Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Body Knows, Even When You Don't.

Everyone knows that this is a particularly stressful time of year for me.  After 10 years of working in higher education retail the fact that Back-To-School means running around, long, long (Did I say LONG?) hours, little sleep, horrid eating habits, hiring, training and scheduling a host of temp employees and trying to please the world is well known to me and all of mine.  It should big deal right? I am usually pretty good at keeping it in perspective and watching for the light at the end of the tunnel but this time was a little different.  

 I guess that when you add in the major personal issues that I have been dealing with for the last 6 months, moderately freaking out over the diagnosis of 5 discs in my back being in bad shape, and the usual pain and fatigue of living with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia and I was ripe for something to go wrong. And it did- big time.

Late last week I was working as usual when I started to get itchy.  I didn't think anything of it.  I knew I was at least slightly dehydrated because the first thing that goes is subbing back in lots of coffee for water and I could physically see in my skin that I was getting "dry" and I needed to fix that.  As the day went on I started feeling flushed and then cold off and on and somewhat queasy throughout the day.  Toward the end of the day my assistant said something to the effect of "Oh my goodness!  Are you feeling okay?"  I told her that I was feeling flushed and she said "That's probably because your face is all red and it looks like you are breaking out in hives!"  I finished up the online order that I was working on, went to the ladies room and was shocked.  It looked like I had had a major allergic reaction to something.  Instantly my mind raced to figure out what it could have been. The only thing that I had eaten all day was bread products so my mind went to "Oh no!  Not a gluten allergy!"  I went back to the store and my assistant offered to close for me and sent me home.  I stopped for some Children's Bendadryl, went home, took it, and crashed.

I must have scratched all night in my sleep because when I woke up, in addition to the hives I had long, red welts on my shoulders, neck, face, arms, legs and trunk.  I looked like I had been on the losing end of a battle with a cat.  That said, other than looking horrid and itching like crazy- I was no longer feeling nauseated or flushed so off to work I went.  I put in about 8 hours before I finally gave in and called my physician who told me to get to the Urgent Care immediately.

The doctor checked to make sure I wasn't having trouble breathing and then took a look at the mess I was in and told me that in addition to the blatant hives I was showing signs of Dermatographic Urticaria.  Essentially my body was, because of how badly and quickly the histamines kicked in was showing every area that I had scratched in a big way.  He then said that because I was not having problems breathing, his instinct was that this had been caused by stress rather than an allergic reaction.  He sent me off to the pharmacy with an RX for a double dose pack of Prednisone and told me to also get Zyrtec. We are now 7 days in to treatment and the hives are gone but the scratch marks, though fading, are still very evident.

The lesson here is simple.  Even when you think you are handling the challenges in your life- you may not have it as together as you assume.  When you try to push things aside and get caught up in the day to day without really dealing with things- your body knows and will let you know too! 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Few Tips for Prepping for the Rough Days

I have a habit of going on binges where I will stock up on groceries and prep as much as I can for when I am super busy, my energy stores are lower than usual or when I am in a flare.  The latest binge was back on the 28th of July when I stocked up and prepped for the time period we are in now where I am working  7-day work weeks.  Add on the stuff with my back (the recent MRI showed 5 bad discs- two herniated with some leakage and 3 "just" bulging") and as of day before yesterday horrific hives and welts that are most likely stress induced.  I worked a "short" day today- only 7:45-1:30 and when I got home I played with the pups for a bit and then crawled into my bed and slept till 4:30.  When I got up and made my way downstairs I realized that I was hungry but hadn't planned for dinner tonight.  I considered going and getting takeout but I have been doing that FAR too often in the last few months.  I went through the fridge, and cleaned it out in the process, realizing that nothing in there sounded particularly fabulous.  The more I thought about it and mentally flipped through my options I remembered that I have been hankering for a green bean casserole for quite some time now.  I went back to the kitchen to see what I could make to go with one and decided that it was a good day to make a one pan meal.  Thanks to my prep, cooking in my oven right now is a chicken, rice, green bean and mushroom casserole, about 10 minutes before the end I can just top with fried onions.

While it's cooking, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks and a couple of recipes that I use when I do my marathon shopping/preparation sessions.  They allow me to make really tasty semi-homemade dinners that are fast, easy and require minimum effort on the night's I make them.

When shopping, I watch for sales and coupons and stock up on the following:

Birdseye Steamfresh Pure and Simple line of frozen veggies.
Birdseye Steamfresh Pure and Simple Blends line of frozen veggies
Birdseye Recipe Ready line of frozen veggies
Gorton's 20 under 200 (calorie) fish line
Reames Egg Noodles
Mrs. T's Pierogies

5-lb packages of 80/20, 90/10 or 93/7 ground beef (depending on the sale price)
3-5lb packages of ground chicken
3-5lb packages of Sweet Italian Sausage
Yellow Onions

99% fat free versions Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Chicken, Cream of Broccoli soups
Long Grain Rice
Pasta: Spaghetti, Fafalle, Orecceti, Orzo
Steel Cut Oats
Corn tortillas
Shredded cheeses

Tips and Tricks:

  • Buy your ground meats in bulk.  Chop yellow onion and mix with ground meat then cook off.  Cool and divide into recipe size portions. Write the date on freezer bags -so you know when you cooked it off and can rotate.  Place portions in freezer bags, remove air and close tightly, lay bag flat and pat to move meat to evenly cover the surface of the bag.  Place bags on top of one another and lay flat in the freezer.  Once frozen you can move them around the freezer as needed without losing shape.The pre-cooked meats can be used for a myriad of things such as:  

    • Soups
    • Casseroles
    • Nachos (just add taco seasoning when re-heating)
    • Sloppy Joes 
    • Pasta dishes
    • Pita sandwiches

  • Buy Pint Size Ball Canning Jars and wash before using.  Cook up large batches of soup (see recipes below) and ladle hot soup into jars.  Immediately put on lids and screw rings on tightly.  Allow soup to cool slightly to handle the jars safely and then place in freezer.  The heat from the soup will seal the jars for you.  When you want to eat the soup either thaw in the fridge overnight or remove ring and lid and microwave in 30 second increments until you can pour into a pan to cook.  This also work for homemade spaghetti sauce.  

  •  When I want to take frozen soup for lunch, I take it out of the freezer when I am packing my lunch bag.  I put it on paper towels when I get to work and leave it at room temp until lunch time.  I pour into a bowl and heat in the microwave until hot.  

  • I use a modified overnight method for my steel cut oats:  bring four cups of water and your sweetener of choice (I prefer brown sugar or agave nectar) to a boil.  Add 1c Steel Cut Oats and Craisins to taste.  Stir well and remove from heat.  Leave on the stove overnight.  In the morning, toast off chopped walnuts or almonds in stove.  Divide any oatmeal that you aren't eating immediately into serving size plastic containers. Reheat today's portion of oatmeal at medium heat.  Top the portions for later with nuts and put in the fridge. When today's oatmeal is hot, stir in nuts and enjoy! When re-heating the refrigerated portions later- heat in microwave for one minute, stir to incorporate nuts, and heat another minute.  

  • My breakfast for next week is Egg Muffins.  My muffin tins are medium sized so I made 12 and will have two each day.  The recipe I used is from Taste of Home.  My only edits are that I used crumbled bacon instead of sausage, added quite a bit of julienned spinach and mushrooms and used 1c of low fat shredded sharp cheddar.  The original recipe is here:  When they were done, I let them cool and bagged two together in ziploc freezer bags then put those in a gallon sized freezer bag.  I will grab a bag in the morning, take them to work (they will be thawed by the time I get there) and microwave 1 min 30sec.  

Soup Recipes:

My Tortilla Soup: 

1c Chopped Carrots,
1c Chopped Celery, 
1c Chopped Onion
2tbsp oil
5 chicken breasts
8-10 c water
1 four pack of Knorr Homestyle Stock tubs (I use low sodium)
1LG can of corn
5 Roma tomatoes
1 bunch of cilantro
Salt and Pepper to taste
2-3 avocados
corn tortillas
Queso Fresco
Shredded Cheddar (optional)

Cook the celery, carrots and onions in the oil until the onions are translucent. Add the chicken breasts, salt, pepper and water (I started with half the water and added the rest later) and cook until the breasts are completely cooked and tender. Remove the breasts to cool.
Add in the Knorr Stock and "melt" then add the remaining water and corn. Chop the tomatoes and cilantro. Shred the chicken by pulling apart with two forks. Add back into soup and bring back to simmer. Add the tomatoes and cilantro and bring just to a low boil.   ***This is the point where I freeze the soup****

To serve: 

Cut the tortillas into thin strips and fry until crisp. Cube the avocado. Crumble the queso fresco.

In the bottom of the bowl, put as little or as much queso fresco/shredded cheddar and cubed avocado as you like. Ladle the heated soup over top and wait 2-3 minutes for avocado to heat and cheese to become melty. Top with tortillas and enjoy!

*** I get tortilla soup at a local restaurant a LOT and always have to bring half home. If you refrigerate it overnight, the tortillas become like noodles. Still yummy!

Kale Soup: 

1 1/2 cups onions
1/2 lb bacon 
1 lb sweet italian sausage 
8 c water
3 -4 minced garlic cloves
1 four-pack of Knorr Homestyle stock base
1 large bunch of Kale chopped into bite size pieces
3 -4 cups cauliflower (cut up in small pieces) ***
1 1/2 cups half and half


Fry bacon in a medium/large size skillet; drain fat, put on plate and let cool.
In the same skillet cook the sausage (or reheat your pre-cooked bags) and set aside.

In a large soup/stew pot use a little of the bacon grease to cook onions until tender and clear. Add in garlic and cook for a minute. Add water and bring to a boil then add stock base (it needs to be hot to melt stock base)

Tear bacon into small pieces and add to pot along with sausage and cauliflower***
Cook for 15 minutes until cauliflower is tender. Add kale and cook until wilted
Add half and half and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

***Notes: This is the low carb version. In regular Kale Soup you would use diced potatoes in place of the cauliflower. When freezing this I do not add the half and half until I heat it up and it's almost ready and if I am taking it to work, I don't bother with the half and half- it's equally good without it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Doing a Little Something Fun for Myself

With everything that has been going on in my life; expanding health issues, marital issues, work craziness, I have been in a bit of a funk.  I am still upright and dealing with everything.  Not always in the best way, but I am making it through and for that I can be grateful, but it's been a long, slow slide down the slope and I didn't even see that it was happening until I found myself apologizing a few times about being bitchy.  I heard myself and realized that it was time to find a way to snap out of it. I read this quote a month or so ago and I decided that it was time to step out of my comfort zone and do something fun just for me.

"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."

M. Scott Peck

  If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE Halloween.  It's my favorite holiday and I truly have more fun with Halloween than I do with Christmas.  I love the costumes, I love the crisp Fall air, I love the ghost stories and the pumpkins and cider.  I also love Haunted Houses; not because I get scared but because I love watching other people go through them and watching THEM get scared and enjoying every minute of being scared.  Last season when my best friend flew in for her annual visit, she, my husband and I decided to do a tour of haunted houses.  The intention was to hit the trifecta of haunted houses that are located in reportedly truly haunted locations in my area~ The Culbertson Mansion, the Baxter Avenue Morgue and Waverly Hills Sanatorium.     We have done Waverly several times including the annual fundraising haunted house, the two hour guided tour and the half-night ghost hunting tour.  We had never been to Culbertson or Baxter Ave so we were really looking forward to them.  My friend is one of those people that I love to watch in a haunted house because though she will clutch you the whole way through, she has a ball being scared.  So off we went and we had a good time but the best of the best was the Baxter Avenue Morgue.  We went on a quiet Thursday night so we were visiting with the security outside and mentioned where my friend was from and what our mission was for this tour.  He then mentioned it to someone inside and they truly went out of their way to "target" her and give her some thrills.  After the tour, a couple of cast members spent time with us outside telling us of their experiences both with the haunted house and with the paranormal side of the building.

We appreciated their time and the way that they went out of their way so much that when I began to think about what I wanted to do to "break out", and when I would be able to commit to something, one of the things I decided to do was to audition for this season's Morgue cast.  I went down to the open casting a couple of weekends ago and talked to the casting directors and I was lucky enough to be cast! Last weekend I went to the call-backs where we met the other volunteers and learned our way around and through the location as well as how things will work. This season (beginning the weekend of September 6th and running through the first weekend in November) I will be down there on weekends, hopefully offering thrills and chills to the masses.  I am pretty darned excited.  The seasoned veterans of the were very welcoming and made it a point to drive home that it's very much a family atmosphere among the cast and crew and you could see it in the way they interacted.  That's a good thing because I have found that I have become very introverted in the last few years and this will drive me out of the house and "force" me to make new friends.  This is an important step because I have been very content spending my free time at home just hanging out with my puppies and not really putting myself out there~ and we all know that too much of that can lead to a self-imposed isolation.  It's also getting my creative juices flowing as I develop a background sketch for my character. This will help me on my next writing venture.  

So this year, if you are in the Louisville area, stop down at The Baxter Avenue Morgue.  Great deals for tickets can be found at Circle K gas stations as well as some Penn Station sub locations. You just might run into this chick during your visit!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

I Choose to be Happy

"When you’re Happy for No Reason, you bring happiness to your outer experiences rather than trying to extract happiness from them. You don’t need to manipulate the world around you to try to make yourself happy. You live from happiness, rather than for happiness.”  
Marci Shimoff

Yesterday was a long day.  I was scheduled to go into work at 11 but due to scheduled interviews and other pressing issues, I had to go in at 8 am instead. That made for another 11 hour day.  I had my pedometer on and clocked in at 9344 steps. Not the recommended 10,000 but close and I did it with an ache spreading across my back like a squeezing vice.  The acupuncture is helping a little, but we are at about 3 days of relief before it amps back up.  By 3 pm, I caught myself being very, very cranky.  Fortunately only a couple of people had to deal with me because I was REALLY snarky for a bit.  I came home, walked the pups, made myself a BLT (hold the L) on 12 grain and baked some fries then sat with my heating pad until time for bed.  

Today is the first day of training for my temporary staff for the semester.  What that means is that I conducting the "classroom" session with them for about 4 hours.  With my lower back still hurting a lot, being on my feet  for 4.5 hours will be a challenge.  I get to repeat this 4 times this week.  Two days of classroom/ sales floor work and two days of video training for the 7-8 people we have already hired, topped with two more interviews and potential training for those folks too.  Oh- and there's my regular work too.  We are at a stage where school starts in 3 weeks.  That means that there's no time to take it easy, no time to indulge the pain, no rest for the wicked.  I can feel my irritation rising just thinking about my schedule between now and Labor Day.  

It would be so easy to give in to the pain and fatigue and allow myself to become both snappish and oversensitive.  If I did that I would end up trying to reign myself in all day in front of the staff and customers and then coming home and stewing until it had an effect on my sleep.  I have been there, done that more than I care to admit.  I could see the trend beginning yesterday. Toward the end of the day it was almost as if I was standing outside myself and couldn't stop the words even though I wanted to give myself a shake.   This time, because I was able to truly see how grouchy I was becoming, I choose to nip it in the bud.  

This time I will try to project happiness.  As Marci Shimoff said in the quote above I don't need to manipulate the world around me to try and make myself happy- I merely need to live from a place of happiness to be happy.  Yes, the pain ebbs and flows like the surf in a storm.  Yes, I have personal issues that need to be resolved so that I can move in one direction or another.  Yes, I am both physically and mentally exhausted.  The thing is- none of those things are going to change any time soon.  I can let them drag me down or I can choose to set them aside for the time being and just allow myself to be happy in the moment.  To that end, here is the 3-part plan:  

1-  Every time I feel my stress level rising I will literally stop, take a moment in my office and breathe through it until I am back to level.  

2-  I will make sure that I stretch out every morning to get my muscles and joints ready for the long day ahead.  I have downloaded a yoga app that looks to be a good way to get the kinks out in the morning.  I will also stretch again on my breaks using the simple stretches that my Chiropractor gave me to keep the tightness at bay as much as possible.  

3- I will make time to practice gratitude in the moment.  Even the most difficult situation has a silver lining somewhere.  When I find myself  in the midst of one, if I can't find that thing to be grateful about right then; I can jot myself a note for when we are slow and just let it go.  I can then take that time to review the situation and identify that one little nugget that I can be thankful for rather than let the problem sit in my brain and fester all day.  

That's it, simple and to the point.  It's all about changing my attitude when I recognize that I am becoming overwhelmed by the negative and  releasing it for the positive.  

On a side note- I am honored to have this blog chosen as one of the Top 20 Rheumatoid Arthritis blogs of 2015 by  I cannot tell you what it means to me!  Thanks to the folks of Healthline because that is something that I can think about when the going gets rough! 

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