Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Potato and Sausage Soup (gluten and dairy free version included!)


Here's a potato soup recipe I tweaked to remove processed food items and include a gluten and dairy free version. It is super yummy, perfect for a cold winter day!

Potato and Sausage Soup

6 cups potatoes (cubed - can be peeled or unpeeled)
1/2c celery (or more if you like a lot of celery) (diced)
1/2 an onion - diced
~1lb italian sausage (can substitute ham or bacon as well)
32 oz chicken broth (I use free range organic)
salt and pepper to taste

White Sauce (regular)
5T butter
5T all-purpose flour
2 cups milk

White sauce (gluten and dairy free)
1 1/2 T olive oil
5T gluten free baking flour (I used Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour)
2 cups unsweetened almond milk

In a large pot brown the sausage. Add onions and sauté until soft. Add the potatoes, celery, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes are soft. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a separate sauce pan, melt butter (heat oil). Add flour and stir to combine until there are no lumps (for the gf version, the oil will not adsorb all the oil, so you will have lumps and dry flour remaining, no worries). Add the milk, continuously stirring, keep those lumps away! Mixture will thicken (takes about 4ish minutes- keep stirring!).

Add white sauce to the potato mixture and stir to combine.

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese sprinkled on top.

If you refrigerate the soup and reheat, I found that the soup was VERY thick so I added water while reheating until I got a soupy consistency.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Hesed

The mind is a funny thing sometimes.

Yesterday was infusion day. I wasn't feeling great, but was still better than I have been in past months on infusion day. I walked into the infusion room and there was just one other gal sitting in there. I had never seen her before and I know I would have remembered seeing her - she was young, probably my age or a year or two younger. It's usually older people in the room. She looked pretty peppy, but didn't seem interested in conversation as she kept her head down in the book she had brought. I was kinda bummed, because I enjoy visiting with people in the infusion room.

My infusion nurse hooked me up and within about twenty minutes, I started feeling pretty bad. My head felt like a headache was about to start, which I have heard happens to some folks during infusions, but has never happened to me. My head felt thick and fuzzy, like my thoughts were all moving through some thick fluid. Apparently, I fell asleep, because I awoke to the nurse removing the line from my arm. I noticed Peppy-Girl was asleep in her chair as well. I headed to the restroom, a must after getting a liter of saline pumped into you :) and had one of those "yikes, what happened to my face!?" moments when I glanced in the mirror. I looked so tired and pale and sick.

Peppy-Girl and I ended up riding the elevator down to the parking garage together and I noticed she wasn't Peppy-Girl anymore, but Tired-and-Drawn-Girl. She commented to me how tired the infusions make her. I agreed, although, I had never connected my sleepiness during infusions to the drugs themselves, I figured sitting in a comfy big chair and just relaxing was causing me to be sleepy. I had never experienced the physical roughness of an infusion, during the infusion, until today.

My infusions take place up in the medical center in Houston and it's a long drive back to my house...through rush hour traffic, so I usually head over to my friends' who live about ten minutes from my doctors and have dinner with them and their kiddos and wait out the traffic. As I was driving over there, I was overcome by how poorly I was feeling. I got a bit teary-eyed. I pulled into a Starbucks to grab my usual reward for getting an infusion (and a much needed pick-me-up at this point!) As I waited in the drive-thru line, my mind wandered to a chapter I had read recently in some book about a Hebrew word that meant "goodness."

As I drove to my friends' house, I thought about how good the Lord was to allow me to have friends with cute kids to snuggle with after my infusion and good food to eat with them rather than sitting in Houston traffic for over an hour.

I thought about how good the Lord was to be able to have a conversation with Peppy-turned-Tired-Girl  and that we were able to share and sympathize with one another.

I thought how good the Lord was to be able to allow me to feel so poorly, because that meant the drugs that I had just been given were working to make me feel better. That little B-cell killers were waging a war at that moment in my body to push back the crazy Melissa-immune system and calm them down.

And I thought how good the Lord was to allow me to see His goodness, rather than feel sorry for myself or to continue thinking on how I was feeling at that moment.

The mind is a funny thing. Because that entire drive - to my friends house and home again - I couldn't think of the actual Hebrew word. It took me fifteen minutes to finally find it (I'm reading too many books at the same time right now). The word is "hesed" and it is the Hebrew word for "goodness." How wonderful and funny - that in the moment when I very much needed to remember His goodness, my mind called up a memory of reading about the Hebrew word for goodness.

Wonderful and funny, yes. But also, just another example of His hesed towards me.


Playing with these cute kids in their fort before dinner :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gluten-free, almost dairy-free, Pumpkin Muffins


So, I've updated my Pumpkin Bread/Muffin recipe to make gluten-free and almost dairy-free (still has butter in it, you could use shortening instead and make it completely dairy-free) muffins

Pumpkin Muffins - gluten-free and almost dairy-free
Sift together:
1 3/4 C. gluten-free multi-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour)

1/4 tsp xantham gum for every 1c gf flour used
1/4tsp double acting baking powder (can substitute gf baking powder)
1 tsp baking soda (can substitute gf baking soda)
1 tsp salt
rounded 1/2 tsp cinnamon
rounded 1/4 tsp nutmeg
rounded 1/4tsp ginger

Preheat over to 350F.


In a bowl, beat 2/3 c brown sugar, 2/3c white sugar, 1/3c butter, and 2 eggs.
Add and beat in 1 c canned pumpkin

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl alternately with 1/3 c almond milk, 1/2 tsp vanilla. Beat only enough to make sure flour mixture/milk is mixed in- don't over beat.

Place batter in aluminum muffin cups (muffins will stick if you use just paper cups) and bake ~28 minutes - time varies depending on how full the cups are so keep an eye on them. Cool on wire rack. Eat fresh or freeze (see update below on freezing).


**Update** These also froze and thawed really well. I had them in the freezer for about 3 weeks and they still tasted great! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Turkey - final post - Hot air balloons and Turkish baths

We hopped on an early flight to Kayseri, which is in central Turkey. Our shuttle bus picked us up and an hour and half later we were in Goreme, our faces pressed against the windows of the bus as it careened up twisty streets that wound their way amongst houses and shops carved into these strange, other-worldy rock formations called "fairy chimneys." Cappadocia (pronounced "cappa-doh-kia") has been on my places to visit list since I read a book about The Silk Road and the traveler writer had wondered through the canyons and valleys filled with these rock formations. After googling images, I was sold. "1000 Places to See Before You Die" introduces Cappadocia as "For those who think they've seen everything, think again."

 Cappadocia

We stayed in a cave hotel that was recommended by our friend Kelly. The proprietor, Hanife, was super friendly and helpful - she gave us restaurant recommendations, hiking options, and vouchers to the Turkish bath (more on that later :) ). We headed out for a walk to the Goreme Open Air Museum. This area is really hilly, so it was actually a pretty good workout walking up to this place. These dwellings housed Christians who were being persecuted in the 800-1100AD timeframe. Paintings are still vivid on the stone walls and the kitchen room walls are stilled stained black with smoke residue.

Goreme Open Air Museum

After the open air museum, we headed to the Turkish bath. We had both done some research and talked with some fellow travelers to make sure we had the etiquette down for the baths and decided we wanted to experience this thing called the hamaam, or Turkish bath. We opted for the standard bath and added on an oil massage.

We headed down the marble steps, rolling our eyes good-naturedly at the Turkish man who tried to convince us to go down the other set of stairs to the men's section. Two women greeted us, gave us a wrap, and ushered us to the changing rooms. Wrap securely in place and our locker keys fastened on our wrists with a rubber bracelet, we were directed to some cushiony chairs, our faces slathered with a seaweed/mud facial and given a glass of tea. We then were taken to the sauna and baked in there for 15 minutes before heading to the showers and rinsing off. The next stop, and the whole point of this, was the bath room. A white and gray marble domed room with a raised circular platform in the center. Three Turkish women stood smiling, ready for their next victims, bathers. I had to point to my shins, which had gotten a bit sunburned at the beach and told the lady "ouch, soft?" She nodded in understanding.

This is pretty much what the bath room looked like

Bath-lady then proceeded to put two scouring mitts on her hands and scrubbed me down. I had read that some folks thought this was a bit uncomfortable, but it felt just like those sugar/salt scrubs that you can get done at spas. I was rinsed off and then drowned in a bunch of soap bubbles as the next step began. This step was pretty awesome because they massage you as they wash, and my poor feet and calves were super tight from all the hiking/walking we had been doing. Another rinse, I was handed my wrap and directed to the showers to shampoo my hair. There was a swimming pool that we were supposed to relax in. It was really cold, so a quick dip was all we did and then it was off to another steam room and then to the oil massage, where Helga the Torturer proceeded to pummel me for ten minutes. And that folks, is the Turkish bath. Although slightly awkward, it was definitely worth the experience and I would do it again :)

We woke up super early the next morning to catch our van to...our hot air balloon ride! This is the must-do activity in Cappadocia - what better way to see the eerie rock formations than from the air...at sunrise!

We pulled up to the launch site and watched as the balloons were filled. I remembered going to the hot air ballon festivals as a kid and seeing this happen, but this time, I got to go up in one! After some brief safety instructions and a practice run at taking our landing positions, we all climbed into the basket (there are no doors, so it's up and over into your little cubby that holds 4 people, 20 people total in the basket). I had been nervous about this ride because I am not a fan of heights, but as soon as the basket lifted off of the ground, I thought "oh, this is going to be so amazing." Balloon flight is so smooth because you are part of the air. The flight was about an hour and was just awesome. It was so peaceful, just drinking in the beauty of the impossible landscape below. So glad I was able to do this!


In our balloon and ready for our flight!



The sun's rays just beginning to touch the canyons



Pillars of stone

So many balloons - this doesn't capture all of the ones in the air



Wow


After our balloon ride, we went on a 7km hike with a guide through the Ilhara Gorge, the deepest gorge in Turkey. Both Erin and I thought it was a really pretty hike, but honestly, it really felt like hiking around in northern Arizona, so I think I would pick a different hike next time with more unusual scenery. Still it was a great (long, tiring :) ) day.

Ilhara Gorge

We flew back to Istanbul the next day and did our souvenir shopping in the bazaars - I have some pretty entertaining stories about our shopping experiences, but they are too long to blog, so you will have to ask me in person. :)

Turkey was all I had hoped it would be.  I felt healthy and strong and had so much fun. Thankful to be able to travel, to have Him allow me to recognize that it is because of His grace that I can, and amazed by the wondrous things that He has created.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Turkey - part 2 - Izmir and Ephesus

So as I stated before in my previous post, Izmir was not what we had expected. For one, somehow we had thought there would be beaches (we had planned to have at least one relax-on-the-beach day). Izmir was all browns and grays, dusty and hot and the water was completely surrounded with a dirty gray concrete wall. No beach. And the water looked odd. I don't know how to describe it, but every time I looked out over the water, I felt unsettled. Even this photo weirds me out...


Creepy water


So about 15 minutes after getting to our hotel, we sat on our beds, munching on trail mix and utilizing the free wi-fi to plan a short day trip to to Chios, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey. The coast was about an hour bus ride away, so we made our plans, looked up a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant, and headed out to eat.

Our best seafood meal - seabass stuffed with a Turkish cheese and grilled prawns. After thinking we had annoyed the owner with our attempts at Turkish, he ended up offering us tea on the house, so maybe his annoyed face was really an amused one?

The next morning, we woke up super early, took a taxi to the bus terminal, managed to find a bus heading to Cesme (where we were supposed to catch the ferry to Chios) and off we went.

Unfortunately the bus made more stops than we realized, and soon, we were glancing at the time every 15 seconds, willing the bus to move faster. We reached the town of Cesme, but not the ferry terminal and since we had about 9 minutes until the ferry left, we hopped off, haggled with another taxi, and zoomed away to the ferry terminal. We literally ran up to the terminal as I was pulling up our reservations on the my phone. A guy told us we had to have actual tickets and pointed us to the ticket desk...which was closed.   Turns out, we had needed to be there 20 minutes prior to the ferry leaving, not 5.


The ferry pulling away from the dock without us :(

Bummed, yet still laughing about our whirlwind trek to the ferry terminal, we walked into the town, which was very cute and stereotypically Mediterranean, got some recommendations on local beaches, haggled for some beach towels, grabbed a minibus, and headed to this beach for the day:


Gorgeous weather! The water was a bit chilly for me, so I mostly camped out on my lawn chair for 6 hours and read a really good book :)


Now pros at the bus system, we headed back to Izmir and awoke for an early morning walk to the train station to catch our train to Selchuk (about 1.5 hour away) to meet our tour guide for...Ephesus!

We booked the Ephesus tour through this really great Australian company called No Frills Tours. When we walked into the tour office, Erin recognized one of the couples there as being from her church, and I recognized a couple I had made friends with in the Izmir airport who were from Dallas. So our group of 6 Texans and 2 Australians was pretty chatty and friendly the whole time, which thrilled our tour guide (who was also chatty and friendly) and made for a great day!

The amphitheater in Ephesus


The library in Ephesus


Gateway from the library to the agora (marketplace/meeting place)



Terrace houses that they are still uncovering - mosaics, painting, and 1500 year old indoor plumbing still intact! Only about 3% of Ephesus has been uncovered...can you imagine what the place will look like 50-100 years if the archaeological efforts continued to be funded!?

Ephesus was incredible and was the place I was most looking forward to seeing on this trip. To think I walked along streets that Paul walked on, in the city he taught in...wow. So thankful and amazed to have seen part of the Bible come to life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Turkey! - Part One

Why Turkey?

It's a place that has been on my "to visit" list since at least 2006 (I made it public knowledge with a "5 Places" post in 2008 :)), but how did it get on my list?

It's not what you think.

No, really, it's not.

What caught my attention, what set that bit in my brain of "oh my goodness, I want to go there!"...was a picture of...shoes. Yup, you got it. Shoes. Rows and rows of brightly colored and sequined shoes for sale in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Something like this:



I know, I know, I am incredibly deep. Be amazed.

Insert eyeroll at myself.

I was in Heathrow airport in 2006, trying to stay awake through a long layover before catching my flight to Prague and I went into a bookstore. There was the travel section. There was the book with the picture of the shoes, and the title was "Istanbul."

Thankfully, shoes are not the only reason I went - as my knowledge of Turkey has grown over the years through reading books on the Silk Road and Turkey's history, taking an Ancient Church History class, and studying Ephesians.

This country did not disappoint. Vibrant culture, hospitable people, delicious food, the ability to push me outside of my comfort zone with some interesting travel adventures. It was an absolutely amazing trip and I am so thankful that the Lord has sustained my health both before and during the trip. I felt really good and for the first time in over a year, I felt strong.


Boarding pass to Istanbul, check!


My awesome friend and travel buddy, Erin, and I flew into Istanbul. Passport control was an exercise in patience, as we stood in line for about 3 hours to get our visas and our passports stamped. After catching the metro to the area our hotel was in and then rolling our suitcases around (you'll be proud, I only took a carry-on size suitcase - it weighed 24lbs!) to find the hotel, we only had time to wander down the street, grab some tasty Turkish food for a meal, and then crash for the night.



We only had one full day in Istanbul before our next flight, so we hit the main sights - the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, a boat cruise on the Bospohorus river. Lots of walking around Istanbul and just soaking in the different culture, tasty treats (um, halva, fig, and Turkish Delight munching while strolling through the park around Topkapi Palace? Yes please!)

The Blue Mosque (top) and the Aya Sofya (bottom)



The Bosphorous boat cruise was a bit longer than we planned. The boat ended up stopping at the far end of the cruise, in a little nothing-to-see village for almost 3 hours. We made the best of our time there and hiked up (literally up...not sure what the grade was on this hill, but both our calves were burning by the end!) this massive hill to a castle. The castle wasn't impressive, but the panoramic view of the Bosphorus was. It was pretty hot, so we cooled off with some pistachio ice cream and apple tea and enjoyed the view. The boat cruise ended just at sunset and I made the best attempt I could of capturing the minaret silhouettes.




The next morning, we woke up early, checked out the Spice Bazaar and made mental notes of what to buy (we decided against lugging a bunch of stuff around and planned to come back before our flight home), and headed to the airport to fly to Izmir.

The Izmir leg started out a bit rough for me...despite taking my motion sickness meds, the descent was full of dutch-roll, and I high-tailed it to the bathroom after landed...and now I can add another country to my "places I have yakked"list.  Thankfully, the stomach settled after sipping on a can of Sprite I managed to find in the airport and I handled the bus ride to the hotel just fine.

Izmir was not what I expected. But I will save that for part two...










Saturday, August 10, 2013

One year later...musings and summation



I realized this past week that it has been exactly one year since some tests results showed my innards were all torn up, cause unknown. A whole year. It seems longer than that, not because time has dragged, but because of all I have learned and how I have grown over that time.

The stomach pain is oh so much better theses days! Some days, it's not even there. On the worst days, it's still not comparable to what last fall was like.  I still take a strong daily pain med, but recently got a prescription that will allow me to attempt reducing the dosage. A missed prescription refill a couple of months ago quickly showed me that I can't go completely off the pain med yet, but here's hoping to reduce the amount I need to keep the pain under the "noticeable" threshold. Baby steps! (Still no smoking gun on the cause, but I've got a theory that's soon to be tested and of course, the lupus is a major suspect).

I seem to be responding well to the Benlysta and I feel that my lupus is more controlled than it was a year ago. In fact, :exciting news: I have reduced the dosage of one of my immuno-supressive meds by half! It's taken eight months to slowly reduce it to see how my body reacts, but so far, doing pretty well. I say pretty well, because I tried the next step of reduction recently, and my body didn't like that, so waiting for this minor flare-up to settle and to just stick to my current dosage for now. I am ridiculously excited to not be taking such a mega dose of this medicine, so praise God for progress! :)

While predictability has been such a welcome reprieve, I continue to take one day at a time because things do go wonky from time to time and I think "whoa, what happened here?" It's a reminder that this thing called lupus and autoimmune diseases are not predictable and oh-so-sensitive to...pretty much everything :). And a reminder to not put my trust in patterns or predictability.

In my mind, the most impacting result of this last year, is the still and quiet place that the Lord has grown in me. That, my friends, is the most amazing, wonderful thing that has happened to this gal who always read the verse "gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:3-4)  or "be still" (Psalm 46:10) and threw her hands up, knowing that her crazy, energetic, fast-talking personality would never allow her to be that way.  I've learned that quiet and stillness isn't a reflection of personality or physical action. It doesn't mean I sit there and do nothing, or never talk (pretty sure pigs will fly when that happens :) ) but it means that when things are crazy around me, when my sense of control (yes, it is a "sense") is lost, there is a deep-rooted center in me that is calm, still, and quiet. Waiting. Ears and heart open to the Teaching that is to come. To the Discipline that is to be learn. To the Love that is to be experienced.

Yes, there are still moments where I think, "hmm, maybe I was mistaken", when my thoughts and heart are all a-thunder with doubts and frustrations. And let's face it, gentleness is still a work in progress. But He brings me back. He "calms the raging storm." He is my quietness and my stillness, forged from a trust in Him that He has grown in me.  Oh, how I sought for this and tried to make it happen on my own terms (hello DecemberJanuary, and February), but He has taught me, yet again, that His ways are better and His timing perfect. Nothing that I could accomplish, but only Him.

Do I wish this last year had been different? YES. A resounding YES complete with blinky font and lights. I despise pain, suffering, feeling miserable, and the isolation that all of that sometimes brings. But, I can honestly say that I don't know how else I could have been pulled so far out of myself, so completely stripped and made raw, for Him to do the refining work and instructing He needed to, without the events of this past year. So, I wouldn't change it (I may try to blot it out from time to time ;-) ), but I wouldn't change it. What grace.

Summation

Stripped
Red, raw, bleeding
Endless flowing tears and pain unceasing
Aching, groaning, ripping, tearing

Floundering...flailing...
crawling, grasping
broken, arms thrown, surrender
Waiting

Tugging, closing, wounds stitched together
Presence, soothing
listening, seeds planted, growing
roots deepen

Breathing, resting
steadiness reborn, stronger
coolness, quiet, beauty from ashes
Him, not me

What grace.







Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fun reading books

I've been busy with some house projects and vacation (a vacation that didn't allow a lot of time for reading!) but I managed to tackle these three fiction books that I definitely recommend:




1. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

While sitting in the movie theater, about to watch Star Trek Into Darkness, the trailer for "Ender's Game" played...and I turned to my friends and said "now that looks like a GREAT movie." They stared at me and about three of them said at the same time, "You've never read the book!?" So, of course, I borrowed the book from one of them and seriously cannot believe I have never read it before now.

The first 30-50 pages were a bit disturbing for me...it's Earth after aliens attack and kiddos are being genetically engineered to be soldiers. And six year olds talk like soldiers...not exactly the type of language (both in word and content) that you would expect coming from a little kid, so that bothered me a bit...but by about page 50, something changed and I couldn't put the book down (I read it in one evening). I found out later it is required reading for the United States Marines...and I understand why. The book is all about military strategy, loyalty, calmness in the face of adversity, and clarity during high  pressure situations. Don't want to say too much, because that will give some things away. Just know, it's fun, unexpected, and a great read. Go read it before the movie comes out!




2. Autumn in Esereth, (The Esereth Chronicles, Volume 1) by Molly Meyer-Allyn

This book was a surprise. A mixture of space (and in a way, time) travel, medieval practices, and aliens. And it's a mix that works. I sped through the last pages...only to find a cliffhanger and desperately hoping the author is already printing out the second book! Without revealing too much,  Sara finds a book, and with a flash of light, her entire life and world is changed. Finding herself in the middle of an imminent civil war, Sara must determine her role, discern between the perspectives of the warring sides, and make a choice that is brutal in its finality. The character development is vibrant at times. Balu, a young boy who befriends Sara, and Hecate, the mysterious healer, practically leap off the pages with their endearing and quirky personalities, I could honestly see them in my mind. This is a fun read that touches on some deep philosophical questions regarding human nature and our purpose. Looking forward to seeing how this story unfolds.




3. 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

This book is wonderful. If you loved using your imagination as a kid, you will love this book. If you always wished you had an imagination, you will love this book. Twelve-year old Henry has to spend the summer with relatives in a house that isn't all what it seems. On his first night there, he discovers a wall filled with cupboard doors...but what are they? Or rather...where do they lead to? This book is down-right fun! I laughed out loud, remembered what it was like to be a kid on adventures, and got completely drawn into the story. The conversations between the characters are so vivid and real, I felt like I was standing by them watching their interaction. This is the first book in a three-part series and I cannot wait to start on the second one! 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wakeboarding in PA!

At the beginning of July, I went on vacation with a group of friends who also happen to be my coworkers. Our joint vacation planning started one day while sitting in our cubes...I was just about to go to PA (or just got back...can't remember) and my cubemate, Cory, and I started talking about all the awesome Amish/PA food in the area where I visited (my friends live about 20 minutes from the town Cory grew up in). My other cubemate, Pooja, decided that she wanted to try Amish food...and then Cory mentioned that he and his wife were going to PA in the summer for vacation and we should all come up and go wakeboarding at his dad's place on the river.

So our wakeboarding in PA trip was born.

We all had such a blast on the river and doing some touristy sightseeing in a small town nearby, Lititz.


Apparently Lititz was voted "America's Coolest Small Town." It was pretty cool...


The theme of our Litiz day was food: old-school candy, pretzel, wine, beer, chocolate, and then finishing up with a stop at my favorite Amish restaurant, Katie's Kitchen, in Strausburg for cheeseburger soup and apple dumplings. We definitely need the time on the water to work all of that food off! :)


There was a ton of laughter...face plants in the water as Cory and his friend Tim showed amazing patience and teaching skills as we all tried to wakeboard. Wakeboarding is like water-skiing except with one board...kinda like snowboarding on water while being pulled by a boat. After being uber impressed with  Cory and Tim's somersaults and flips, we all struggled just to stand up for a few seconds at time, it's waaay harder than it looks! Lisa, Purav, and Erin rocked it and were able to stand and be pulled for a long time!

I.loved.it.

video

I wasn't able to get fully "up"...I preferred the "crouching" position ;-) and only lasted seconds before crashing (spectacularly at times...on my head), but I did get out of the water, which the guys were saying is the hardest part. I really enjoy water sports and there are some wakeboarding parks in the Houston area...we've all been talking about going there to get better at it. I really want to standup for a bit :)


The River Gang :)

It was such a fun trip!






Saturday, July 20, 2013

Creepy crawlies


This is a random post, but my experience last night made me giggle, so I figured I would share it with you all. :)

Anyone ever have bug dreams? Like dreams where bugs are attacking them or crawling on them or anything like that?

I had forgotten my history of spider dreams until last night. I woke up convinced that a giant spider had just descended onto my pillows. My reaction was to scoot under the covers to the end of the bed and crawl out and run to turn on the lights. My two cats stared squintly at me as I rustled the covers around, my heart-pounding, pretty sure it was just a dream but not completely convinced. There was no ginormous spider of course. But the dream reminded me of a funny moment from my last year in college.

I shared a townhouse with my bestie, her sister, Katrina, and her brother, Anthony. I woke up, dreaming that a momma spider had her babies on the ceiling, which then all fell down onto my bed. I did a heebie-jeebie dance to brush them off of me as I ran to the lightswitch and flung open my bedroom door. Anthony and Katrina looked up from their video game playing as I half screeched- half gasped "there are spiders in my bed!" Bless their hearts, they both came into my room and helped me rustle the covers to search for the culprits. Talk about good roomies :).

I had several more spider dreams in that townhouse, all of them resulting in a panicked rush to the lightswitch and rustling of covers to make sure it was really a dream (seriously, these spider dreams are very real!). After a ten-year hiatus, the spider dreams are back.

Blah. Spiders.

Feel free to comment with your bug dream experiences :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Therapy Room




At the end of every month, I take a half day off of work and head to the Houston medical center and my rheumatologist's office, where a room full of recliners, pillows, warm blankets, and IV poles awaits me. My infusion nurse, Jessie, takes my weight, blood pressure, and temperature (my meds are calculated according to my weight and if my temperature is too high, it could be dangerous for me to get meds since the meds suppress my immune system even further). I pick a recliner to lounge in and Jessie starts the twenty minute process to dissolve my meds in some solution. My IV is started and the very slow drip starts. We had to slow the drip down about four months ago because my infusions were starting to hurt. My veins have built up scar tissue from the number of sticks and IVs, and infusions can be pretty uncomfortable if the drip rate is too fast. Thankfully, a slower drip rate has made the infusions pretty much painless. But, the slow drip rate means sitting in that recliner for three hours as the biological cell-killing meds drip into my veins.


All around the room are other infusion patients, at various stages of their infusion, reading books, napping, and usually, chatting with other patients.

Many of us are on the same monthly schedule, so there are familiar faces, lives lived over the past month to catch up on and ample time to commiserate, share, and encourage one another in the health trials we are all walking through.

I've talked with a woman in her eighties, all dolled out in flashy bling, who has rheumatoid arthritis that has stolen away her ability to play her beloved piano during the late afternoons when her loneliness is the worst. We talked about other things that she might be able to try when the sun started its descent that would still bring distraction and memories of happier times.

I've spoken with a man in his early forties with neural sarcoidosis, who recently had a port installed (a semi-permanent IV near the collarbone to allow those who need frequent needle sticks to save their veins). We talked about our mutual love of travel, although he was now confined to the forty-eight states due to the complications of his diseas. His envy that I was still working was apparent and saddening...his disease had debilitated him to the point of not being able to function at work, and he spoke of all the friends he had lost, they didn't understand why he had to cancel plans so often, or why he wouldn't hang out like he used. "It's not that I wouldn't, it's just that I couldn't, or can't" he stated sadly, "you know how it is." I hesitated at first, not wanting to rub salt into a wound, but decided to press ahead, "well, I do know the frustration of having to constantly cancel plans because the Disease decides to mess up your plans, but I've been blessed with incredibly understanding and curious friends and family. I'm thankful for that." He smiled, again sadly, "wow, you're lucky." He paused for a moment, then starting telling me about his amazing wife, how she supports and sticks with him through the ups and downs. "Yeah, I'm lucky to have her." You are blessed sir, very blessed.

Last month, a woman in her late thirties hobbled slowly into the room and painfully lowered herself into her recliner. "Rough day?" one of the patients asked her. Nodding slowly, eyes filling with tears, she uncorked the last month of pain and suffering, sharing with the only people who can truly understand her frustration, discomfort, and at times, hopelessness. Not missing a beat, every single person in that room started offering suggestions, different pain meds that have worked for them, diet changes, specialist recommendations. She pulled a notebook out of her purse and started scribbling down the information that was flooding her way. She looked up and smiled for the first time since walking in the room. "Thank you all so much. I love coming here, because you all understand what this is like. It's like group therapy in this room!" We all laughed.

My infusion is tomorrow and I'm nursing swollen fingers, ankle, shoulder, and hip joints right now, taking tylenol to keep my fever down and thinking about who I will see tomorrow at my appointment. My infusion buddy Candace moved her appointment time so that she would start hers at the same time as me (she usually comes in at the tail end of mine). She has spondyloarthropathy (an autoimmune disease that affects the spine), is a preschool director at a local church, and has one son in the Navy and the other at Texas A&M. She has a Texas drawl and is always smiling and telling everyone she is a troublemaker (this woman has had more leaking issues with her IVs than anyone I've seen :) ). I'm looking forward to catching up with her.

Infusions have become more than just getting relief from the lupus symptoms that creep back in as the previous infusion wears off. It's a time to rest, sit, visit, and reflect on all that I do have in my life, the blessings, the small things I can be thankful for, and to be able to share, as opportunities come up and people ask, what He has done in my life. I walk away every month with a list of new prayer requests to pray for, to take my mind off of myself, and intercede on the behalf of others. And for me, that is the real therapy in that room.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Four

Plus four, minus four
Two months to creep up
Four days to plummet down
Hope sags

No rest, constant alertness
Procrastination is not a word
Carpe diem or nothing
No margin for error

Just once to be normal
The rope so thin, dare not stray
Perfection desired but humanness wins
Just be content. Content. CONTENT.

Frail flesh, strong heart
Jaw set, the thorn in
Press on, press on
By grace alone, by Him alone

I see a roadblock, but He sees the whole race.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Arlington, 7, China, running, women's ministry

The post title summarizes the last slew of books I've recently read :)





On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole

I bought this book for Kindle off of the "Books under $3.99" about a year ago. This book was FANTASTIC. When I visited Washington DC (er...9 years ago now :) ), Arlington Cemetry was one of my favorite places. Probably weird to say that about a cemetery, but I loved the history, thought, care, and precision reflected throughout the grounds. Robert M. Poole does an amazing job of telling the story of Arlington: how it went from being Robert E. Lee's personal property to a cemetery out of desperation to rid DC of an overabundance of Civil War dead, to how each of the Unknown Soldiers for each war were selected, how the burial of John F. Kennedy dramatically increased the annual visitors to Arlington, to how the Pentagon almost ended up being on part of Arlington. Over 150 years of history are told in a storytelling voice that makes you forget you are learning history and instead feeling like Arlington itself is a living, breathing character. Definitely worth a read if you like history or military history.


7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this book. My friend Christina told me I HAD to read this...and I am so glad I did...and now I say, you HAVE to read this. Jen Hatmaker lives in Austin and was convicted that there were some areas in her life where there was just TOO much of stuff. So she decided to tackle seven areas that were the most troublesome. As a foodie, she thought too much about food, ate too much, loved food too much. So she picked seven foods and ate only those for a month. The next month, clothes was the area (327 items in her closet). She picked seven and only wore those for a month. So on and so forth through all seven of the areas. Ms. Hatmaker journals throughout each month, documenting her thoughts, her experiences, and how others react to and support her...eccentric plan of 7. She is outrageously funny, honest, and real. You can imagine catching up with her over a cup of coffee. She states clearly at the beginning of the book that she didn't write it to make anyone feel guilty or to show how amazingly disciplined she is (she isn't she has bumps along the way), but warns she can't be blamed if you are also convicted about excesses in your life if you read it :). Love this book. Ms Hatmaker isn't just funny, but poignant, deep, and serious about why she is tackling these areas of excess and what she learns through each month. Loved how it made think about things that I've never spent much time pondering. Great read, challenging content. I think you will enjoy it.



The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward

After being introduced to Gladys in "Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God," I realized I wanted to read more details of her life and story. Called to China, with little education, no formal training, hardly any money, and no knowledge of the Chinese language, Gladys' journey to Yangcheng, China in the early 1930s is harrowing, inspiring, and a little bit crazy :). It also clearly shows that when the Lord wants someone somewhere, heaven and Earth are moved to make it happen. Her boldness, trust, faith and honesty as she lives in China during war, famine, and the start of the Communist regime, speak clearly through the pages, written in a simple (not simple-dumb, just every day honest speaking) voice. An encouraging read on trusting God even in the most seemingly impossible situations.



Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong

My friend Brian is running the Hood to Coast relay race this August to raise money for Lopez Lomong's cause, 4 South Sudan. As part of his fundraising, he sent out a copy of Lopez's book, with instructions to read it and pass it along to someone else. Lopez Lomong is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Stolen from his parents when he was six years old, his journey to escape from those who tried to force him to become a child soldier, survival in a refugee camp, and finally his adoption at age 16 into an American family, is eye-opening, touching, and real. You may remember Lopez as the US flag bearer in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics.  Yup, Lopez went from being a Lost Boy of Sudan to an Olympic athlete and his story and heart for Sudan are inspiring and take-action provoking. A great story of struggle, survival, redemption, and the desire to pay it forward.


Women's Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt

My pastor asked me to read this as I am currently praying about this topic (women's ministry) and how I might be able to serve in my church in this area. Exciting and scary at the same time...eek. I really enjoyed this book because to be honest, not really knowing what women's ministry is about (having never been involved in a women's program before), I was thinking that women's ministry was...fluffy. Let's get together and eat little cookies and drink tea and..talk? I dunno, that's just the imagine I had in my head. I am silly, I know. Anyhow, this book talked about how women's ministry is about digging deep into the Bible, studying, understanding biblical womanhood and how this impacts our daily lives, both at home and in the church family. It's anything but fluffy. And that's what I am desiring...for women who are busy with families, careers, the normal daily stresses to be able to step back and spend some time studying, growing, encouraging one another, and growing to know and love God more deeply together, not as a separate entity from the church, but as part of the church. I've got about 48.2 bazillion ideas right now...continuing to pray through the end of May before meeting with my pastors again to discuss how this may (or may not) unfold.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Rediscovering reading

Although I consider myself an avid reader, I've found that I go through "extreme" phases of reading: from reading almost non-stop to taking months to labor through one book (as my book club partner has discovered :) ). After a several months long dry spell, the reading non-stop bug has bit again and I am thoroughly enjoying it!


Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis


My friend Leslie and I started a book club...it's just the two of us right now, but we are enjoying it. This was the first book that we tackled and I was thrilled because it had been on my list for awhile. It's C.S. Lewis' retelling of Cupid and Psyche's story (Greek mythology) told from the perspective of Psyche's sister, Orual. Amazing writing, plot, character development. The book is broken into two parts and the second was challenging - I read it twice to try and figure out exactly what was going on (it's hard to discern if Orual is dreaming or really experiencing the situations she describes). Definitely enjoyed this one.



The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This was the second book that Leslie and I tackled. Almost 900 pages of Russian literature. One of my favorite books is Crime and Punishment (also by Dostoevsky) so I was excited to start another of his that has been collecting dust on my "to read" stack. As with most of the Russian literature I have read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn), the story isn't limited to the plot, but each of the characters expounding on religion, politics, and the state of society. The plot centers around three brothers, their issues with their father, each other, and murder. It provides a glimpse into what life what like during Dostoevsky's time and encourages the reader to ponder society then and now. The characters are over-the-top dramatic and I found myself wanting to smack them upside the head and tell them to get a hold of themselves :). They are well-developed, and I found myself, liking, despising, caring, and relating to several of them, but the drama was a bit too much for me. The length of the book wasn't too intimidating, since Dostoevsky is a talented story-teller and not too many parts drag, but I much prefer Crime and Punishment.




Faithful Women and their Extraordinary God by Noel Piper

I cannot say enough good things about this book. It's a collection of mini-biographies of women missionaries through the years, their struggles, and how the Lord provided above and beyond anything they could imagine and in some of the most dire and dangerous situations. The gut-punch quote of this book from Mrs. Piper: " I ask myself and you: what is it that keeps us from venturing into something that God has been putting in front of us? What is it that causes us to say "I can't possibly do that?" What am I afraid of? What do I lack? What are my weaknesses?...If we think we can't do what God is asking us to do, we're right. But God can." An inspirational, thought-proking, and spirit-lifting reminder of the sovereignty of God.





The Maze Runner Trilogy (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure) by James Dashner

I literally read one of these books per day - I absolutely flew through them thanks to Mr. Dashner's amazing ability to make one turn the pages at lightning speed with a complicated, layered, and twisting plot and mysterious and believable characters. Along the lines of "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent", this is another young adult Dystopian society series. Out of the three series, I've enjoyed "Divergent" the most and his one probably ties with "The Hunger Games" because of the ending. I appreciate authors who can make those tough plot decisions and take a risk. The Maze Runner trilogy is more gruesome and scary than the other trilogies - I believe because of the content matter (a devastating disease is involved) and possibly because it's written by a man and the main character is male, just a different perspective than the other two series. I would read this at night and actually found myself jumping when the house creaked because I was in an intense and disturbing part of the book :). These are a great, fun, and quick read...and apparently a 4th book, a prequel, is in the works. Woot.



Counsel from the Cross by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson

I picked this up at a conference last year to better educate myself on counseling others, as I was working with a couple of friends who were in challenging situations that were very much outside my realm of experience and ending up finding myself being counseled by this book! The emphasis on this book is bringing the focus of of a situation back to the cross and how it relates to Christ and where that person is in his/her relationship to Him. The importance of bringing things back to the Cross is stated clearly in this quote from the book: "We need to hear it (the gospel) again because if we have forgotten His work on our behalf, it will skew the way we think of Him, the way we think of ourselves, and the way we think of others." Highly recommend this book to help with counseling others and/or for yourself. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Filling out the house

Even though I've been in my house for three years now (!!!), it is definitely still a work in progress. I like adding things slowly and getting a feel for what I want in certain spaces. I've been happy with the results thus far, so I figure I will stick with this pace.

The living room needed something else...and I stumbled upon an IKEA hack of the VITTJSO glass and metal shelves. They are a black-brown and I wanted something more industrial looking and I loved what people where doing to them with just spray paint.

I chose a hammered silver spray paint. Two cans later...some awesome shelves that I think really help to fill up the room more.

Pre-spray paint (ignore my seriously messy garage...cleaning/organizing it is on this year's spring cleaning list)



All hammered-silvery!



See? Much more filled out now. :)

I've also been searching for about a year for a mid-century style armchair for my bedroom. I wanted a reading nook and I was quite picky about the chair...I was going for a certain look and needed to be able to sit in it with my legs/feet curled up into it (um, that's how I like to read :) ). After scouring craigslist for months, and other furniture websites...I began to think that it was a lost cause...until my friends and I happened to go to IKEA and I saw the STRANDMON chair and ottoman. ANd it was comfy! And I could curl up in it! And so, it is now part of my reading nook, along with my craigslist lamp and mid-century table :) It's been getting a LOT of use.


So cozy...