Sunday, September 17, 2017

AIP and Me: Day 17

Here we are, over halfway through the month of AIP!

I sit here writing this as my husband eats a giant sub from Jersey Mikes- bread, tomatoes, deli meat, banana peppers, soda. Am I shooting daggers at his back with my eyes? Am I planning a way to accidentally knock his sandwich to the floor so Nash can gobble it up? Nope! I'm doing OK! (But someday, I will eat sandwiches. As God as my witness, I WILL EAT SANDWICHES!)

"So, what can you eat?" Is the question I get asked a lot. Kudos to my sister Danielle and husband Zack who have pretty much memorized all the things I can and can't eat! One night Zack complained he was confused about what I could eat- so I started naming every food I could think of and asking him if it was a "Yes" or "No" food and after that he was good to go. Two things that are not a good idea with AIP: Me asking someone "well what should I eat?"- that's just asking to get unfairly irritated with them for not inherently knowing what you can and can't have. And even worse, when other people ask you what THEY should eat. Don't ask me what kind of bread to get. Don't ask me what type of fast food you should have for dinner. And whatever you do, don't stare at my pantry for 10 minutes and say there's nothing for you to snack on. I literally have one third of one shelf in that pantry of food I can eat and it's mostly ingredients! Go away!

I've still felt great the past 11 days since I posted last. No stomach aches or headaches, I'm sleeping great, and not feeling "foggy-headed" during the day (which a is a trademark of thyroid issues). I've also lost about 7 lbs which is not too shabby for 17 days.

 Last week I purchased tigernut flour, arrowroot starch, and coconut flour to try my hand at baking. Tigernut flour is NOT a nut, it is actually a ground up tuber. I've been able to make some banana pancakes, a tigernut flour waffle, banana-blueberry breakfast muffins, and some kind of weird crumbly dinner rolls. Also, have you ever had 100% pure maple syrup? I bought some and I had no idea how delicious it was- and how strange normal maple syrup is in comparison. And let me tell you about coconut aminos- it is a no-soy replacement of soy sauce made from aged coconut tree sap and see salt and it is wonderful!

Then there was the night I spent a couple hours making butternut squash soup that was a total bust but I forced it down for the sake of the nutrients. The hard part of this is that even when I don't like how a recipe turns out I kind of have to eat it anyway because my options are so limited.

Fruit and I still have a love/hate relationship. I love to eat fruit and it is definitely an AIP approved snack but fruit is naturally full of sugar and too much of that in one day is not good. I've tried to find some non-fruit snack items and have had little success. Another issue is the time it takes to prepare food. The other day, for example, I was rushing to a meeting at ASU and there was no time to prepare anything for lunch-usually making lunch involves defrosting, sauteing, mixing, chopping and other kinds of work. Rather than run late I ended up just eating an avocado- which did hold me over until about 7 o'clock when I was starving. Once you get to the point where you are that hungry, it is incredibly easy to talk yourself into cheating. The major thing that keeps me from cheating, however, is knowing that suddenly introducing food would probably make me feel all kinds of sick.

The other day I went to my sister's house for family dinner and they were eating the most delicious beans and tortillas and I literally had to just go home before I broke and shoved a tortilla in my mouth. Tonight I ate at my parents' house and brought my own side dish (sauteed zucchini) and ate a steak my dad grilled while everyone else had steak, bread, potatoes and corn. It's hit or miss with eating around other people- sometimes I can but if it's truly delectable food (like Carolina's beans and tortillas!) I just have to acknowledge my lack of willpower.

Since I am getting ready to go to Indonesia sooner than later, I've started to think about my re-introduction phase. Originally I wanted to follow the first part of the protocol for 6 weeks but I think I can only do 4 weeks with my time constraints. I'm a little nervous about how I will react to some things I introduce, but there's a lot of good reading out there from people who have done it. If I have a reaction to a food I reintroduce, I need to carefully log my symptoms and make a decision of if the food is something I need to eliminate entirely or just limit. The main things I have to re-introduce are:

Cow's milk, cow's cheese, chicken eggs, bell peppers, chilies, peanuts, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, coffee.

I do not plan on having soy in my diet at all if I can help it. Processed foods and sugar-filled items will probably always be limited for me (and really should be limited for everyone!) I am prepared to feel some symptoms with trying out gluten (it's pretty common with thyroid disorders) but my sister Mindy knows all the good GF foods and restaurants and makes being gluten free seem pretty easy (and tasty) since she has a gluten intolerance. I've had eggs my entire life so I really, truly hope I am not sensitive to them! The only thing I have "cheated" with is potato products and I had a stomach ache immediately after so I do not anticipate eating lots of 'taters in my future.

Busy, busy: I have seriously slacked off when it came to working out and only ran a few miles this week. I know that working out makes me feel better and more energized and will help with weight loss, but it also makes me more hungry and there's just not a lot out there to eat! On the other hand, I have been super productive with my work. My focus right now is getting together all of the materials for my research visa to Indonesia, editing my dissertation prospectus, and submitting my project to the IRB for approval. Coming up I have to take a little road trip to LA to visit the Indonesian consulate and I am hoping to visit some friends in SoCal along the way home.

13 days left! I am hoping to see even more improvements! Thanks for supporting me!

Cottage pie- with my new love, mashed sweet potato

Banana "pancakes"

Blueberry-banana breakfast muffins

Spaghetti squash chow mein

Ginger glazed chicken wings

*All the recipes I've made can be found on my Pinterest page under the "Thyroid" board!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

AIP and Me: Day 6

6 days without coffee. Please send help.

You're still here? You're not putting in an online order at Starbucks for me? Fine, I guess I'll continue.

I started the AIP 6 days ago, on a Friday. I've learned a lot the past six days and some things have gotten easier while other things have gotten more difficult. On Saturday at my sister's birthday dinner,  I caved and suddenly shoved a piece of spice cake into my mouth. My family stared at me, shocked. That was my only AIP "mistake" so far- I now have better self control! Honestly I realize now that I am under tremendous stress and that night it just got to me and I reacted.

I've been to Sprouts twice- first to get meats, vegetables, and fruit, and a second time when I realized I NEEDED some non-refrigerated snack food that wasn't fruit. After some research I was able to get some sweet potato chips, plantain chips, chamomile tea, and beef jerky. That second visit Zack and I scoured the aisles reading ingredients. Do you have any idea how many healthy foods use brown rice syrup? It's a lot- and that makes it not AIP friendly.

So far I've had one experience eating out and it was not good. I read about someone who did the AIP and they said they stayed away from restaurants for an entire year because it was so depressing to go there. My sisters and I went to Sweet Tomatoes and I made a great salad- romaine with cucumbers, carrots, olives, zucchini and balsamic vinegar- then I went to the rest of the food offerings and stood there looking at everything and realizing I couldn't eat any of it. I did end up finding a sweet potato which helped a little. Tonight I am going to the Alamo Drafthouse, a movie theater that serves dinner, and I've already looked at the menu and thought about my complicated order.

Now on to the recipes- successes and failures. I made the AIP breakfast "oatmeal" that used banana and spagetti squash. The taste wasn't too bad but it was still distinctly spagetti squash at 8 in the morning. I've settled on warming up a banana and some coconut butter in the microwave and mashing the banana and sprinkling it with cinnamon- it makes a great breakfast and it is filling. I tried to make an AIP ranch dressing with coconut milk and it was absolutely awful. Dinners have been the easiest because I've stuck to meat/poultry/fish and an allowed vegetable. For example, one night we had asparagus and sirloin steak, and another we had turkey cutlets with roasted carrot and onion and a lovely mashed cauliflower that only required cauliflower and garlic (it actually tasted better than the mashed cauliflower I used to make with three types of cheese and cream!).

Another obstacle is being around people NOT doing the AIP (which is every one in the world I know). Zack asked me about four times the other day at the store if I wanted a soda. I did not yell curses at him but I politely reminded him that was not an option. Then he sent me a helpful video depicting different designs you can make in pie crusts for the holidays- not appreciated. When he has come with me to shop I send him off on his own to get groceries for his breakfasts and lunches and that works just fine for us.

Right now our pantry is kind of sad and looks like this:

Everything I CAN eat is circled in blue. This includes most spices and herbs as long as they aren't from nuts, seeds or peppers. There's a larger circle for all of my snacks and some ingredients like dried coconut. And a butternut squash.

And our fridge:

Here I have a lot more options. Coconut butter, coconut milk, garlic, basil, lemon juice. Meat and poulty and vegetables (cucumber, zucchini, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower) and fruit (raspberries, apples, strawberries, grapes). The bottom drawer has Zack's tomatoes so I know to stay away from there (tomatoes are nightshade vegetables).

I've definitely had some reactions to removing dairy, grain, seeds, nuts, and nightshades from my diet.  On Saturday I was hit with a tremendous headache that lasted about eight hours. Part of the AIP is no NSAIDS or so I tried Himalayan salt, ice pack, diffused lavender, a warm bath, turned off lights, eating, hydrating, and nothing worked. At around 10 I took two tylenol (which usually doesn't help but all of my efforts plus meds cured me). Now I'm on my third persistent headache and I realize it is occurring because my body is detoxing and is wondering where the hell all of the much loved carbs, caffeine and sugar are. On a positive note, I am finally sleeping through the night and sleeping deeply (with an over the counter sleep aid).  I've even fallen asleep before Zack the past couple days!  The first two days I was on AIP I napped in the afternoon because I was tremendously tired but ever since then I haven't felt the need to nap. You may remember from my previous post that I take a sleep aid and still only get about 5 hours of heavily interrupted sleep so this is a great improvement. I have had no stomach issues at all and my energy has been great. I've still been able to work out the same amount which is suprising because I thought eating such a low-protein breakfast would have made my runs more difficult. I've also lost about 5lbs since the beginning AIP. Although losing the weight isn't the goal of all of this, many people report they are way less bloated almost right away as their bodies become less inflamed. My focus is wavering mainly because of stress, headache, and craving food I can't have. My skin is also getting clearer; before I started this I was uncharacteristically breaking out but that is on the mend.

There are a few things I need to work on as this time continues. First, I am trying to cut back on how much I eat apples and bananas. They are an easy fix and there's a lot I can do with them but I'm definitely eating much more fruit than I usually do. I also need better lunch recipes. I haven't found a good substitute beverage for my morning coffee.

In other news, my endocrinologist let me know that the nodule on the left side of my thyroid is not cancerous! He is just going to monitor me every three months from now on and my PCP is going to remain in charge of my thyroid meds. I am interested to see if in six weeks (when I next do bloodwork for my PCP) my medication dose needs to be lowered.

So far, so good! I really hope I can keep going for at least six weeks. I've already read a lot about the reintroduction phase and it seems pretty difficult. Right now I am getting ready to go to Indonesia for a couple months so I have a few concerns. When I'm there I don't have at on of control over the ingredients in my food and I know I need to at least be through my reintroduction phase by the time I go so I have more food options.

Thanks for keeping track with me!

Some AIP meal photos:

Avocado tuna salad on apple slices

Spaghetti Squash "oatmeal"

Roasted turkey cutlets with carrot, onion, and garlic mashed cauliflower

Chicken salad with "avocado mayo" on salad

Roasted broccoli and chicken thigh

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

AIP and Me

It's been a while...

We moved into our new house. Zack started his new job. I wrote my dissertation prospectus. I'm planning my research trip to Indonesia. I see my little nephews often. Nash is miraculously healthy and no longer has allergies. I adapted to running on a treadmill instead of a trail. And so on and so forth...But this post isn't about any of that!

As I probably mentioned a couple years ago, I have an underactive thyroid. I was diagnosed with it when I was 22 and just married in 2010. What tipped me off was that I was constantly cold (Zack used to find me bundled up in the middle of summer and one time even wrapped me up in his below zero military issued blanket!), I was extremely fatigued and I gained weight no matter how much I worked out or what I ate. Several family members have an underactive thyroid so it was simple for our family doctor to do some blood tests and put me on medication. In 2013, when I returned from Indonesia, I was tired of my symptoms never improving so I changed to another doctor. She immediately referred me to an endocrinologist who took one feel of my neck and could tell I had masses on my thyroid. I was scheduled for an ultrasound, blood tests and a thyroid biopsy right away.

That October I had a thyroid biopsy on the nodule on the left side of my thyroid. In case you didn't know, you have something called a thyroid in your neck. It is an endocrine gland that secretes hormones that influence your metabolism. Having an underactive thyroid could mean that you are cold, have hair loss, fatigued, and have difficulty losing weight because of a wicked slow metabolism. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, is incredibly common especially in women. I didn't look too much into the biopsy process before it happened but- OUCH- it was not my favorite experience. The pain caught me by surprise so it ended up being a little traumatic. After a month the results came back and the larger mass on my left side was benign, meaning I did not have thyroid cancer or anything else. I was 26 at the time.

After that I moved to California and was under the care of Navy medicine which was severely lacking. I could only get a thyroid blood panel done when I absolutely insisted- otherwise, the staff there was only too happy to keep prescribing me a thyroid replacement (Synthroid) and send me on my way, constantly upping the dosage over the four years there. One of the reasons I was so happy to move back to Arizona was the chance to have personalized, thorough health care again. My symptoms had still not gotten any better and some new symptoms of low thyroid levels (which my medication was supposed to balance out) were appearing. Returning to my favorite docter in Arizona resulted in another referral to my endocrinologist. After doing a thyroid ultrasound and a lot of blood work, I finally had an answer!

Instead of just having a faulty, underperforming thyroid it turns out I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis! Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease where your body thinks your thyroid is the enemy and you constantly are releasing antibodies to fight your thyroid. This ends up destroying thyroid tissue over time and making your thyroid underactive. Additionally, since the left nodule on my thyroid was still very present and obvious to my endocrinologist, I was scheduled for another biopsy. I was so nervous for this biopsy because I knew how painful it could be- but it actually wasn't that bad! I was very sore for about two days after but you would never have known I had my neck poked up with needles! Currently I am waiting for results on that biopsy. However, do not be too concerned: 90% of thyroid biopsies have good results, meaning the mass tested is benign (cancer free). For the 10% of thyroids that do have malignant masses, treatment is overwhelmingly affective and in most cases all that needs to be done is to take out the thyroid. My father actually had cancer in one side of his thyroid and he is now happily and healthily living with just half a thyroid and he even takes a lower dose of thyroid replacement medication than I do!

As I wait for my results, Zack and I have done a lot of research on Hashimoto's. It is not curable (it's chronic but not life-threatening) but the progress of it can be slowed. I've learned a lot about autoimmune disorders (my diagnosis of Hashimoto's is the third autoimmune disorder present in my immediate family!) and ways to heal yourself in addition to the medication I've been prescribed (and that dose of Synthroid just keeps going up...and up...and up!) There are a few factors that deeply influence how your body releases antibodies to combat your thyroid:

Stress: Anyone who has ever met me knows I am incredibly stressed out. I don't mind it most of the time- the pressure helps me get things done. I've begun meditating and taking weekly yoga classes which have helped a great deal. Taking a break from work by spending a little time with my nephews every other day is very therapeutic. I still have anxiety attacks (I've had those since I was in college) and am taking medication for them but I hope to be able to wean off of those soon. Zack works a high-stress job so we are both learning how to handle stress in new ways. And, let's face it- this country and what it is going through (as well as what is happening all over the world) is damn stressful. I'm working on ways to not let these things affect my health and finding ways to contribute to the efforts to heal this country and world. In sum- I need to chill out. We'll see how that goes.

Lack of sleep: I've had a lot of issues sleeping for probably the past two years. I started taking melatonin to help me get to sleep and have graduated to over the counter sleep aids. I constantly wake up at the "witching hour" of 3:30 in the morning for no identifiable reason and have difficulty getting back to sleep. When my thyroid perscription dose isn't quite right I find myself falling asleep during the day at random times (as a result I'm a terrible car passenger. On the other hand, my dogs love when I join in on nap time.)

Gut inflammation: Do you ever see those probiotic commercials that talk about how so much of our immune system is in our gut? Well gut inflammation can cause a leaky gut which messes with our immune system and can result in Hashimoto's.

I'm learning now how to heal this gut inflammation. It has a lot to do with what I eat! For the past few months I have been following a ketogenic food plan which entails extremely limiting carbs (still embracing a lot of veggies) and not being afraid to eat fat. This also means cutting out as much processed food and SUGAR as possible. I've felt pretty great with this so far but my doctor has discussed with me that many thyroid patients have to avoid three things: Gluten, soy, and dairy. Since I have limited carbs, gluten isn't a major concern (all gluten are carbs but not all carbs have gluten)- except now I get to be one of those seemingly trendy gluten-free people that get all the eyerolls at restaurants. Cutting out soy? Ok, I can handle that- as long as I'm not in Indonesia. I guess I'll be avoiding the tempeh when I go back! Also, my dreams of going back to vegetarianism or even trying veganism have been crushed- every person I know know who follows those lifestyles enjoy soy for protein and that's just not in the cards for me. But dairy? DAIRY? Milk? Cheese? Sour cream? Cream cheese? This cuts me to the quick. Saying goodbye to dairy even temporarily will require major effort. For this I will definitely turn to my vegan friends for recommendations for dairy substitutes.

I am also now aware of all of the supplements that could help me feel better. I already took a multi-vitamin and probiotic but now am also taking a a thyroid complex of B vitamins, selenium, zinc and other good things.

The strongest weapon in this arsenal of Synthroid, food avoidances, stress reducers, and supplements is the Autoimmune Protocol. This involves temporarily limiting your food to only unprocessed meats,  vegetables, fruits and herbs that are non-inflammatory. Here is what that looks like:

*Nightshade vegetables are yummy things like tomatoes, eggplant and all peppers.

Basically you eliminate all of the food on the do not eat list for one to two months. Then, slowly, you reintroduce items and take note of what foods you react to. The idea behind this is to allow your gut some time to heal or "cool down" from inflammation. Then you can figure out which foods, one by one, do not make you feel like crap or do and then you decide if it is worth it to avoid the food that makes you feel bad forever. If you told me "Sorry, Bethany, but you can't eat cheese ever again but as a bonus you will feel GREAT!" then I'd be sad and (maybe eat a hunk of gouda one last time) but then I'd totally avoid cheese for-ev-er. No delicious food is worth my body hurting itself! I'm 30 years old and I've been on a thyroid medication for 8 years, have had two thyroid biopsies and now have an autoimmune disorder- it's time to get serious!

Zack, bless his heart, is all on board with this. He is willing to do the AIP with me but I am only letting him eat the same dinners as me (since I am the chief cook in the household). He gets to eat his same breakfast, lunches and snacks and I'll just...have him camouflage them somehow in the pantry and refrigerator.

I am starting the AIP on September 1st. I will buy as much as possible from the list (except offal- if you know what that you'll understand) and figure out a way to convince myself that veggies and meat are a suitable breakfast (and lunch...and dinner). I have heard a lot of reviews about this plan- some people felt so hungry all of the time they couldn't handle it. Some people were creative with their cooking and ate plenty! Some people even reported feeling improvement after the FIRST WEEK!

One of the reasons I wanted to blog about this process was to help keep me accountable. Even cheating once during this month (or two, I haven't decided) of elimination would take me completely off track. So be kind inyour dinner invites and whatever you do don't offer me coffee until at least November...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

California Dreamin'

When I decided to go to college in California, one of my sisters changed the ringtone for her phone so it played "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas when I called. That song has been playing in my head for the past few weeks because I'm feeling a little sad to be leaving the dream.

The day after Zack came home from his deployment he rather serendipitously got an offer to return to Arizona for work for the next few years. We were so suprised because living back home near family was something we did not think was possible until after Zack's retirement. Over the past year there's been a lot of changes and preparation for our move home:

-Zack went back to recruiting school (round 2) so he lived there during the week and we saw each other on weekends.
-We started to build an amazing house and had a lot of fun picking out all of the little details.
-In the middle of the night on October 30th, some unknown persons snuck into our building site and BURNED DOWN OUR HOUSE one month before it was going to be finished. It was a complete loss.
-I finished my comprehensive exams which was a grueling process that had been filling me with anxiety for months and finally culminated with me writing and defending three awesome papers based on a huge booklist. Shout out to Zack for being amazing during all of it!
-Our house was torn down and the process of building it started from scratch.
-Zack and I went through all of our belongings and had a big garage sale and then donated a ton of stuff. Since we've moved 4 times in 7 years we've kept a lot of things in an effort to make each house more homey and familiar so it was time to purge a lot!

In the spring of 2013 when we first found out we were moving to San Diego County we were a little disappointed. However, I knew we just had to make the best of it- and we really have. Zack had to move all of our belongings and Nash (Risa wasn't born yet) to Camp Pendleton while I was in Indonesia for the summer. We'd been married a little over three years and when I returned from Indonesia I joined him- neither of us knew anyone, I was even afraid to drive on base at first or on the California freeways and it didn't matter much because we didn't have anywhere to go!

When we were living in Arizona, before this, Zack was working a high stress, time-consuming job, I was finishing my last classes for my PhD (ending the first phase of a long process), we were busy leading Young Life and doing related activities several nights a week (which was a blessing) and I was teaching. We had so many people and things and activities in our life our fuses were often very short with each other. There were a lot of great things in our life but something still just felt missing.

I tell everyone now that moving was the best thing we have done for our family. The past four years have been so amazing. I can really say that our marriage has become something so awesome! There was no magic trick to it- we just ONLY had each other to rely on, we ONLY had to focus on us, and we entered a completely new phase of our relationship.

In our time here we've discovered a lot. We experimented with vegetarianism for a year and found all kinds of new foods and cooking techniques. We started hiking and have gone on trails all over base and off base almost every weekend. We adopted our second dog, Risa, who has brought us a ton of joy. We've explored the area and spent a lot of time in Temecula, San Diego, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Escondido, Vista, La Jolla, Del Mar, and Fallbrook. We found a great church and became involved with a growth group and the military ministry which gave us some amazing friends. We've made lifelong friends in our neighborhood. The two of us have read dozens of books together and spent a lot of time together with devotionals. We've done projects like upcycling a bookcase, filing cabinet, dresser, and china cabinet. We marched with thousands of women in men in support of women's rights in San Diego. We gardened and grew vegetables and flowers. We've hosted countless friends and family over the past few years and given them a little glimpse into our sweet life here.

When we found out we could move back to Arizona and be close to family and friends we were excited but also nervous. We don't want to lose the beauty of what we have here so there's been a lot of deep conversations about how to keep our little family strong in changing circumstances. Moving home brings a lot of joy but also big changes- a return to that high stress job for Zack, a trip back to Indonesia for me and the writing of my dissertation.

Risa won't have all of the beautiful hills to gaze out at during the day like she likes- instead she'll have a beautiful back yard with a big cinderblock wall. No more having to FaceTime our baby nephews just to see them- we will get to be there to help them grow up. We won't have to be worried about rattlesnakes but we will have to look out for scorpions. We won't live in a neighborhood where Welcome Home banners are the norm and you can ask anyone for a cup of sugar or help with something. For most of the year we will have to walk the dogs early in the morning or late at night- no more midday walks, runs and hikes. No more Zack coming home at 4:30, in time to play with the dogs and help cook dinner. No more seeing flames on the hills behind our house and waiting for the evacuation siren. No more deployments- for now. No more scrambling to find my military ID and waiting in lines just to get onto base. No more ridiculously loud artillery noises that make Nash have to take Prozac and sometimes hide in our bathtub. Even little things like being so close to grocery stores and movie theaters will be a big change for us since we have lived pretty far out!

So I guess when we move next week it will be all about balance- remembering these great years here and taking with us what we can. Finding the joy in all the things we have back in Arizona- our family and old friends- and making time for just each other.

California, we'll miss you, and thank you for your role in making our little Jenner family what it has become.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In hopes that writing this will unburden me.

I'm writing this tonight because I have to get it out of me so I stop reliving it in my head. I need God to take this from me.

Has anyone ever asked you what the worst moment of your life was?

Yesterday, if you asked me, I would have had to really think about it. Weigh my options. I'd wonder- was that one moment bad enough? Did I even have a stand-out terrible moment?

Ask me that question now. I will answer you easily.

Today, November 16, my mother and I thought about getting pedicures. I could go visit Danielle, Gerald, and Baby Beau at the hospital afterward, I thought. Beau had his second heart surgery yesterday- at 8 months, he had the Glenn procedure. He was extubated and sleeping and medicated and recovering. We had high hopes this would be an easier and shorter recovery than his last stay this past summer. I looked up the number for our favorite nail salon but when my mother called no one answered. She called five times and no one answered. This had never happened before in all the years we had gone there, but I quickly realized there would be no pedicure today so I took my mom's car to the hospital early. I brought some of my mom's soup and some pretzels for Danielle to have in the room.

When I saw Beau he looked like such a big boy in that hospital crib. He had cannulas in his nose to give him oxygen and the mucus in his chest was making him breathe like a little boy with a very bad cold. His mouth was slightly open and his arms were propped up by beanie babies from the hospital. I took a picture of him and posted on Instagram how well he was doing.

I chit-chatted with Danielle and Gerald and laughed at the Friends episode on TV. After about half an hour, Beau's previously high heart rate lowered and suddenly his breathing stopped sounding so congested. For some reason he was breathing better which we took as a sign that he would wake up soon. This was Gerald's cue to run home and take care of some things so he could be back for the night before Beau woke up. Beau had been asleep since 8:30am because of the sedation.

Danielle and I were talking and the respiratory therapist came in to change Beau's oxygen to high flow to be more comfortable. The two amazing nurses were hovering over Beau, checking his lines. And then we heard the tiniest sound- we thought Beau was finally waking up. Danielle got up immediately and went to his crib. And then his monitor started making noise, meaning his vitals were going down. Danielle looked at him and the monitor, and looked at me, and we didn't understand.

What happened next- I would swear to you it was fifteen minutes, maybe twenty- but the nurses and doctors know it was only about two.

One of the nurses said Beau had no air flow.

The next nurse said there was no pulse.

And then they called a code.

The bells and tones on the monitors were going crazy because there was no heartbeat. At least ten highly trained medical professionals rushed the room, working in tandem that in retrospect I can appreciate as beautifully efficient and entirely impressive. Some were saying stats, some were writing, others handing supplies and checking lines and monitors. And then the nurse was placing her hands over this beautiful boy's heart and performing chest compressions.

It's been hours and I can't stop seeing his little baby body move with the compressions.

My sister, my beautiful big sister was sobbing, hysterical. The chaplain rushed in and put her arms around us. I dropped my phone four times and pressed so many wrong buttons before I could get to Gerald- only able to tell him "There's no pulse" before he said he'd be here. I called my parents- who were home watching Shrek and painting with my five year old nephew Lane, and all I could say was that they lost the pulse and my mother said they were on the way.

The chaplain's mouth was moving and she was praying. I said the Our Father so many times in rapid succession. I asked God not to do this. My sister said she couldn't feel her hands so I rubbed her arms.

For so long I heard Danielle's sobs and my prayers and I have no idea what the doctors were saying but I saw Beau move under those compressions. They bagged him and breathed for him.

And then, he had a blood pressure. And his heart was back.

A doctor asked us if we could wait in the quiet room and assured us Beau was alive. His heart was beating.

We moved to the quiet room with the chaplain and a nurse came and reassured us that the best doctors and nurses were with Beau but even she was wiping away tears. My sister kept repeating that this couldn't be happening, not her little boy, and how he had just been fine. Gerald came in and I moved so he could embrace her and I don't know how but he was so strong for her and reassured her that he was breathing and his heart was beating and he was alive.

Every five minutes the nurse would return and let us know what was happening. His heart was beating. He had blood pressure. They put a CPAP on him briefly to breathe for him. Then they moved to a ventilation mask to give him more air to expand his chest. Then they realized he could breathe on his own but not well enough given his congestion. They decided to intubate and sedate him. But he was OK- Beau was alive. The surgeon came in and explained that his heart was doing well but the build up of secretions had caused him not to breathe and his heart rate to go so low that they lost his pulse. This CHD baby with two surgeries under his belt, with a useless right ventricle and a recently sewn up VSD had a strong heart, stronger than the mucus, secretions and buildup that had taken his breath.

After this my parents came and then my two other sisters, my other brother-in-law and two other little nephews. We waited in the quiet room, entertaining the kids and talking and retelling what had happened. My sister didn't cry anymore. I don't know how long passed, but eventually Danielle and Gerald could go see him. And then my parents saw him, my sister and brother, and lastly me and my oldest sister.

Later that night, Gerald quickly grabbed dinner for him and my sister and I waited with her in the room, staring at Beau and watching his chest move up and down with every breath from the ventilator.

How ever long the danger lasted, I hated every second of it. I wish it never happened. I wished it were happening to me instead of him. And yet, I was aware that I was so glad I was there. That my sister wasn't alone. That there was one more person there praying. That I could clumsily make the calls to our family.

I might get a pedicure tomorrow. And if I ask, maybe I'll be told that the phone battery had died at the salon or they couldn't find it or they were so busy they didn't bother to answer. It doesn't matter to me how it came about that I was not there, in Gilbert in a massage chair at 4:00 when Beau's heart stopped but thank you God that I was not there. I was in the PICU hospital room and it was the most terrible thing I've ever seen and heard and felt. But I know I was where I was supposed to be.

 I love you, Beau.

Keep praying.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Sound of What? (Or, something my dog taught me.)

For the past three years I have lived on a military base in military housing. I have a great house with a  decent yard, all the strange critters you could want (and not want) and an amazing view. I just have to walk a few feet outside my front door to hit trails for running, hiking and dog walks. At night I hear owls and frogs and, lately, bats.

I also live near what is called an impact area. That means that at any given time the sound of gunfire and bombs will be heard in my house, echoing through the valley that my house backs up to. The military rotates through impact areas so this sound is not constant but when it is near me it can go on for days or weeks. My husband is not typically amongst those out there doing the training because of the nature of his job- so I don't know what it would be like to hear a bomb and think- "That's my hubby out there!" I admit that might change some of my thoughts on this matter.

The noise doesn't bother me personally- sometimes it is so loud that my house shakes a little. The sound and feeling of the blasts do, however, bother my dog Nash. Nash was a happy go lucky dog when we moved here and within the first year of the noise he had lost almost 20lbs, refused to eat, and was scared and shaking constantly. Thanks to medication (lots of dogs here are on Prozac for this problem), training, and the positive presence of our second dog Risa, Nash has really improved. He eats and has gained his weight back, allows himself to be distracted from the sounds of the artillery and overall is much calmer. Sometimes I still find him cowering in the bathtub after a particularly loud, house-shaking blast. At night if we hear even one we know he will be joining us to sleep next to us for comfort, hiding his head under the covers. Our other dog, on the other hand, has almost no reaction to these sounds, much like many other dogs in our area.

When the bombs are going off Nash shakes, scratches at the wall, tries to get my attention, hides his face in my side, tries to hide in closets or under beds and an array of other behaviors that range from sad to adorable. I know why he's doing this- no matter how many times he hears this noise, he cannot reason with himself about the cause. To him, every blast means something bad is coming and that he is danger. I may feel inconvenienced because of the noise but I logically understand that there is a very minuscule likelihood of the artillery causing me harm; Nash cannot do that.

It's not always a surprise when the bombs are going to go off for an extended period of time; often we get noise advisory notices on Facebook or through email which helps us to prepare.

Why am I going on about this? Well, there's two points I want to make:

When people in my neighborhood post reminders about the artillery or want to jokingly complain or comment about how loud it is, the most typical line is something about how the artillery is "the sound of freedom!" We are all supposed to wave our flags and react with joy because bombs are being dropped in our backyards. "Go get'em, boys!" people type, as if the people setting off these bombs are doing some special operation to keep invaders at bay rather than actually training and learning. Curiously, if someone dares on Facebook to complain that the sound is keeping up her child or triggering her migraines, there's this obligatory addition to her post reassuring everyone- "Don't get me wrong, I love this sound!" "Freedom!" (Yelled just like Mel Gibson in Braveheart)

Let me be clear- the sound of bombs and gunfire is NOT THE SOUND OF FREEDOM to me. And frankly if the sound of weapons that kill and maim represent freedom to you, get out of my circle. The sound of bombs and missiles and machine gun fire is the sound of fear, revolution, oppression, death, wounds, war, blood, and more to most people in the world. For example- when military members return from war with PTSD they do not dream happy thoughts of a waving flag and feel like singing the Star Spangled Banner when they flashback to the sounds of bombs going off. We talk about these sounds in our national anthem- a singer hits new heights telling us about "the bombs bursting in air" and how they "gave proof through the night." The flash of the bombs, according to the song, displayed the newly created American flag still standing which was a symbol of victory and hope and freedom to the former British colonists. But I would bet money that during the American Revolution the people cowering in their homes or laying in the battlefield were not filled with immense joy at the sound of canons- maybe at least not until they found out their side was winning and the threat of harm had passed. Maybe it depends on what side you are on- are those the sounds of your weapons, or "theirs?"

But Bethany, you may ask, if the lullaby to the NRA is not the sound of freedom to you, what is? Well, it's a lot of things. To me the sound of freedom is nature- birds, leaves rustling, water moving in a stream. It's my nephews' laugh. It's people of different backgrounds having a conversation and trying to understand each others' different points of view. It's the turning of pages of a book that can teach someone something or take them anywhere. The sound of freedom is a lot of things to me, but it will never be the sound of a weapon.

I know I'm lucky, though. When Nash hears these bombs go off, his dog senses tell him that danger is coming for him. For most people in this world, the sound of bombs or artillery means the exact same thing. For the children in Gaza who are huddled in their already destroyed homes who can't sleep for fear. For the Syrian children in a refugee camp in Greece, for whom bombs have been the soundtrack to the beginning of their undervalued lives. For too many of our American children who have heard gunshots in a classroom or school hallway where those noises should have no place. And those examples aren't even scratching the surface of what has happened and continues to happen to human beings by human beings. So my dog shakes and he takes meds and I get to cuddle him until the sound passes- easy fixes considering most people living in these violent times don't get to pop a pill, get a hug and get over it (or escape the danger in the first place). I can tell Nash- who I'm sure understands English- that soon we won't live here and he will never hear these sounds again.

Now, I probably could have figured all of that out myself without my poor dog needing to suffer through this emotional trauma, but I'm appreciative nonetheless.

Note: I anticipate on average two types of negative reactions to this- one, that I must be unAmerican (or too liberal, or anti-guns, or anti-military) for thinking this way, which I can save you the fury and tell you that you are wrong. Or secondly, that I am just a "bleeding heart." I've thought about this term a lot lately and frankly I don't see what's so bad about having a bleeding heart, or too emotional, cares too much for others, feeling immense empathy for others (it's also a flower). I'm pretty confident that Jesus would have been accused of having a bleeding heart too (probably by the very people who persecuted him) if the term was popular a couple thousand years ago- so no, it doesn't bother me at all to be accused of caring. I also anticipate those who tell me this just isn't good enough- that surely I should divorce my military husband, stage a protest, renounce my affiliation with any entity involved with weapons- but life and love and affecting change in this world is way more complicated and deserves more than those small plans.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Zack's Deployment Homecoming

A post that is long overdue- life got in the way!

When Zack deployed, I didn't let myself start planning his homecoming until a couple weeks before he was due to fly home. In case you didn't know from my super bored post a few months ago, Zack deployed in October. This was our first deployment while married and his second deployment overall to a part of the world that is deeply in crisis. The first two months of the deployment were excrutiatingly slow but for me the last few months went by very fast. Zack was working non-stop and was incredibly exhausted. I was busy working, studying, and taking care of the house and dogs.

Zack during deployment- he grew a sweet stache.
Back when Zack deployed in 2008, we were able to Skype a couple times and have a few calls via a satelite phone. I wrote him letters and sent him care packages that took a month to reach him. This time around, we were so lucky to be able to Skype and use WhatsApp to talk every day and my care packages reached him in one to two weeks. Thanks to Pinterest I found some pretty great ideas and with the help of another Marine wife (who became a dear friend and whose husband was deployed with Zack) I was able to organize a fantastic homecoming!

First, there was the issue of Christmas cards. I love sending out Christmas cards and found a great idea to have all of our little family represented. My talented friend Megan took me and my two dogs out on a trail behind my house. After we narrowly missed a rattle snake we were able to take some Christmas pictures. This involved wrangling two dogs who love to frolic and smell everything, keeping an eye out for any (more) critters, wearing winter clothes even though it was about 80 degrees that November day in San Diego County and getting everyone to look at the camera at the same time! On Zack's end, he had to do some work too with the help of a friend and his camera phone. I sent the banner to him in his Thanksgiving carepackage. It took several attempts for him because it was just so bright in Kuwait he could barely see!
(Merry Christmas burlap banner from Ichabodsimagination on Etsy)

Hallowen care package- decorated!
My care package game also stepped way up this time around! I took a ton of ideas of themed care packages from Pinterest and tried to decorate almost every one I sent. Of course some care packages were more practical than others- the first one I sent out in a rush because he forgot his favorite pistol holster, shower shoes and some other random items. He did get Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine's Day themed packages! For the Christmas package I also put together about 20 goodie bags full of candy, gum, hand sanitizer, tooth brushes, tissue packets for Zack to give out to some of the Marines who did not usually receive a lot of mail.

Mostly Zack got a lot of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, trail mix, protein bars, Mio drink flavoring, and lots of candy. The amount of coffee this guy drank during his crazy long days was impressive! I also sent him a flashdrive of music, a picture of us with the dogs to keep on his desk, and different funny cards and notes. My parents and sisters all sent lots of packages as well and as soon as he left I signed him up for a lot of free carepackages from different non-profit organizations. He received books and notes and drawings from kids and candy and more from so many amazing groups- a class in New York all wrote him letters and some people from our church even sent him a great package. I got in touch with my church, North Coast, and they mailed Zack DVDs of their services since his internet wasn't letting him stream or download them.

Start of Zack's Valentine package
Sooner than I could believe it was time to prepare for Zack's homecoming. Zack was so excited to come home but also wanted to be able to relax and lay low right away so we decided to wait to travel to Arizona to see our families until a couple weeks after his arrival. I made a huge checklist of things I wanted to complete before he set foot in the USA- deep clean the house, give the dogs baths, get Risa groomed, make a "Beer cake," bake some brownies, get groceries and meal plan for all of his favorite foods, plan a little birthday adventure, order a homecoming banner and make a homecoming sign, figure out what I was going to wear/hair/makeup etc.! Luckily I was able to get everything finished in time!
Welcome home banner- free, just pay shipping for military families from  BuildASign

The beer cake was not an actual cake at all- it involved going to BevMo and getting three of Zack's favorite types of beers, using some cake bases, wrapping paper and ribbon and stacking it all together! It was a hit!

For brownies, Zack's favorite treat, I tried a new recipe that really paid off. Recipe Here.

I agonized over what to wear- what do you wear to see your husband for the first time in 6 months? I bought a blue lace dress from Zulily. One definite mistake I made was the crazy blonde highlights I had put into my short, short hair- but we all go through bad hair phases I guess!

I saw a few ideas for a welcome sign on Pinterest and came up with my own spin on a Harry Potter themed sign. This went perfectly with my birthday plan- about three weeks after Zack's homecoming I planned for us to go to Universal Studios and see the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Zack became a "Potterhead" during his previous deployment to Iraq (as seen below) so it all tied together.
2008- Zack in an MRAP  with Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire

Thanks to my friend Chanelle, her Sillhouette, and a couple late night, wine-powered sign making sessions, we came up with this masterpiece:

Finally, the day came! We waited for a while since the Marines returning from deployment had to stop at the armory first. For his last deployment they all drove up on buses and disembarked to their families right there, but this time they walked up in formation and were released. I felt a little silly because, let's face it- every guy was wearing the same uniform and sunglasses and looked basicaly the from across the parade deck (at least to my poor eyesite!). I stayed toward the back, not really the run and throw myself on a Marine (that could or could not be my husband) type. I guess Zack saw me right away from my sign and did a sneak attack, walking up to my side and tapping me on the shoulder! Even though we were able to talk almost every day of this deployment, it was amazing to be able to hug and kiss him.

After that he had to grab his bags, load up the car and start the drive home- calling his mom and my mom on the way so everyone knew he was finally home safe. As soon as we got home I ran in and got my camera ready to record Nash and Risa's reactions to seeing their dad, which was pretty awesome:


In the weeks that followed we saw a lot of changes- we both turned 29, went back to Arizona and saw both of our families (Zack met our new nephew Beau!), I finished teaching my last semester in CA, Zack checked out of the unit he deployed with, checked back into and then out of again the unit he was originally with and then checked in a final time to his new unit. Whenever either of us go somewhere for awhile we usually give ourselves about 2 weeks of "adjustment" time to get used to sharing our space, time and lives with each other again but it was wonderful.

There are lots of adventures in our future, so stay tuned!

My parents had a welcome home banner for him!