Monday, February 19, 2018

Hello, Jakarta!

Well, she's traveling again.

Almost five years ago I embarked on a trip to Indonesia that would change the trajectory of my life. I traveled over two days with my good friend Megan as she went to visit her mom and I went to start a summer fellowship. Our itinerary was grueling- 15 hour flight to Hong Kong, sleeping on chairs in the Hong Kong airport, showering and eating breakfast at a spa there, then on to Jakarta where we parted ways. I immediately went to Yogyakarta and arrived late at night. When my friend Ainoen, who I hadn't yet met, greeted me at the airport with a sign with my name on it I think I actually gasped in relief. As we rode a taxi to my guesthouse, my home for the next two months, I thought- What was I thinking? I tend to always feel that way the first 24-48 hours of any solo travel. I quickly got over it and spent several weeks having an amazing experience. I met some wonderful people, both Indonesians and Americans, and I am lucky to still call them my friends today. I went to as many tourist spots as possible, ate basically any food offered to me, and had so much fun. I also, if you can remember far back in my blog where I discussed this, found myself one evening at a women's masjid in Kotagede. 

Me in 2013, Java Indonesia

Five years later, many things have changed, but I always knew I would be back in Indonesia. In the past five years, I have moved with my husband to California (for four years) - and now have been moved back to Arizona for almost a year. We added a second dog to our family, Risa. Zack's and my siblings have given us many more nieces and nephews. I taught for both my university and a junior college in California. I studied Indonesian for a summer in Wisconsin, passed my gruelling comprehensive exams, and defended my dissertation prospectus to gain candidacy. 

Everything I have done thus far for my doctorate has been in hopes of returning to Indonesia again to do my doctoral research. As soon as my dissertation prospectus passed, I started the research visa process with the Indonesian government. Last time when I was in Indonesia, I traveled on a social/cultural visa which meant I was prohibited from doing any research- at the time of course I didn't know I was ever going to do research in Indonesia! I started the visa procurement process with many people in my ear telling me how difficult it would be, how much bureaucracy I would have to deal with, and quite a bit of discouragement from some. Per usual I went for it anyway. 

The process of getting a research visa is not simple. The reason for this, however, is completely understandable. Governments need to make sure that the foreign researchers they are allowing into their country are not going in to exploit the people, environment, etc. Prior to a few years ago, all application materials had to be mailed across the world and it could take up to 6 months for them to be processed. Now, however, almost the entire process was online and I found the people at the Ministry of Research in Jakarta to be extremely helpful via email with any questions I had. 

The following items had to be uploaded to the RISTEK website: 

  1. A formal letter requesting to do research in Indonesia. 
  2. Research proposal (in my case my dissertation prospectus). 
  3. Project abstract.
  4. Scanned passport.
  5. My curriculum vitae.
  6. My local counterpart's curriculum vitae. For my counterpart and I luckily was able to ask the professor who advised me at UGM and he agreed. Additionally, the people at ICRS (the International Consortium for Religious Studies) were incredibly helpful. 
  7. A 4x6 cm photo of my face with a red background. I also had to bring several copies of this plus more shrunk down to 2x3cm for my time in Jakarta and Yogyakarta. I bought a red posterboard and taped it to my parents' kitchen wall and my sister Danielle snapped a few pictures. At first I ordered copies from a website that did custom sizing but before I left I wised up and just bought some photo paper and printed them myself. 
  8. A letter from my counterpart, UGM, to the Ministry of Research agreeing to be my sponser. 
  9. Two letters of recommendation, one from my committee chair and the other from my institution (my graduate coordinator in this case). 
  10. Something showing how much money I had in the bank. This is presumably to show I can pay for the trip and I won't try to get a job while in Indonesia. 
  11. Health certificate from my doctor- every time I ask a doctor for this they are puzzled, but she gave me a letter stating I was healthy for travel and research on her office letterhead. 
  12. A list of research equipment that would be brought- since I do ethnography that basically meant my computer, USB, camera, audio recorder, and some notebooks.
There was also a part where I would provide information about my spouse or children if they were accompanying me. It pains me to say that Zack was unable to come to any part of this trip- both due to his work schedule and travel restrictions for his job. 

It took several weeks to get all of these letters and papers together, but I finally uploaded them in October, shortly after I passed my prospectus defense. To my great suprise and joy, I was approved by November! At this point the holidays were coming up and the best prices for flights weren't until January. I planned my trip for January 20 through March 20. When RISTEK approved me, I was emailed a letter to take to the Indonesian Consulate nearest to me to pick up my visa. A visa, if you don't know, is basically a printed sticker put on a page of your passport with all of your trip information. 

Zack and I scoped out the days the consulate would be open, since it was that tricky time of Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years, and I emailed and called the consulate in Los Angeles to let them know I was coming. Unfortunately I had a great deal of difficulty reaching them and after sending several emails and voicemails I narrowed down the window I could go. You have two months from the date that RISTEK issued you your approval to pick up the visa but once you picked up the visa you only had 30 days to depart for your destination. This meant that I basically the last two weeks in December to pick up the visa, which of course meant I would be dealing with limited open hours at the consulate. Zack and I planned a roadtrip to Los Angeles just after Christmas and we were able to crash at a friend's place even though she was out of town for the holidays. 

I arrived at the consulate and waited about an hour and a half before the area I needed opened up, later than usual. Then, I was told that the person who would process my visa was out of town- for almost two weeks! The employees who were there had me fill out some redundant information as if I was applying anew for the visa and I had to make copies of all of my application documents. This was frustrating because, per the consulate's advice via email I had emailed them my application materials in one big PDF weeks before. Zack and I, unwilling to lose our parking space, walked around Koreatown in Los Angeles until we found a Staples and I could make all of my copies. Then we wandered into different gas stations asking if we could do a money order until we finally found one. The consulate told me to create a money order for $50 for the consulate to process my visa. Lastly, I had to purchase a pre-paid, self addressed envelope so my passport could be shipped to me since I was not local to the consulate. We left Los Angeles feeling very frustrated because we had been totally unprepared- after all, everything I had read used the phrase "go to the consulate to pick up the passport" which suggests some amount of simplicity. We turned lemons into lemonade though and drove down to Camp Pendleton where we met with some dear friends and reminisced about how much we loved living there before driving back the next day. We actually returned home with less than we left with- besides the cost of a kind of pointless trip, the consulate had taken my passport and said they would send it to me in my prepaid envelope. Being someone who loves to travel, I cannot tell you how strange it felt to be without a passport. I don't often entertain thoughts of fleeing the country but just knowing that I couldn't for those few weeks made me nervous!

Then the waiting began. I was told to call back on January 5 to see if my visa had been processed, so I put the entire thing out of my mind to enjoy the new year. Come the fifth, I called. I left a voicemail. I called later, and left a voicemail. I repeated this two voicemail a day process for about 5 days until I realized that it was going to be impossible for me to leave on the 20th as planned (and paid for). At this point I didn't have a visa and my passport was, in my over-anxious mind, probably on someone's desk being used as a coaster. The window for me to even receive my visa expired (two months from the date it was approved, remember?). I got into contact with RISTEK again and they were extremely accomodating and issued me another approval. Then I continued my incessant phone calls to the consulate and I didn't let my phone out of my sight in hopes of seeing an LA area code calling me. Finally- FINALLY- I got the call that my visa was being processed. I had to pay a hefty price to re-book my flights for almost a month later (CheapO Air was very helpful with this). Then I got another call from the consulate that the cost for visa processing was actually $5 more than what I had been told so I had to go to a bank and transfer $5 to their account. I spent an anxious few days checking the mail until one glorious day there was an envelope at my door with my passport and newly issued visa. 

In retrospect, I am glad I got to spend almost another month with my family. On the other hand, if you saw or spoke to me during January you would know it was one of the most stressful times of my life. 

Now that I was cleared to travel, I began to prepare in earnest. It's funny, when my husband leaves for training (anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks) or deployments (6-8 months) we always focus so much on making him prepared for his trip. In my case, being the Type A personality, I not only was preparing for my trip but preparing my home to be "ran" by Zack. This is a guy to works 14-16 hour days and most weekends. During this particular season of our life I tend to try to take care of most of the household stuff as well as the dogs so that we can maximize our quality time. Now I was giving Zack a crash course in our household bills, dog care, and even stuff like where things are kept in the kitchen because he is literally away from home so much he doesn't know where anything goes. I organized each room, drawer and cabinet in the house. I synced our Google Calendar so he would know every bill due date, recycle and garbage day, dog heartworm medicine day, salt pellet replacement day, etc. He probably wakes up to at least three notifications a day on his phone from that calendar! Since he works so long we also had to figure out what to do with the dogs during the long days and amazingly my mother volunteered to spend several hours each weekday in the middle of the day to make sure they can go potty, spend time outside and interact with a human. 

There was also a lot I needed to buy to prepare for this trip. Luckily I had been to Indonesia before so I had a good idea of what to pack. Last time I went I brought two suitcases and that was a terrible mistake. This time I vowed to pack under 50lbs in one medium suitcase- and I did it! I knew I needed to prepare to dress modestly given I was planning to spend quite a bit of time in mosques, so I looked for loose linen pants, long sleeved, breathable shirts and maxi skirts. I also wanted some very comfortable sandals and lucked out with a couple pairs of Tevas on sale for the holidays. No point in worrying about make up since the humidity just makes it disappear so I just stick with some waterproof mascara and BB cream. My hair is not tame in humidity so instead of attempting to straighten my hair I found some great products to embrace my natural waves. Since it is rainy here in Indonesia I made sure my backpack was waterproof, brought a poncho, and even bought a waterproof phone bag in case I am caught in a downpour. Now that I am here, of course, I realize I forgot an umbrella! Packing cubes were a lifesaver- thanks Preeth- and have helped me be very organized. 

During the week leading up to my departure so many people asked me "Aren't you so excited?" And I would truthfully answer NO! To be honest, I am NEVER excited leading up to solo travel. I go from dread and anxiety during predeparture and departure to hopelessness at first arrival and then once I settle in I am happy as can be. This has actually been the norm for me since my first time traveling alone to England when I was 20! 

Leaving Zack at the security check the morning I left was so hard. We get very little time together as it is and it is so hard for us when one of us leaves. I had a short flight to Los Angeles and then two hours waiting in American Airlines' chaotic international terminal. Next up was my 10 hour flight to Tokyo. I had a window seat which is good for room but bad if you have to use the bathroom or need to stretch. The food was actually nice and I was able to watch a lot of movies I had missed in theaters. I didn't sleep much since I was trying to adjust to Indonesia time already. The Turtl travel pillow was amazing and kept me from having a stiff neck I also brought along my compression socks I used to wear for running  and they made me feel so much better. Usually my legs hurt on long flights because my legs are so short my feet don't touch the ground. This means that my legs end up having a ton of pressure on them as I sit but compression socks fixed the issue! I flew economy and couldn't help the pang of absolute envy I felt when passing by the luxurious business class- someday!!!

When I arrived in Tokyo I had only 2 hours layover so I didn't even get to look around the airport. When I got to my new gate I think I was so tired that I started to feel very emotional. I did not want to be the lady crying at the airport gate! I made small talk with the person waiting next to me and tried to just suck it up. This plane was actually not full and I found myself in an emergency row with no seats in front of me and no passenger beside me. At first I thought this meant I wouldn't be able to watch anything but down by my feet I was able to pull up a screen to me. There was a little family next to me with a sweet little baby who was amazing during the whole flight. I tried to watch something but ended up feeling so antsy and tired I just tried to sleep. The food was definitely not my taste but American Airlines had fed us two meals and a sandwich-snack so I wasn't hungry anyway. One thing I kind of enjoyed was being so close to the galley that I got to see a lot of what the flight attendants do during a flight. They were busy almost the entire 9 hours and they worked together seamlessly so it was kind of cool to watch. 

When I arrived in Jakarta it was barely midnight on the 16th, Friday. It was still Thursday evening in the states but I was wide awake. The immigration line went pretty fast and I had a good time people watching, imagining what everyone was doing here. I barely walked up to the baggage carousel and saw my lime green suitcase right away. Originally my plan was to make it through the airport and then go to the connected airport hotel to get a few hours of sleep until my actual hotel's check in time. However, I had some difficulty finding the entrance to the airport hotel and by the time I found it I realized I would be checking in to take a just a few hours' nap and I wasn't even tired yet. Instead I bought a mocha and sat in a chair, connected to wifi and alternated between chatting with my family and reading my Margaret Atwood book. By the time it hit 7 o'clock I was in that deliriously tired space. I grabbed a cab and made it through to Jakarta with suprisingly little traffic. 

Upon arriving at my hotel I was charged extra for checking in early (I couldn't have cared less I was so tired!) and finally got to my room. This was to be my home away from home for the next week until I was able to leave for Yogyakarta. This is a new hotel and the rooms are clean, modern and have personality. When I got in though, I was so exhausted I was getting quite emotional again! I called Zack and moped to him that I wished he was with me. I called my sister who was with my dogs and got teary eyed seeing them. Even though Zack was assuring me that I was feeling this way because I was so tired I didn't buy it at the time. Honestly I am glad I travel so far away because if the option were available to turn around and go home easily to Zack I probably would! But after 20 hours of flying the the thought of even looking at an airplane made me cringe. Finally I crashed for six hours. That night I was so pleased to be able to meet up with my Indonesian teacher from my time in Wisconsin and her husband and had a lovely dinner out. It was so good after days of traveling alone to see a friendly face and have good conversation! Food, sleep, and friends made me feel infinitely better! 

Hanging out on the terrace of my hotel.

Typical breakfast from my hotel- mie goreng, fruit, cereal, toast and tea. I also order  telur orak-arik (scrambled eggs). 

Now I am on day four of being in Indonesia. I'm almost completely adjusted to the time and experienced very few jet lag symptoms. Breakfast at the hotel is included and I have definitely taken advantage of that. I have ventured out past my hotel and to a couple warungs, convenience stores, and some over-priced restaurants catering to bule (foreigners like me!). Jakarta is very different from Yogya. Of course it is a world capital and it is known for its horrible traffic. My hotel is near some smaller roads and in order to cross you just take a deep breath and go for it. In theory the motorbikes and cars are supposed to swerve around you and I have been lucky so far. For the major roads, like when I went to RISTEK this morning, there are lights and it is generally a good idea to cross when you see other people crossing. Things are slightly more expensive here than Yogya but still cheap compared to the US. I ate soto mie (noodle soup) at a warung on Saturday for 18000 rupiah ($1.33) and then ate some curry, rice and strawberry juice at a restaurant for 200000 rupiah (way over priced but still under $15). Tonight it was starting to rain so I ran to the closest restaurant and ate pasta (of all things) for about $10. People are still nice and eager to say hello and are patient with my limited Indonesian. There's a lot I have forgotten from not hearing Indonesian in so long and I even accidentally started to speak Spanish to a hotel employee yesterday, much to my extreme embarrassment. 

I couldn't do any work during the weekend but today bright and early I walked over to the Ministry of Research building and checked in. The office employees were very nice and helpful. They took my passport and made copies and used one of my many red background photos to make my ID. I had to go across the street to the bank to transfer money to pay for the permit (1.4 million or about $134 dollars). Then I brought the receipt back and the letters of approval were all organized for me according to where I needed to go next. There were many researchers in there either doing work alone or part of a research group and I chatted with some American ornithologists while I waited. I think working for RISTEK would be so interesting since you get to learn about all these different projects people want to do in your country. 

The walk to the ministry. Not shown: the rat the size of a cat I saw running down the street!

Tomorrow I take a taxi to south Jakarta to the police headquarters and then a couple more locations before I can catch my flight to Yogya on Friday afternoon. I hope I have time to go to the national monument and the museum of history before I depart. I am eager to get to the cozier feel of Yogyakarta where I will be staying in an Airbnb and meeting up with friends from my time there in 2013. I definitely miss my family, especially Zack, my nephews and my puppies, but I have plenty of time to video chat with everyone. 

More adventure awaits. 

I'm pretty pleased with myself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Me too.

Today my Facebook feed was filled with women's statuses saying "Me too." With horrendous accounts of Harvey Weinstein's assaults and harassment of women in Hollywood and of course the current commander-in-chief's boasting of his "success" in assaulting and harassing women without consequence, someone thought it would be helpful to raise awareness of exactly how pervasive this problem is.

It started with a post :

"Suggested by a friend: 'If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too.' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem."

I thought for a long time about if I would post something. At first I thought- I haven't ever been assaulted. I'm so lucky. I shouldn't post anything. Then I thought of all the times I've been harassed. I thought about something a professor said once that made me deeply uncomfortable. I thought about a not-so-secret nickname someone once had for me. I thought a lot of words I'd heard over the years. I thought of things I wished I had not seen. I cringed. And I thought about probably when I first ever felt shame. And I wrote on my status- "Me too."

When I (accidentally) cut my hair short into a pixie-cut a couple years ago, I briefly wrote about why it made me so uncomfortable. Long hair was something I used as a shield to hide my face and my chest from the unwanted attention I often received as a pre-teen. The truth is- I started the journey of puberty at age 11. Getting my period and skipping the training bra stage altogether before anyone else I knew was terrifying. And at age 11, male peers began saying absolutely disgusting things both to my face and behind my back about me. Teachers told me it was probably because they just had a crush on me and didn't know how to act. My parents didn't buy that for one second- they bypassed the teachers and spoke to the principal. It helped, a little. But I didn't become invisible, and that is what I most wanted to do.

In junior high and high school, I got less of this treatment to my face but behind my back the talk persisted. For some reason, girls who develop earlier are labeled- "slut" "easy" "whore." As if these ridiculous words are biological. In retrospect, this affected me in different ways. It took me years to realize that one of the reasons I remained a virgin until marriage was that, as a teen and young adult, I felt that I needed to prove those labels wrong. Guys could talk about how I looked and they could make assumptions, but I wasn't going to let any guy get close enough to make things worse. The locker talk about me would never have even grain of truth. This was my mindset in high school.

In college, I had a different experience. If any one was saying anything, it wasn't to me, and I mostly had a positive experience. A couple years ago I watched the documentary "The Hunting Ground," an exposee of the horrific problem of assaults in college. I though to myself- "I am so lucky. I had some really great male friends. If I wanted to leave a party early, there was always a guy friend to walk me home. I'm so lucky that I had good guy friends who not only didn't try to rape me but wanted me to be safe." Don't you think there is something really wrong with those thoughts? That the expectation is so high that a young woman walking around a college campus at night would be assaulted? That so many college students have been taken advantage of by people they liked or trusted?

It's been 19 years since the first time a male sexually harassed me. For years I didn't use that terminology. I thought because they were young, they didn't know better. They were struggling with their own hormones. Boys will be boys.

Fuck that. Who taught them those words? Who let them talk that way? Who talked that way around them? Who excused it? Why would it occur to young men to behave that way? What made them feel like it was acceptable? I spoke up! I told them to stop, I told people in authority, I let them know how it felt and it didn't mean a thing.

You know what's kind of sick? Even though their behavior taught me shame, made me hate my body, made me assume all boys think and talk and act way, I still excused it up until today. You know, two of those boys- I'm friends with them on Facebook, and I have been for years. When they added me, years ago, I thought to myself- oh look, I bet they grew out of "that" and are normal now. And I accepted their friend requests!

You know what I think? I think those guys, and most of these guys in general, are reading the Me Too statuses and aren't even considering that they are the reasons for these statuses. I think there are people patting themselves on the back for not being rapists, not even realizing or letting themselves remember what exactly they ARE guilty of.

I've talked to my husband a lot about this. He feels anger and disgust that I had to experience these things; he and I share deep concern at the possibility of our future children having these experiences. I knew who he was at 13, started dating him at 15, and fell in love with him at 17. He never, ever, made me feel ashamed of myself, objectified, disgusting. He respected my choices and has always lifted me up. Thank God.

I've had to think a lot about this today. These are things I actively avoid thinking about. As many "Me too" statuses I saw, I think many more women could have posted it but chose not to, for a number of reasons.

I saw another shared status today; it said: "I wish all the men & masculine people who have assaulted, harassed, & been complicit in other men's mistreatment of women & femmes were the ones exposing themselves on facebook today." 

To that, I say: Me too. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

AIP and Me: Day 39

Here we are, day 39.

And I'm terrified to introduce some of the foods I've eliminated!

Instead of looking forward to day 30, the decided last day of the elimination part of the Autoimmune Protocol, I dreaded it. And I just let it pass without saying anything. My husband quirked an eyebrow when I told him what I would be making for dinner that week- he noticed right away that none of the dishes I mentioned had tomato, bell pepper, dairy, or grains- but he's used to my anxiety by now and didn't say a thing.

During the month of September I rarely had a stomach ache or a headache, I slept through the night, my skin was clearer and my focus was amazing. During the third week, I started having some negative effects: standing up gave me a headrush, head pain and dizziness and going up and down stairs made me out of breath. My blood pressure read very low but by the time I made it to the doctor for the next week it was normal and I felt fine. My doctor said it was actually pretty normal for my body to react this way as it was transitioning to this new diet.

Once October hit, I knew it was time to try reintroducing some foods. I had really adapted to just not having certain vegetables, all dairy, all grains, all nuts and seeds that I started to talk myself into eating AIP indefinitely. However, I know that this just isn't feasible- it would be almost impossible to eat at restaurants or at my family and friends' houses, cooking everything is taking much longer and some of the ingredients I am using are quite expensive. I bit the bullet and began trying different foods, just one or two each day but never at the same time. So far here is what I've tried:

Butter- no reaction (but coconut butter tastes better!)
Coffee- no reaction- but it did not taste good! I'm mourning this a little bit because I think my taste for coffee is gone and now I prefer tea.
Cheddar Cheese- no reaction
Chocolate- no reaction (I had maybe 4 M&Ms)
Mayonnaise- headache all day, but that could have been dehydration
Ketchup- no reaction
Potato- no reaction
Rice- no reaction
Cake- remember what happened at the beginning of September? Well this time it was another sister's birthday and I had the tiniest piece of cake (chock-full of gluten) and my stomach didn't feel great for about 24 hours after.

I have yet to try:
Other grain products
All nightshade vegetables

Even though many of the things I have tried I have not had a negative reaction to, I am still avoiding or only using small quantities of dairy products. Lots of reading has shown me that Hashimoto's patients do well to avoid soy, gluten and dairy and although I am not prepared to be totally dairy-free yet I am happy to limit my intake.

Yesterday I had another weird dizzy spell that lasted all day. Not sure if it is at all related or if I have something else going on. I'm trying to stay super hydrated. This off and on dizziness has made me nervous to go to the gym or even drive sometimes so I am eager to feel better and get back to working out.

I've lost a total of 9 lbs during September and I never really felt deprived of anything. This weight loss is a big surprised considering how slow my metabolism is thanks to my thyroid. I am super grateful for Pinterest and all of the people who have posted tried and true AIP recipes. There are so many recipes and ingredient substitutes that will now be a normal part of my life!

In other, non-AIP news- I passed my dissertation prospectus defense! This is the proposal for my doctoral dissertation that had to be approved by my committee. I worked on this 40 page proposal for a couple months and then did a presentation for my committee last week. They are all very pleased with my work and excited about my project. Passing this defense means I am officially ABD- all but dissertation- and a doctoral candidate! Now I prepare to do research in Indonesia and Los Angeles, read a lot more, and write, write, write.

Here are some recipes we've had the past couple weeks:
AIP Chicken Casserole (delicious)

Thai cocount curry soup (no curry powder) and cauliflower "naan"

Pulled pork with carrot and zucchini noodles (Amazing!)

AIP "Fajitas" (no peppers)

AIP Spaghetti Squash Chicken Alfredo

All recipes can be found on my Pinterest board named "Thyroid"

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.