Well, all of that's out the window.  If it's beef and broccoli day, it's beef and broccoli day and there's only so many ways you can cook it! 
  3. Also, my family loves the variety that a rotation diet enforces.  We've made it even better for them by giving my eldest daughter permission to cook what she wants (from paleo recipe sources) to supplement what they are able to eat.  She'll either do something fancy with the main ingredients for the day, or she'll make treats for desert or snacks.  It's been fantastic, and not only are they not feeling deprived, but I'm no longer feeling guilty about having to impose my restrictions on them. 
  4. About those cravings exceptions:  While it's true that I am mostly free of the old, unhealthy, obsessive cravings I used to have for the foods that make me sick, there are times when they are going to crop up again.  The good news is that they have been mostly wistful and/or slightly sad cravings and aren't strong enough to weaken my resolve or send me running to the nearest store to cheat.  The bad news is that they still suck.  I know I'm going to have a few days each month that are just a bit tougher than the rest, and I know that fall is always going to be a challenge because it's my peak allergy season.  (Even with drops and an excellent allergy management plan, my body is still fighting off the invaders with every breath...and when pollen and mold counts are particularly high the fight is a rough one.) 
  5. I've learned that sometimes I just have to walk away.  There are times when I simply cannot be around what other people are eating because it's just too hard. 
  6. Likewise, eating out and social events are still tough...but they aren't always as bad as they once were.  It completely depends on who I'm with and their level of support and/or knowledge about my situation.   
  7. I've learned to enjoy food again.  This, my friends, is a very big deal.  I may have limited options, but the rotation has helped me learn  to appreciate and enjoy them. 
For now, I think that's everything. 

Thank you so much for being with me along this journey!

160 Days... and Counting: Part 2, What Changed?

If you read my last post, you might now be wondering what the heck a rotation diet is.  You also might be wondering what the plan was, and what advice my doctor could possibly have given me back in April that would have changed everything after five years of fruitless struggle. 

So let's get to it!

I'll begin first with a quick explanation of what a rotation diet is.  Simply put, a rotation diet is an approach to dealing with food allergies that enforces variety by ensuring that you only eat a food once - and by once I mean over a 24 hour period - every four to five days.  For a more detailed explanation as to how this works and why it helps, please visit this site.

Now, I'd known at least one other family that had to live with a rotation diet, and for that family it had been a living nightmare full of food that tasted like sawdust.  While it had served to help their child heal from some very serious issues, it had also been a great burden to them.  With this in mind, I'm sure you can imagine why I'd been reluctant to attempt it myself even though my allergist had suggested we consider it several times over the last few years. 

Desperate times....

When the sobbing was over that day back in April, I finally agreed that it was time to shift to a rotation diet.  It was the exact same list of approved foods that I've been dealing with for the last five years, but an entirely new approach that would hopefully help make my restrictions more manageable and help us figure out if there were additional food problems that we weren't yet aware of.  I was seriously not happy about it - but I was also willing to try anything.

I decided that I would set my rotation up so that my 'day' began at dinner and went through late afternoon of the following day.  That way I could just make extra at dinnertime and not have to worry about fixing a new breakfast and dinner.  I bought a new notebook to track what I was eating and make sure that I was spacing the different foods out appropriately, and I dug out my beloved star stickers so that I could mark off successful days. 

Curiously enough, one of the things I also did that evening to help prepare was to sit down and make an honest to goodness list of what I COULD eat.  I had never thought to do that before...and to my chagrin, it was a much longer list than I'd thought.  Perception is everything, and sometimes we just need to think things through in a new way.

I'd be lying if I didn't confess to having eaten a ton of candy that night - dark chocolate pecan caramel clusters and dark chocolate salted caramel balls to be exact - so I'm just going to leave that here.  Sometimes a girl needs to say goodbye. 

I started out the next morning just eating approved foods, and began the rotation that evening.  Until about a month ago I stuck with it religiously, and to my surprise found that it was an amazingly good fit for not only me but for my family as well.  (More on that next time!)  While I'm not currently following the rotation - life got in the way, and sometimes we just have to do the best we can - I can proudly say that I have not once cheated on my allergy diet since I began again on April 16th.  160 days of relatively stress-free living on a diet that is so restrictive that it makes grown people cry. 

That's a win. 

As I said, though, the rotation wasn't the only step we took that day.  My allergist also sent me for some bloodwork to check my thyroid and a few other things, and she had me set up an appointment to talk to my OBGYN about my hormone levels.  It's all connected, and it was possible that something else was slightly out of whack and needed to be corrected too. 

The long and the short of it is that most all of the tests came back in the normal range....but both docs know it's not always as simple as the numbers would have you believe.  My thyroid tests have been normal for years, but are in a range that some now consider to borderline.  We decided to wait and see on that one.  If it came to it, we could try meds to see if they helped, but I wanted to give my body a chance to heal through nutrition first.  As to the hormone levels, my (also very wonderful and loving) OBGYN agreed with my allergist that an OTC progesterone cream might help.  The numbers looked mostly normal, but one was ever so slightly off, and she knows that my body doesn't quite fit into the standard box. (The blessings of being an allergy girl...)  At the very least, we now have a baseline to watch in the future. 

The key is that I felt better knowing we were looking at everything...and not just at my allergies. (This would continue.  At my next allergy appointment, my doctor and I would take a serious look at my GI health and I would take more steps to correct that.)

The real magic, though, was in the advice that my doctor gave me that day.  I think for her it was almost a throwaway comment, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.  We were in the midst of going over the details of my food restrictions (for the millionth time) when she said - and I quote -

"Don't make yourself crazy." 

Say what?  Have we met?  Do you know me? 

I excel at making myself crazy...and this whole allergy thing seems perfectly designed to drive someone over the edge. 

And yet my brilliant doctor said, "don't make yourself crazy." 

So how did I interpret that? 

Well, perfection is admirable but unrealistic.  This advice was NOT permission to cheat on my diet, nor was it an excuse to plan ways to get around the rules. Rather, it was a recognition of the fact that I'm a human being who would do well to be kind to herself. 

"Don't make yourself crazy" means that I shouldn't be obsessing over doing everything absolutely right all of the time.

"Don't make yourself crazy" means that I can go out to eat and not worry about the (not normally allowed) spices that may be on the mostly plain meat or on the sweet potato fries. 

"Don't make yourself crazy" means that if something happens to disrupt the rotation I am not to worry about it and will get back to it as soon as I am able.

"Don't make yourself crazy" means I can spend a day eating nothing but protein if that's all I really want...or it means I can eat sweet potato and root veggie chips without guilt...or it means that I can totally eat as much fruit as I want if I really need something sweet.  The point here is that it doesn't always have to be a perfectly balanced meal. 

And, too, "Don't make yourself crazy" means that I need to remember that this is about more than just food.  It means that if I'm going to remove so many foods from my life I need to replace them with something - preferably with something that fills an emotional need and/or serves a purpose that food used to serve. 

"Don't make yourself crazy." 

It's such a simple phrase, and yet in combination with the rotation it's been everything to me. 

Next up, 160 Days...And Counting: Part 3, Progress At Last!

160 Days...And Counting: Part 1, Beginning Again...Again

I'm not usually afraid to share my personal life with my blog, but I find myself staring down the computer today, more than a little bit nervous about what I need to write.  You see, I've been promising an allergy update for quite some time....but despite those promises I've found a lot of really good reasons over the last few weeks to avoid actually writing that post.  

After all, there have been so many starts and stops over the last five years.  I've bragged about progress before, only to be slapped down by my own circumstances beyond my control.

This time, though.

This time it's working, and I really, really don't want to fail again.

On April 15th I had an appointment with my allergist. Such appointments are supposed to be simple check-ups to make sure that all is well with my allergy plan, but this time I completely fell apart.  Equal parts rock bottom and cathartic, I wound up sobbing in the exam room for over an hour. My allergies?  They were just too much.  Life was grossly unfair, and it was too hard to live with the hand I'd been dealt. I was a failure, I hated my body, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. 

My life is just so small, I whimpered....

This breakdown had actually been coming for a while.  After seeing some improvement and success last summer I'd once again stumbled over my fall allergies and the subsequent holiday season and was having trouble getting myself back on track.  I was frustrated with myself, and I felt like garbage.  Almost all of the good work from the year before had been negated....and this time it felt like I was at the end of the road with no hope of ever getting it right. 

Towards the end of March I asked for administration at church, and as sometimes happens the actual sacrament wound up being more about what I needed emotionally than about what I needed physically.  (That's what happens when you ask a particularly perceptive minister to provide the tend to get what you need, not what you think you want.)  While I no longer remember the exact words, I do remember being a bit shocked when the minister prayed that I would allow myself to be angry, and to acknowledge the emotional toll this has all taken on me.  I had done that, I thought...

But then I sat down a few days later and confessed in my journal that I knew I needed to work through some allergy issues, but that I was afraid to get started because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop. 

I did it anyway.

On a quiet morning a few days later I sat down in my favorite chair, and allowed my heart to crack open so that I could pour out just how truly, deeply angry I've been for five years about the entire situation.  It was painful.  It was shocking.  It didn't feel like me, and yet it was exactly me.  I acknowledged truths that I've been trying to deny for five years - ugly stuff that I didn't want to believe was part of my life.  There was both more than I thought there would be, and less. 

I wish I could say that journaling had been cathartic...that I came out of it in a much better place than I had been in before...but that just wasn't true.  Instead it left me rather raw and wounded, and I hated that. 

However, it also prepared me for an honest conversation with my doctor. 

Which takes me to that appointment in April.  I won't divulge the details of what was said that day beyond what's already been hinted at because many of them are just too private.  What I will say is that I'm truly blessed to have the doctor that I have.  Not only does she truly know how to listen, but she is also capable of being equally compassionate and tough, and on that day in April she was everything I needed her to be.

I left that appointment determined to start again, and this time I was armed with a new tool, a step by step medical plan to look into whether or not something else was going on, and some advice that would change my approach. 

So the very next day I began a rotation diet.

And to my complete worked.

And to my even bigger surprise...I liked it.

Coming Up Next: Part 2, What Changed?

Monday, September 14, 2015


I finished the body of MY sweater last night....

Just two sleeves to go - they are only 3/4 length - and then the finish work!

I can't wait to wear MY new sweater!!!! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

In Love

I'm not going to lie.
 I've been very selfish with my personal time over the last week.
 It's just so beautiful.
 And the colors sing in my hands...
 It's helping me to find my center again as we settle into our new routine.

And, well, I have been promising for quite some time that I was going to knit for myself....