6/05/2017

Living with PsA 1



I have an auto-immune disease called psoriatic arthritis, PsA for short. It is similar to rheumatoid arthritis and many other autoimmune diseases you may have heard of (such as MS, Lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, scleroderma, etc.) in that it is not contagious, but involves the body attacking itself. There are many theories why a person gets this disease but no definitive answers; some studies suggest onset after particular illnesses, such as strep throat, and new work being done links autoimmune diseases to overall gut health as well. There is certainly a genetic component, and many of these diseases run in families. Some researchers suggest stress can trigger an onset, or make one worse.

PsA often (but not always) starts as psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by large flaky plaques, scabby dry looking spots, found frequently on knees and elbows. In my case, I had psoriasis as a teenager, but it took a different form: I had small plaques on my scalp (nickle sized patches that were like oily greasy scabs, treated with coal tar shampoo), thick calloused feet, and weeping finger cuticles that would never heal. These are all classic PsA forms, too.

I spent a lot of time in the sun, as a child, and my disease then was fairly mild. It went into remission for several decades, only reappearing in my 40's. It started as a skin condition, but worse: this time, I kept getting what looked like a spotty red rash on my arms (which I now know is the guttate form of the disease.) I kept thinking I was allergic to something I was touching, like my watch or jewelry, and that was causing the rash. I also had itchy hives on my torso and face. I spent 12 years going from doctor to doctor, seeking a diagnosis for the rash (and ignored all my other health problems: exhaustion, weight gain, kidney disease, swollen knuckles, painful joints, and more.) I had a hysterectomy. I had a dozen treatments for kidney stones. I was told I had rosacea, scleroderma, or lupus. The first rheumatologist I went to told me he had no idea what was wrong with me, and that we should "watch and wait" for what, I don't know. The second rheumatologist I went to diagnosed me instantly from my finger nails,  and was shocked that I'd gone so long without treatment.

I've spent the years since then on one medication then another, trying various diets and other health treatments. My personal list of co-morbidities grows daily - I call it "the disease of the month club-the gift that keeps on giving." My story is not unusual and I belong to a dozen or more Facebook groups that share symptoms, treatment info, personal experiences, and more - as there are w many diseases out there. So many folk have it worse than I do, and I have it moderately bad. I write this here to share a few things I have found that help. Not cures - just lesson the discomfort.

I don't claim anything is going to sure PsA......just help you feel better while dealing w it.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/science-compared-every-diet-and-the-winner-is-real-food/284595/?utm_source=atlfb


Eat clean
Various doctors and groups are always touting this or that fad diet. Vegan, gluten-free, paleo...whatever. What I know is that eating clean, that is, eating real food that is minimally processed, that has some resemblance to actual plants or animals, from all the basic food groups / proportions you learned about as a child, is the way to go. I started eating better- more intentionally, reading labels- a few years back when struggling w kidney disease. It turns out that organic protein bars and too much sodium in my diet was the culprit, and you really have to pay attention bc sodium is in everything, even frozen chicken parts bought at the grocery story. When I am on the wagon and paying attention to my diet, I feel so much better, it's like night and day.....so I just try to eat clean as often as I can. I call my diet, which is based on a Mediterranean diet, as being "90% vegetarian". Fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, little bit of dairy, seafood, almost no red meat, and healthy fats like olive oil. No processed food : chips, bread, cheese foods, hot dogs, ready-made meals, frozen dinners, canned meal kits, soups, etc. Gave up coca-cola cold turkey, and that was hard. Read the labels - all salt. I've cut way back on sugar, salt, fats, and red meat most of the time, but treat myself once in awhile. I'll have a big prime rib for my birthday or something, at a high end restaurant. But that's it.. Drink alcohol in moderation. I eat a little bread once in awhile but only really good high quality bread. (Read the ingredients on a loaf of typical sandwich bread sometime....) Ask yourself: Is it worth the calories? Sometimes, the answer is , "yes." It's gotten to where if I eat a bit of junk-food, I feel sick. Shop the rim of the grocery store, it's cheaper anyways. Teach yourself how to cook the things you like to eat. Make good choices when you eat out: Whataburger has a fabulous grilled chicken cranberry salad. Choose Panera over Taco Bell. Avoid sugary drinks sweetened w corn syrup. If you do this for two weeks, I promise you will feel better and even looking or smelling junk-food will gross you out. Your skin and hair and eyes and joints will thank you, as will your liver and kidneys.

Pay attention to what you put on your body, as well as in it
PsA is a skin disease as well as a joint disease, and your skin is your largest organ, so it makes sense that you should be careful what you feed it. For years before I was officially diagnosed by a dr., I used organic soaps, lotions, shampoo, makeup, cleaning products, etc bc regular commercial grocery store brands made my skin itch. People around me thought this was just an affectation on my part, but the difference was real. Hives vs no hives. Experiment with different brands to find what works for you; expense is not a guarantee of effectiveness. Many people swear by Aveno, Pears glycerin soap, and many unscented mass market products. Some people hate Dove soap, but I like it and it works for me. Even high end brands like Kiehls, although it smells divine, dries my skin out. Mrs Myers is my go-to pump soap and household cleaners; I will try other brands but always return to it. Some folks swear by Kiss My Face and other natural store main brands, but it dries my skin out. I can't really tolerate body care products other than Ahava (from Israel) or Korres (from Greece), both of which I discovered during a makeover at my local Ulta in Dallas, Tx - the lady dolling me up said my skin was too dry as she prepped my face for the makeover, and I needed to try these skin care brands. She didn't sell me the makeup she was hawking, but she sold me on the skin care products she wasn't. Both Ahava and Korres make wonderful body wash shower gel products that soothe my inflamed skin. I soak in Ahava mineral salts and wipe off my eye makeup with the ultra gentle non-alcoholic Korres milk protein wipes. I hope these products never go away bc I can't live without them. Ulta stopped carrying them so I buy them now on amazon or ebay. I am sure there are many other mild, non-synthetic chemical brands out there that I do not even know about.

Note: I get no endorsements, fees, samples, or otherwise, from the products I recommend. I am not a doctor or a medical professional.  I do it solely bc I have found these things work for me. I do not claim medical cures, just as ease to the suffering. I encourage you to try various brands and find what works for you.

https://www.ahava.com/

https://www.korresusa.com/

https://www.mrsmeyers.com/

Mrs Meyers is sold at my local drug emporium and other natural food stores, and easy to find. I have tried several brands of natural castille soap, but have found that the spout oozes and leaves a mess on the countertop.

Other irritants
I have gradually swapped out, over time, synthetic clothing and household linens/fabrics for more natural fabrics or brands or items. This started years ago when I lived in Houston and it was 90F with 100 % humidity there for 10 months of the year. You can't wear synthetics living in a tropical rain forest like that bc they stick to your skin like wet saran wrap. Cotton and linen, especially, may be wrinkled in that climate but at least wick the moisture away. I used to dry clean all my clothes but decided that I didn't want dry cleaning chemicals next to my skin, either. I decided I could live w wrinkles, and after a summer in France visiting a friend of mine, I learned how the French do their laundry: they use washing machines like we do, but not dryers. Nobody has electric or gas clothes dryers, they just hang everything out to dry. (In the winter, they hang it indoors, in a basement or hallway.) It saves energy, it's "green", and as long as the pollution isn't too bad where you live, it smells divine. If you take a wet cotton or linen shirt out of the washing machine, shake it out till it snaps, put it on a hanger, button it up and smooth out the collar, etc, it will dry in a way that is wearable to work without having to iron it.

http://www.brahmsmount.com/blog/white-paper-why-linen/


How do I afford high end expensive linen clothing and bedding on a teacher's salary, you ask? I have been a thrifter for a long time - most of my life. Sure, I dig through thrift shops, explore Dillard's Basement (we have a regional center here in DFW, that pulls from the entire USA), Nordstrom rack, and similar retail. But bc I like designer brands and my local thrift store is filled mostly with WalMart wornouts, I shop on ebay. It's the thrift store to the world. Just do a search for your size and item and include the word "linen". For example, "women's linen shirt M". See what pops up and shop your price points. The beautiful thing about linen, especially buying second-hand, its that it grows better with time, and doesn't get worn out as cotton does.

You spend 1/4 of your life asleep, (or more, if you are sick all the time) touching your bedding, and commercially raised cotton is one of the most heavily pesticide use products on the planet. West Elm sells organic cotton sheets and bedding at reasonable prices.....I figure, why not? I can also find new sets of these on ebay for less. I did splurge on a new set of linen sheets by linoto (amazon) - which are guaranteed to last a lifetime. They are divine, especially in the summer, bc linen wicks away the heat and moisture.

Air that I Breathe

Not just a popular '60's song by The Hollies, air quality is a really big issue in DFW. We have ozone alert days in the summer where the pollution is so bad people are advised to stay indoors. In spite of the fact that our population has doubled in the past 20 years, no new roads have been built, which means more cars, sitting in traffic, more pollution....we are on our way to being L.A. As our air quality grows worse, new oil and gas wells/processing plants continue to be built on the perimeter of the metroplex....IDK why.

Trying to control what I could, I emptied my house of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and I wish I could do the same at work. VOCs are found in wall board, any sort of laminate, cheap furniture that is made of manufactured or pressed wood products, kids toys, paint, fire retardant finishes on fabrics, you name it. You can buy low VOC paint now, and I used it last time I repainted - fewer headaches from off-gassing. Costs the same as regular paint. Most of my furniture at home is hand-me-downs from family and treasures found from thrifting, antiquing, and world travels, w old varnishes that may or may not contain lead but hey, you gotta choose your poison. My work place is a nightmare - it's been 6 years after the new school wing was built, where my classroom is, and everyone who works there still has red stinging weeping eyes, constant sinus and bronchial infections. Not just teachers, but students, too. You can feel the acidic waves hit you as you enter the hallway in the morning, it slaps you in the face and your eyes tear up. I have asthma all day at school that goes away when I am at home. Another teacher friend has black mold growing in her classroom wall, spouting mushrooms. She just paints over it each year, bc she has reported it yet admin does nothing. Year after year. We try to put live plants and air cleaning machines in our classrooms, where we spend all our waking hours, but they help very little. I am sure OSHA would have a filed day in there but we are not allowed to complain. Gives "working in the coal mines" an entirely new meaning.


No More Worlds Left to Conquer





At my end-of-the-year teacher review conference this year, my administrator asked me what new classes/ certifications I was going to pursue this summer. (Thinking to myself, "Hell, none, I'm just skiving for the next 18 months till I can retire.") I said, "Well, this is my 30th year of teaching English. Not to be arrogant, but I am the only member of my entire department who has a master's degree (the first one in education). I am also the only member who is certified in sp ed, autism, reading, gifted and talented, library science, and history/ soc stud. I am the only one who has been a dept chair, a testing coordinator, an admin for sp ed, and has taught every grade level both on level, remedial, and advanced/ AP/honors. I have been to every single teacher training "in-service" offered by DISD, the Texas Humanities Institute, the AP Institute, TWU, UNT, SMU, not to mention the state of Maryland MANCEF. I have passed the teacher certification exams in Ca, Ny, Va, Md, and Tx. A few years back, I went back to graduate school and earned a second master's, in literature. There really is nothing left for me to study, as pertains to my job assignment, unless you want me to start working towards math or science. " He looked at me like I am a trouble maker and says, "Well, you have to put something down. You have to fill the box on the form." So I wrote down some b.s. about continuing my education and training. What do all the teachers put in that box who have never accomplished any of these things?

And Alexander wept, bc there were no more worlds left to conquer. 

4/11/2017

Get your fashOn 3 quirky retro "indie hipster over 50"

Mostly, this style is about comfort, expressing yourself, and having fun.

 Are you into fiber crafts? You can add your own designs.
 You can pay someone a lot of money to make these for you, or take a pair from a thrift store and make them yourself. Google search "how to distress your jeans". Sew or iron on some patches.
 If you like ruffles, then RitaNoTiara, on etsy, is for you.
 The southwestern look is a timeless classic.



Have a kimono? Mix it up.

Get your fashON 2 winter

 "Lagenlook" or layered look, as it originated in Europe, combines color, texture and shape in ways that will keep you warm but are different from the old ways we had of dressing in layers. The style combines mostly solid color pieces, made of natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool that have different proportions than those we grew up with.  Think long over short, short over long, full with skinny, and skinny with full.


You can find these clothes on etsy or ebay or amazon, just enter lagenlook as a search term and your size and fabric preference (cotton, linen, or wool.) You can also find wonderful pieces at thrift stores and your own closet - just mix them up in ways you never did before.











Get your fashON 1 summer

I have several key things working against me these days: I am a middle aged fat woman, I live in a miserably hot climate for 8-10 months of the year, local stores persist in selling only "norm core" polyester old lady outfits, and my community, although changing rapidly, is still very conservative.

However, I stopped caring about most of these things - menopause is great for that; you never knew just how much estrogen was controlling your brain, telling you to do this or that ("be sexy", "attract men", "be feminine", etc) until it fades from your system and you think clearly for the first time in 40 or so years. At some point, comfort matters more than what other people think, and you start feeling it's time to get back to developing your own sense of style, one that reflects your core self. The self that was you as a 10 year old girl, before you started worrying about what others think.

To that end I discovered "Lagenlook", a style that has been popular with young and old women in Europe for a while now, an idea which loosely translates to "layered look".  It is timeless in that it transcends fashion cycles, and focuses on comfort while letting you express your own personality. This is not, however, the layered look we all grew up with in the '70's, of turtleneck dickies under shirts, covered with sweater vests or matching sweater sets, scarves and jackets, etc. You can google the term and select images and you will find it consists of loose flowing layers of clothing that are natural fibers - think cotton, linen, wool. In northern climes there are many layers and lagenlook shoes, stockings, hats and outwear as well. But the concept is particularly suited to hot regions of the globe - you just change the fabrics from thick wool to shear linen and cotton and wear fewer layers.


A few etsy designers I love: Megby Design, RitaNoTiara. An ebay designer I love, also has her own web page, is Skullz London. I also love Eileen Fisher, and FLAX, just in general, try to find them on sale at the end of the season.



A "shark bite hem" is one that is curved, or with points.
The asymmetrical look is big in lagenlook, and takes the viewer's eye away from tummy bulge.






4/07/2017

My Grandmother's House pt II

   


     My grandmother Ruby’s house exists no more; rather, it exists in my memory only. I think it was a Sears catalogue house that was modified and added onto over the years. My family has taken many photos of people, places, and things for well over a hundred years, but no one ever took a photo (that I know of) of Granny’s home. I spent some time searching for images and floorplans of 1920’s American homes online, and this is the closest I can find:

     The exterior wooden walls were painted white, the roof was a dark blue scalloped tile. As granny’s little family grew, the house was added onto – the back bedroom was extended out to the side, making the house have an overall “L” shape. Like most Southern homes of the era, this home was a good 3-4 feet up off the ground, with the underneath areas fenced in and painted to match – this was where lazy dogs slept on hot summer days. A small porch and a doorway were added to the expansion, almost meeting the front porch in a wrap-around style. The back bedroom of the original plan, now considerably larger, became a family room.

     Across the rear of the house, another bedroom, in the “sleeping porch” style of the pre air-conditioned south (with windows on three sides) and a small bath were added, along with a bumped out kitchen eating porch and a wraparound back porch that had an enclosure for the ice and milk man to make deliveries.

    Inside, the house had wallpaper imported from France, cedar wood floors, two stone faced fireplaces, and two bathrooms – the first house in the county to do so. My mother was fond of saying that her Daddy “hand-picked every board in the house so that none of them had a single knot in the wood.” I remember vivid pale blue wallpaper with giant white cabbage roses in the bedrooms; the bathroom fixtures and tiles were turquoise, even the toilet and sink and had a snazzy art deco vibe. The tub was over 6 feet long and a grown man could lay down in it. Ceilings in that house were 12 ft high and had ceiling fans or punkahs in the middle of each room to keep us cool all summer long. The scale of the house was pleasant, open, and spacious.

    Granny’s house sat on a large corner lot in Sulphur Springs, nestled in a ring of giant pecan trees that provided shade in the summers, pesky squirrels in the winter, and dropped pecans onto the roof the rest of the year. Behind the house was a fenced in yard, and behind that was another fenced in yard full of more pecan trees and a vegetable garden. Behind that yard was a pasture where horses and cows were kept. Several wooden storage buildings, built to match the house, kept carriages, then cars, and served as workrooms for various projects.

     I remember, as a little child, visiting Granny’s house. I remember the stately Victorian homes, separated by iron fences, flowers, and tall trees that lined her street. We would invite the neighbor across the street, Miss Dolly, over for coffee. My grandmother never learned to drive, and when it was time to shop we walked a few blocks “to town”, along sidewalks cracked with enormous tree roots. Along the way, we passed old folk sitting on shady porches, airing themselves, and Granny would say, “Good morning. Have you met my grand-daughter?” as we walked past. Nowadays, all the beautiful old Victorian houses are gone, torn down, and the lots turned into a no man’s land of light industrial commerce. Looking at the street haunts me, as I wonder : What remains of any of us, after all the people and buildings are gone that we knew? 

3/22/2017

Where to eat in New Orleans

I love NoLa so much I visit about once every three years, mostly for the food. My visits are always planned around meals, with brief periods to walk off the calories before eating again. I like to try out a few new places to eat each visit, but always return to old favorites, as well.

The very first fine dining restaurant I ever visited in my life was Antoine's, when I was 16 years old and visiting N.O. on a school trip. I have always been a fearless gourmet eater, and it all started here - after consuming greedily a large bowl of magic known as "gumbo", I got to the bottom of the bowl only to discover that all the tasty things I had been gobbling down included a half a crab, guts spilling out into the bowl. I didn't care. It was awesome. I don't eat at Antonines every single time I am in NoLa, but about every other. After all, I have to give some other fine dining establishments a chance, too. I have never been disappointed.
                                         bread pudding at Antoine's during Restaurant Week

If you find yourself in New Orleans in August, when the weather is miserable and even the tourists stay home, you may be fortunate enough to have arrived at a time the locals call "Restaurant Week." This is a marketing ploy to lure in the unsuspecting - the heat and humidity are reminiscent of Rangoon in the rainy season- and it is well worth the serious gourmand's attention. Many of the pricier restaurants around town offer special deals, 3 course pris fix meals at a low low rate - both the Old Guarde Grande Dame establishments, as well as the trendier newcomers.
                                               Remoulades- good red beans and rice, jambalaya

I have never had a bad meal in NoLa. Never. It is because I read reviews online and carefully plan what and where I will eat. Make sure the calories are worth it. I generally don't like chain restaurants, and often find that the newer flashier places are over-priced and under-quality. It's not that I shun the newer establishments, I just vet them carefully before I spend my $$$. Also, I refuse to stand in a line for pretty much anything - except Preservation Hall - and always make reservations in advance. (I use Open Table and collect reward points.)

Galatoire's
This most recent trip was my first to Galatoire's in a long time. Reservations got us a quiet table for dinner upstairs, at a window overlooking the clamor below. That's how you do it in NoLa. The downstairs room was for walk-ins and had a long line to get a table. Jackets are required for gentlemen- bring your own or wear theirs. I had : turtle soup (so -so), shrimp cocktail, (excellent), salad w blue cheese (excellent), fresh catch of the day fish (forget what kind) in a Meuniere Almondine sauce (excellent), a couple of Sazeracs (very strong) and could barely waddle out, so no dessert.
                                                                  Cafe du Monde

I have been eating beignets at Cafe du Monde for over 40 years now, and I never get tired of them. The only unpleasant aspect of dining there is the line, which can be two hours long or more. I recommend visiting in the middle of the night.

                                                                           Brennan's
Brennan's is credited with inventing eggs benedict and bananas foster. For this reason, it is a popular breakfast or brunch choice for many, and again, reservations are your friend. We skipped a line down the block and walked right in. Fans were devastated a few years back when the family announced it was shutting the venerable institution down. Fortunately, they opened it back up awhile later, and you can eat the same wonderful dishes there just as if it never happened. Rest assured, it is still pretty damn good. For breakfast dessert this year I had fresh local strawberries, currently in season, with mascarpone cheese that were melt in your mouth delightful. And of course, mimosas.
                                                                Commander's Palace
Commander's Palace, or CP- I have to disclaim: I have never eaten here. Many rave about it, but my friends have always said they felt it was over-priced and not that good. Yet it is owned by a member of the Brennan's family. IDK. I list it here as a member of the NoLa Old Guarde Grande Dame restaurants.
                                                                          Tujague's
Tujague's (pronounced "two jacks", like a hand of cards) is a place I have walked by 100's of times all these years, and never entered. I do not know why. This year I decided to try some of these places I had never been to, expand my repertoire as it were. Glad I did - I had the best gumbo of this trip, as well as a damn fine brisket poboy, and the best Sazerac of the trip (made correctly, with cognac, not whiskey). Also, the best French bread of the trip. All around, it was delightful, and I am glad I finally tried it out. Note: I loaded the dice by reading restaurant reviews online, and ordering food items that others had said were the best offerings. Just FYI: The poboy was huge, husband and I shared one, and were penty full when done.
                                                                  Court of Two Sisters
Court of Two Sisters- Many will decry some of these establishments in the French Quarter as being too touristy or too this or too that. My personal thought is that if a place has been around for a long long time, there must be a reason why. Court of Two Sisters is not your fine gourmet cuisine, upscale dining, or eclectic fusion experimental dishes. Court of Two Sisters is huge buffet of all the favorite Cajun comfort foods, in an all-you -can-eat format. It is a great place to take hungry teens, rowdy kids, family reunions, grandmas and grandpas, or folk who want to try a diverse array of foods for the first time, Their oysters rockefeller may not be the best in the world, but you can try them and see if it is something you might like to try again, later, in a more gourmet establishment. Good place for peel and eat shrimp, gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, etc.
                                                      Bread pudding at Bourbon House
Bourbon House- Pull in here for a brief respite when the crowds on Bourbon St start to drive you nutz. Dinner is pretty good, the oyster bar is great, and their bread pudding is the best in town.

                                                              Atchafalaya Restaurant
Atchafalaya - We ventured out of the Quarter on our previous visit, and discovered this little gem. Here I had the best shrimp and grits I have ever had in my life, before or since.
                                                      shrimp and grits at Atchafalaya

These are by no means the only or even the best restaurants in town. These are my faves, and what I know and do not know based on what I like. Stay posted- everytime I go, I try someplace new, and I will let you know what I think.