Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Diet and Exercise Update

"Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I realized this week that it has been six months since I made the drastic change to eliminate all gluten and dairy from my diet. Wow, six months! I think that is the longest I have ever stuck with a change in my eating habits. I can honestly now say that it is much easier than it was when I started back in January.

People ask me from time to time if I think that eliminating gluten and dairy from my diet has helped my autoimmune symptoms. It has not eliminated the symptoms but at this point, I feel that it has helped. On a few occasions I have intentionally eaten something with gluten or dairy in it and I have noticed a change for the worse either in my level of joint pain and/or in my asthma symptoms. In addition to that, I never have any gastrointestinal issues at all anymore and my menstrual cycle is much more tolerable.

I have become frustrated with this eating plan at times, most notably when I came off of my last round of steroids and my joint pain immediately came back. I sat and wondered why the heck I was making my life more challenging by eliminating gluten and dairy when I was still having joint pain. The point that I was missing at the time though was that the joint pain was not as severe.

One of the biggest advantages that I have found with living a gluten and dairy-free lifestyle is the changes it has forced me to make in my eating habits. Changes that have positively affected my health, weight, and overall well being. For example, I have to plan out and think about what I am going to eat. Gone are the days of impulsively shoving something in my mouth because I am either hungry or because I crave a particular food. The options available to me at fast food joints and restaurants are much fewer and therefore I am spending much more time at home cooking meals from scratch which means healthier meals.

Many people say that eating gluten or dairy-free, as well as organic, is much more expensive but I would have to disagree. Yes, my food bill is more each week but it does not compare to the amount of money I save by not swinging by Subway several times a week or eating dinner out more than once every other week. I have also found that unless it is a homemade food, gluten-free products such as bread, muffins, etc. tend to be much more unhealthy and filled with more preservatives than non-gluten products. This has resulted in eating these items once in a great while and instead I choose whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and whole grains.

The second big change I made in my diet was making the decision to start the Weight Watchers program. This has literally been a godsend for me. I have found the program to be much more "whole foods" friendly than it used to be and I enjoy the fact that in addition to going to weekly meetings, I can also use their online program which enables me to work the program from my laptop or cell phone. I have found a meeting I really enjoy on Tuesday afternoons. Adding a Weight Watchers program to my gluten and dairy-free lifestyle has been a challenge but well worth it. Since my birthday, which was May 3rd, I have lost eighteen pounds. If you add that to the weight I have gradually lost over the past three years, my body is now fifty-five pounds lighter. Oh yeah.

I continue to go to the gym anywhere from four to six days a week. Exercising has become a more difficult task since coming off prednisone and sometimes I just want to say "the hell with it" and quit. But I don't. I am committed to changing my life and I cannot let joint pain, fatigue, and migraines get in the way of that. I have however changed some of my routine around and have cut back on the length of time I am exercising until I can get my symptoms more under control. I have started taking Pilates classes which was a big step for me and I am in love with it. Right now my exercise regime consists of Pilates, water aerobics, lap swimming, the cross trainer, and rowing. My goal is to be able to increase the time of my workouts and try some other different classes once my joint pain has improved.

I love to exercise. Shocking but true. For most of my life it has been a chore and something I dreaded doing; when I did do it. It is different now though. It is a necessity for me mentally as well as physically. I have worked hard to find activities that are not only safe for my joints but also fun. Despite the physical challenges that I still have, every week I find that my body is getting stronger. Every time I swim a lap in the pool of sit on the mat in a Pilates class, I feel like I have more control over the body that I have spent so much time cursing.

My hope is that as I continue to lose weight and build a stronger body that more of my autoimmune symptoms will lessen or even disappear. If not, I figure the worst that can happen is that my new lifestyle will help prevent future issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Not to mention how much better I will feel about myself.

Works for me.

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Afternoon with Wynonna Judd

Sometimes all it takes is just a smile to change somebody's weather
chase the clouds out of their sky.
Sometimes you got to give and not receive,
Sometimes you got to live what you believe,
Open your arms cause that's where it starts
Right here with you and with me,

What the world needs now is love. Love and only
love. A little help
from up above.
Fit to make a better day. Let's come together lay our differences
down. Spread it all around,
That's what the world needs now.


It happened sometime around the year 1992. A friend of mine introduced me to country music, in a country bar in Springfield, MA and despite the fact that I thought I didn't like country music, I fell in love with it. I even learned how to line dance way back then. I have followed country music for the past twenty years but I have always stuck with a few of my favorites from those years I spent line dancing when I was in my twenties. One of those favorites was and still is Wynonna Judd.

I have always wanted to see Wynonna in concert and for many reasons, the opportunity never presented itself. I was a broke college student or a broke young adult in my twenties trying to swing living on my own for the first time. Then came marriage and along with it, the stresses of being in a bad one. Significant health issues arose and there wasn't much time for having fun. After a while, Wynonna disappeared from the tour circuit.

Then it happened. Chuck, my fiance, found out that Wynonna was on tour and coming to a concert venue, Indian Ranch in Webster, MA, for a show date. And guess who got tickets for her 41st birthday from the best fiance ever. Oh yes, that would be me. Twenty years as a fan and I was finally getting to see one of my music idols.

Yesterday was the day of the concert and it definitely started out not being my best day physically as I have been battling some pretty severe migraines lately; most likely related to my autoimmune disorder. But I was so determined to go. I know Chuck was a little nervous about purchasing concert tickets because we had to cancel out on a Miranda Lambert concert earlier this year and we ended up giving the tickets away. But seriously? This was Wynonna! It would have taken being on my death bed to pass this opportunity up.

A few Tylenol, an hour with ice packs, some nausea medicine and we were off to Webster, MA. I had never been to Indian Ranch for a concert before and we were pleasantly surprised. It is on the smaller side for a concert venue compared to other places I have attended concerts but I love the intimate setting of it. We found our seats and I was shocked at how good they were. We were six rows from the stage with an aisle in front of us. Chuck had intentionally picked these seats because the chairs were more comfortable than the bleacher seats and since there was an aisle in front of us, it would make it easier for me to get up and move around if my arthritis started acting up.

You know that feeling you have as a child on Christmas morning? The one where you have so much anticipation and excitement that you feel like you cannot even contain it for another minute? That is exactly how I felt while listening to the opening band and waiting for Wynonna to come on stage. The opening band, The Eric Grant Band, was actually great but I just could not contain my excitement of waiting for Wynonna to perform. I am not typically one of those people who gets all starry eyed over celebrities and performers, but she is one of my rare exceptions.

I was not disappointed.

She came on that stage and I was mesmerized from beginning to end. The performance was spectacular because it had one major quality that a lot of concerts these days lack and that was: authenticity. No bells and whistles. No fancy lights. Just Wynonna and her very talented band singing and playing their hearts out. She talked with the crowd and even invited audience members up to the stage several times so they could give her flowers, meet her, and even sing with her. She joked with us. She came across as a real woman.

And this real woman can sing. If I could pick one person in the world whose voice I wish I had, it would be the voice of Wynonna Judd. This woman has range, power, and soul with every note that she sings. Chuck went with me to the concert and he is very much NOT a country music fan and until yesterday, would not even know a Wynonna song if he heard one.  However even he was impressed with the vocal and band performance, as well as with the entire show.

But alas, all good things must come to an end and after about an hour and a half, our afternoon with Wynonna was over. On the way back to our car we noticed a small group of people waiting at the fence which surrounded Wynonna's tour bus. It had been a long day for me and I was exhausted and in pain. But the possibility of seeing Wynonna and the very rare possibility of speaking with her outweighed the pain, exhaustion and even the need to get home to our dog. After approximately an hour, it became apparent that she was settled in on her tour bus and would not be coming out to see our small group of fans.Then again, who could blame her after the high energy performance she put on and the hours she had spent getting ready for the performance and meeting fans before the show.

However as luck would have it, her husband and very talented drummer, Cactus Moser did make his way to the tour bus during that hour and was kind enough to great fans, take some photographs, and sign autographs. My five to ten seconds of meeting him was something that I had not expected to happen and I felt fortunate to be able to interact with such a talented musician; a first for me.

So now I can say that I have seen the one country music singer that until yesterday, I had never had the opportunity to see perform. One more item crossed off my informal bucket list.

A memory made.
A memory preserved.
One that when thinking back, will always make me smile.

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Myers

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Whale Watching...Life Watching...

“We clear the harbor and the wind catches her sails and my beautiful ship leans over ever so gracefully, and her elegant bow cuts cleanly into the increasing chop of the waves. I take a deep breath and my chest expands and my heart starts thumping so strongly I fear the others might see it beat through the cloth of my jacket. I face the wind and my lips peel back from my teeth in a grin of pure joy.”  ~ L.A. Meyer

I have always loved the ocean, especially the New England coastline. Beaches, lighthouses, sand, boats, and scenic views are just the beginning of my love affair with the ocean. Add to that the sound of waves crashing the rugged shoreline as well as the smell of the salt water penetrating my nostrils and I am in a state of complete contentment. Pure joy even.

Up until last year, I was always more a spectator of the New England coastline and it's vast Atlantic Ocean rather than a participant. I would walk beaches scouring for shells and tour lighthouses but with the exception of two ferry trips, I was never actually on the ocean. Then last year Chuck and I spent an afternoon on a tugboat as part of the MS Harborfest event benefiting the Multiple Sclerosis Society and I was hooked. I found a new love in Portland, Maine. A love of piers, fishing vessels, lobster traps, and even the somewhat foul smell of a fishing port.

We had been wanting to go on a whale watch together since we started dating almost two years ago. Chuck had been several times before and I had never been. I am not quite sure why. I think part of it was that I always shied away from going on boats due to issues with motion sickness and also just never really having the opportunity to be on a boat. However this year we were finally able to make the time to schedule it and it worked out that I was finally well enough to brave the adventure.

So yesterday we made the trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts, about two hours from our home, to go on a whale watch with a company called 7 Seas Whale Watch. I was beyond excited mostly because it was an experience I had never had before and also because I got to be on the ocean again. Apparently I come from a long line of fisherman on my dad's side of the family and when I did a genealogy research many years ago, Gloucester was one of the areas that some of my distant relatives had worked and lived in. Maybe it is in the blood!

Nothing though could have prepared me for the experience I had yesterday and how profoundly it affected me.

After taking a good dose of Dramamine for motion sickness, we got on the boat. Everyone else getting on board seemed so intent on getting a seat and staying put. By the time we got on, there were no seats left except inside the cabin and I didn't see the point of staying in there! My first thought was that it was going to be difficult to stand with my physical issues as the trip was supposed to be almost four hours long. But then I decided it was going to all work out somehow for the best. So instead, we settled ourselves by standing at the bow of the boat, which is the very tip of the front of the boat. The width was enough room for Chuck and I to stand together side by side with nobody in front of us and nobody to the sides of us. There was a double railing so it gave me the ability to switch positions often by leaning and supporting myself on the rail. I figured eventually there would be an open seat somewhere out of the deck.

Absolute best decision.

Why? Because when the boat started moving, we had the best view ever. I knew at that point that there was no way I would be moving from that spot unless I was on the verge of collapse. The boat had such a low profile (meaning close to the water) that it felt like we were right on the water. And with the boat traveling at speeds of up to about 20mph, being at the bow was incredible. Wind rushing through my hair and body and having an unobstructed view of the vast Atlantic Ocean was priceless.

At first, we slowly moved out of Gloucester Harbor which is just a treat in itself. Breathtaking scenery of lighthouses, fishing vessels, old buildings, and even a harbor seal! Then as we moved out of the harbor, the temperature dropped and what was stretched in front of me was the beautiful vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. An occasional fishing or sailboat was all we saw at first and then we saw nothing but blue water as far as the horizon where it met the sky.

And it just got better.

Since we were at the very front of the boat, I spotted the first whale. I could see in front of that horizon water shooting up from the surface. Water from the blowhole of a whale. A creature that I had never seen before in its home. A creature free to roam its land freely, untouched by the modern world that we live in.

As we got closer to the whale watching spot, the boat slowed down and eventually stopped. It is a surreal feeling being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at a standstill. No other vessels around (at that point) and people on the boat waiting in silence; waiting to see the great creature we had come to observe.

And then they came, not one but two whales. Two humpback whales diving in and out of the vast ocean working as a pair while they were feeding. Such an incredible sight. Such a natural sight. A sight that left me with tears welling up in my eyes. Why, I am not sure.

From what we were told by the naturalist narrating our tour, the area we were in, Stellwagon Bank, is a large feeding area for the whales, USA Today has listed this area off the coast of Gloucester as one of the world's top ten whale watching sites.

I can see why.

Apparently we happened to hit an unusual day for our whale watch. There was an abundance of whales to watch and it was amazing how close the captain of our boat could get us to these magnificent creatures. Humpbacks, Finbacks, and Minke whales were on the agenda for yesterday. Sometimes we would see one, sometimes two working in tandem to gather their food to store up for the winter when they would then migrate down to the Caribbean where there is no food available for them. We got to see a calf, which is a baby whale. At one point, we could see several whales with the water shooting out of their blowholes in the distance. There had to be at least four gathered together.

Another treat was that we saw schools of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, which is an unusual sight in July. Normally they grace the water of the Atlantic in the spring and fall. Sometimes we saw two swimming at a time; sometimes four. Sometimes swimming alone and more incredibly, sometimes flanking the sides of a humpback whale as he/she travelled the waters. At one point, our boat drove along the dolphins as they perfectly synchronized their swimming in pairs alongside our boat.

Nature in perfect harmony.

Life in perfect harmony.

After staying out in the whale's feeding area for what seemed like an infinite amount of time, our vessel made its way back to Gloucester Harbor. This time I found a seat but still I was at the front of the boat. My senses felt pleasurably assaulted once again. The sound of the ocean water rushing away from the sides of the boat sounded like music. The smell of the salt water still in the air.

Sometimes spiritual experiences come when you least expect them. I have to say, I was due for a spiritual experience; one that made me feel like I was more connected with God and with myself. I am not sure exactly how it happened. Maybe it was because of my spot on the boat, up there in the front. It helped me to feel like Chuck and I were the only ones on that boat. Like we were almost right on the water with those creatures. Maybe because like I mentioned earlier, we were in a place untouched by our modern world with all of it's distractions. A place of beauty.

One thing I do know for sure: we were in God's country. For me, a place free of doctors and medical tests. Free of insurance and disability companies. Free of technology. Free of other people's drama. Free of stress, disappointments, and expectations. A peaceful place.

In other words, a little piece of heaven.
Right here on earth.

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Myers