Friday, October 31, 2014

Web Crawlin': Halloween Edition

All Hallows Eve.  

How do you feel about this holiday?  Will you celebrate it?  Will you dress up?  Pass out candy?  Hit the clubs/bar scene in your costume?  Throw a fabulous, scary bash?  Or save your money/time and go to someone else's party?  I'd love to know.  As I've aged, I have noticed that a lot of people start falling off the "I'm so crazy about Halloween" train post-college.  In your late 20s you realize that you are A) a little too old to be given candy while trick or treating; B) a little too old to be eating candy in super high quantities like you were when you were five; and C) a little too old to be able to bounce back like you used to from a Halloween Party hangover.  Some people even say they're too old to dress up really.  

Halloween isn't my favorite holiday.   But I'm kind of like Joan from "Girlfriends" in that I love certain aspects of every holiday.  I like the creepy history behind the origin of Halloween.  When I was younger, I LOVED trick or treating with my dad. My sisters and I would go out with him for HOURS. I love ghost stories and scary movies around this time of year.  In college, my friends and I would throw the BEST Martha Stewart inspired Halloween parties.  And although I've never been super awesome at dressing up, I like the concept, and I love people watching.  Going out in D.C. during college to celebrate Halloween night = some of the best people watching in the region.  And probably most of all, I LOVE candy. And this rings even more true ever since I had my transplant.  My sweet tooth has become my SWEET MOUTH.  Is that a thing? Can that be a thing?  

One thing I'm not big on:  carving pumpkins.  I was just never good at it.  Plus, I don't like touching the pumpkin guts. Ironic, since one of my favorite things to make is a whole roasted chicken.  

Here's some holiday stuff from around the web: 

Homemade candy.  Hey, it's a way to reduce sodium, right?

A lot of stuff about horror in entertainment, movies, TV, etc. Including a discussion on CLOWNS.

Apparently, this is where Jack O'Lantern's come from

Are you gonna dress up? If you dress up as a witch, you'll probably be in good company:  Most Popular Halloween Costumes

Ideas for using your leftover Halloween candy.  Other than just stuffing your face with it, of course. 

And we can't forget about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.  I'm painting my face like this!  Trying to convince Ben to do it too.

Anyhoo, here's a sneak peek at part of my costume for tonight.  Can you guess who I'm going as??  

Hint:  I'm not Lady Gaga.

Have a great weekend y'all. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Life With...A Liver Transplant

Welcome back to "Life with...”.  And y'all, this is a good one.  Amanda’s story is incredibly inspiring. Going through her interview I laughed, I cried, I shouted “AMEN," I nodded in agreement and at the end, I smiled. I love hearing these types of stories, reading about the battles fought and victories celebrated in this war against chronic illness.  And Amanda is a true warrior.  And if  you don't feel amped after reading this then, I don't know what to tell you.  So, without anymore rambling from me, meet Amanda!

Amanda Goodwin, blogger at "Crazy Miracle"
In one sentence, who are you?
A passionate dreamer who loves life, loves people, and is grateful for every part of my story.

What are you passionate about? 
I’m passionate about my hopes, my beliefs, my loved ones, making people feel special, traveling, and learning new things.  I love doing anything and everything with my fiancĂ© and planning our spring, 2015 wedding. I also enjoy reading, getting crafty, and snuggling with my 9 pound dog, Haylie. 

Tell the readers a little about your disease/ailment/illness/syndrome/healthannoyance, and what it was like when you were first diagnosed.
I was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, an autoimmune disease affecting the bile ducts and blood vessels in the liver, at the age of five in the early 1990s.  It was so scary because not only is this liver disease so rare, but I was only five years old and had no idea what was happening to me and why I was enduring so many painful procedures and treatments in the hospital.  I didn't know why I had to miss a lot of school for doctors' visits and hospitalizations, or why I couldn't play rough sports with the other kids in gym class.  Thankfully, the disease stayed stable for years, and when I was 22 years old, my doctor found a tumor in my liver.  We were very afraid because this diagnosis necessitated a liver transplant, one of the most complicated surgeries of modern medicine.

Additionally, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2011 after a car accident in 2007 left me with severe, chronic pain.  Just this year, a rheumatologist told me that I’m also developing an autoimmune form of arthritis.  While it’s never exciting to receive diagnoses like these, it is sometimes comforting so that you know you’re not suffering with random pain without a cause.  Once you identify your disease, you are much more able to find helpful treatments and medications.

People with a chronic illness face a lot of challenges (A LOT)!  What’s one challenge that you’ve faced so far in your journey and how have you dealt with it?  
Physically, the chronic pain makes every day joys hard.  For example, I was on vacation last week, and standing all day in a museum or walking around the city would wreak havoc on my back, sending it into spasms for the rest of the day.  I would love to live just a few days without any pain and see how many things I could do! 

Emotionally, fear has been a huge challenge for me.  When your health is always on the line, it’s easy to fear the “what ifs.”  I’ve cherished my Christian faith and my amazing support system as both have helped me stop dwelling on the future.  Also, cognitive therapy and medication has helped immensely, especially during painful or stressful times. 

Who or what helps you make decisions about your health?
I have a background in nursing and a degree in public health, and when combined with 22 years of chronic illness, I have a great grasp on health in general.  I try to use natural methods when possible (such as rest, massage, or heat instead of pain medications, essential oils for simple ailments, etc.) and I avidly study treatments and conditions in scholarly publications to evaluate the research before beginning any treatment or having surgery.  I have an amazing team at the Cleveland Clinic who has taught me so much about my various health issues and consistently offers me all available treatments, and we go with what I think is best for my body along with each individual doctor’s recommendations.  I take great care to choose doctors who are well-versed in my specific illnesses, and they prove to be gold mines of information.

What was your transplant surgery like?  
The surgery itself went well, but the recovery was unlike anything I could have ever imagined or expected.  It was physically and emotionally challenging. If I knew what recovery was going to be like, I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to go through with the surgery.  I probably would have been too scared, especially now that I know the pain and complications that the surgery would entail.  My surgeons were truly gifted, but simply because of the complexity of a liver transplant, it was a long, arduous road.

What has your life been like since you had your transplant?  
Since I had liver disease 18 years before my transplant, I was always used to having a low immune system and balancing life with high levels of fatigue.  I was also used to taking medications and learning to listen to my body and rest when needed.  These things have continued to help me live the best life I can live since my transplant. Various complications occurred within the first few years after my surgery, and we had to finish all of my surgeries with reconstructive surgery due to the battlefield that had become my abdomen, but I take most health trials in stride because I’m so grateful that I’m alive with a beautiful, healthy liver.  And once you live through a transplant, I feel like everything else pales in comparison.

I have a ton of funny and memorable hospital stories.  Can you share one of yours?
Not sure if I have any funny stories, but definitely memorable ones.  Instead of seeing the transplant team, I now just see one of the surgeons because my case has gotten so complicated.  He’s one of the best in the world.  I had a full splenectomy a year after my transplant.  I was absolutely petrified of getting my surgical drains taken out because, well, unless you’ve had it done, I don’t even know how to describe it.  It feels like someone is pulling a snake out of your abdomen as it grazes all of your organs on the way out.  When it was time for my drain to come out, my experienced surgeon started having a conversation with me and engaging me in questions.  He carefully started pulling the drain while I was mid-story, and before I knew it, it was out!  I love him so much, for many more reasons than this.

What advice do you have for other people, young or old, who are waiting for a transplant?
Rally support.  Join support groups.  Ask your social worker to help you get in touch with other transplant patients so they can share their journeys with you.  Write down your questions, and get answers.  Get your family and friends on board because you are going to need all the support you can get.  Realize that recovery is hard and you are going to need help doing basic things for awhile. If anyone offers to help you, take them up on it.  Also, prepare mentally that recovery will be hard, but know you are strong enough.  Having a will to survive is critical. There are special things after a transplant that will affect your life (such as being on immune compromising medications) but you will get used to them sooner than you think.  You CAN live a great life once you get past your limitations.  You are receiving the GIFT of life itself, and that alone is worth all of the struggle or lifestyle changes you will be making.  

And finally, what brings you joy?
Being alive.  Hearing other people’s stories.  Showing love to those who need it most.  I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life for a reason, and I try to live my life in a way that would honor my donor and make my giving heart content.

Go read Amanda’s blog, “Crazy Miracle: Amanda's Journey”
and leave a nice comment for her!

If you are living with chronic illness, waiting on a transplant, or have received a transplant, get at me and you could have your face on my blog next month!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Soul Obsessed

Have you heard of SoulCycle?  It's my newest workout obsession. 

I've never been obsessed with working out really.  My idea of a nice relaxing weekend is not running a half marathon, followed by three hours pilatesyogabarre, and drinking ten smoothies made of nothing but kale and flax.  That said, I have kind of an addictive personality. I've been obsessed with Slim Fast and granola, knitting and Mariska Hargitay.  And now...I'm obsessed with an incredibly intense, at times fun (I think), super sweaty, music-video, army-style, costs-my-life-savings spin class.  I try to do it once a week with two of my friends. 

It all started when I was reading Us Magazine over the summer.  I saw a picture of Kim Kardashian leaving a gym with all her make-up on and no sweat beads to be found.  I also saw a picture of Kaley Cuoco wearing nothing but a sports bra, leaving the same gym baring her sculpted ads.  I also saw a picture of David Beckham...being hot...and also leaving the same exact gym.  This "gym" come to find out, was SoulCycle, a boutique gym devoted solely to stationary bike exercising.  It started in New York, made its way to L.A. and this summer, they opened a SoulCycle in D.C. So obviously, I had to take a class.  And, because they say people are more likely to work out regularly if they do it with a buddy, I convinced two of my friends to try it out with me. 

SoulCycle is, essentially, a sweat factory.  There's no way that you can end a class without feeling like you took a warm salt water.  It's so bad, that my eyelashes start sweating.  

It's also an exercise torture factory.  I work out on my own in a gym three to four days a week.  But one thing about SoulCycle is that you have to wear these special shoes that clip into the bikes. Some people say it helps you ride better. I say they're there so that you can't run away when s&*t gets real. First, there's the resistance knob on the bike, which you have to crank up a lot during the class.  Then there's the whole "ride really fast while the resistance is really high" part of the class.  And finally there's the weights section.  After doing SoulCycle for a few weeks I actually look at the weights portion of the class as "sweet sweet saving Sabbath rest." However during my first two classes, the weights section was just the next circle of hell.

I know, I know.  It sounds...terrible.  But somehow, someway, I started to like SoulCycle.  Yes, it's hard. And yes, it's gross at times because of all the sweat.  But I can't deny that it's an awesome workout.  And the instructors seem to put just as much time into improving their SoulCycle leadership skills as they do into making a playlist that almost makes me forget what I'm doing, where I am, or the fact that I can't feel my thighs while we're climbing our imaginary hills in class.  

So that's what I've been up to lately.  Do you work out?  Do you have intentions of working out someday?  I'm not judging.  Just interested.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Living for the Weekend

How are you?

Last week, I came down with whatever bug happens to be going around on the 9th floor of my company’s building.   While successfully failing to make an appointment to have my flu shot taken at my job in a few weeks, the evil known as “intense sinus pain” took over my face.  This happened last Tuesday.  I ended up missing two days of work, finishing season 1 and starting season 2 of The Gilmore Girls, and cleaning my entire apartment (which included washing ALL of our laundry) before enjoying a sweet, relaxing three-day weekend.  

Since Ben and I had Columbus Day off we decided to enjoy one of our favorite activities:  CAMPING!   I love camping with Ben because it’s one of our shared hobbies, something that we decided to take up together.  I mean, sure, I love football now, after almost 10 years of dating.  And yeah, Ben enjoys going to new restaurants and visiting different countries, something he says that he wasn’t that interested in before we started dating.  But camping isn’t something that either of us had to drag the other one to, or preface the situation with the semi-convincing “Trust me! You’ll love it speech!”   We chose camping together, so every time we go I’m assured that we’re both doing it not necessarily to make each other happy (which it does) but because it’s how we want to spend our weekend.    

On the way to our campsite, we stopped at an orchard to pick some apples for a tart that I want to make later this week.  So, yeah, the camping was for US.  And the apple picking was…for me.  It was mostly for me.  

Hope you guys had a great weekend.   Look out for a post this week on my favorite new workout. Yep.   I do that now. I’m into it. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Web Crawlin'

I got some new shoes this week.  Actually, I got TWO pairs of new shoes.  And one pair was free!  #LookatGod.

Here's what showed up on the internet this week: 

Think piece:  How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage

Thinking about making pumpkins this year, even though I never know what to do with them afterward:  Punk Rock Pumpkins 

In case you didn't know, Netflix has all the seasons of Gilmore Girls now: Gilmore Girls Superfan Quiz 

This needs a big pot of chili to go with it:  Fresh Corn Cornbread 

Some books to read. I'm still slugging through The Goldfinch, but when I'm done I'll be sure to check some of these out:  8 Books to Read This Month

Do you have a fall bucket list? My list has 10 things on it, and so far I've done one thing. If you're into this sort of thing and need some tips...Fall To Do List

This event isn't on my list because I go to it every single year.  But if you're in the area:  OKTOBERFEST! 

That's what I'll be doing this Saturday.   Love you all.  See you Monday.

Trying to Devo with a cat on my chest.
Finishing off Danyelle's Birthday Cake.  BTW my baby sister is 20 now. Whoa.

And I saved the raw chicken picture for the end.  But it looks so pretty once it's roasted!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jewel Eats: Homemade Granola

I've never been CRAZY about granola.  I've always said that I can take it or leave it. What is IT anyway?  It gets too soggy to be eaten with milk, so it's not cereal, and most store-bought granola is too sugary and sweet to be eaten on it's own with a side of bacon.  It's not even efficient really.  It takes more time to make granola than it takes to stove-cook a serving of old-fashioned rolled oats.  It's not even incredibly I'm basically talking myself out of giving you this recipe! 

What it IS, in it's most basic form, is rolled oats, some kind of nut, and some kind of sweetener.  Mix it all together, throw it in the oven, and in 20 minutes you have PART of a breakfast.  

I consulted several granola recipes (like this one and this one), before finally settling on this one from Martha Stewart.  I didn't plan ahead to make this granola, so I just tried to find a recipe that used ingredients that I knew I already had in stock in my pantry.  

This recipe uses 1/4 teaspoon of salt.  Since this was my first time making granola, I went ahead and added it in.  The salt does provide a nice contrast to the subtle sweetness without making the granola salty.  You can totally leave it out too, or add less, to make this dish REALLY REALLY low sodium.

Here's my granola before going into the oven.  And...that's all I have to say about this picture.

And there we go!  Finished granola, next to some Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries that I'd thawed, and yes, a tiny extra drizzle of honey for the yogurt. 

Things to know about this recipe:
  • I put this together on a Saturday morning, when I didn't feel like cooking.  Typically I make pancakes from scratch on the weekend.  And trust me, that's not as fancy or complicated as it sounds.  I found a great pancake recipe a while back and since then I haven't bought pancake mix in four years.  As long as you have flour, baking powder and milk in your kitchen you're pretty much set.  But I digress....if you're looking for something you can pretty much mix and bake on a sleepy morning, this granola fits the bill.
  • Two biiiiiiig issues with store-bought granola are 1) the amount of sugar it has per serving; and 2) the amount of sodium it has per serving.  This granola was not super sweet, hence why I added a drizzle of honey, and much lower on the salt content.  And like I said, you can eliminate the salt altogether if you like. 
  • This granola is the perfect amount of crunchy without leaving cuts on the roof of your mouth.
  • It's cheap.  
  • It's healthy.
  • It makes the perfect snack. I stored some in a mason jar and snacked on it in the days after I made it.
So there you go.  Homemade granola.  Give it a try sometime and I promise, you'll never go back buying granola.  If you keep even the basic things (oats, some kind of nut, syrup) in your pantry, you'd be wasting money by purchasing granola at a store.   I'm serious.  Use the money you save from NOT buying granola and pancake mix to go out and eat a meal that seems it actually take some effort to make.