Friday, December 31, 2010

A Fabulous New Year

Awww. I miss you, Sammy boy. Sammy was a wild man at our parties. 

For the last few years, I have purposefully not made a New Year's resolution.

First, because it seems as though these resolutions are just another opportunity to set myself up for failure. But mostly because I'm just a contrary person that doesn't like to be told what to do, even by myself.

However. The last resolution that I made was actually my most effective - when I resolved to be honest with myself. To realistically assess my abilities each day, and then live within that energy reserve regardless of what that reserve may be.

Case in point: usually John and I host an enormous New Year's Eve party. I love those parties. Well, I love jamming large numbers of people and food into our house at any opportunity. But New Year's Eve parties.....ahhh.....what fun. I just love the goofy hats and streamers and noisemakers and the snacks and of course, a mango margarita or two.

 Everyone - without exception - has to wear a New Year's hat at our parties. 

We usually play some kind of series of games in which the guests accumulate tokens which they can trade in at the end of the evening for a fabulous prize. (I always give away FABULOUS prizes. All purchased at one of those dollar stores. Yes, fabulous gifts such as duct tape, feather dusters, sidewalk chalk, extension cords....the list is endless). All wrapped to ensure the mystery of their fabulousness. We all wait until midnight to dive into our gifts. Ooooo. Ahhhhh. One year we gave away dollar lottery tickets and waited until midnight to scratch off and see which of us would become a millionaire. I was shocked - yes, shocked - to see that not one of those tickets were worth more than a dollar or two.

Competition is fierce. Bring it, people.  

But this year, John and I decided to forgo the party after I - thanks to my one ongoing resolution - realistically assessed my energy levels. It's been an unusually crazy few months for me, and although I enjoyed every minute, by Christmas day I knew that there just wasn't enough gas left in my tank to drive me through another hoo-ha event.


But I also knew that if I were to try to muscle my way through the fatigue while ignoring the signals my body is sending me, I would not have a happy New Year. I would spend much of January in a full blown crash and burn session.

Definitely NOT a happy New Year.

So tonight John and I are going out to an early dinner with Terese and Greg. We may or may not still be awake at midnight. Odds are we'll be tucked into bed with our schnauzers snoring away when the clock strikes twelve and the big ball drops in Times Square. But that's OK. Because avoiding a flare is probably the most fabulous prize that I could win this holiday season.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Pillsbury Dough Boy Mystery

Well. It's got me scratching my head in puzzlement. 

SOMEBODY put a box of Pillsbury toaster strudels in my freezer. Expertly placed so that the box would be directly in my line of sight immediately after opening up the freezer door. 

I love these stupid things. Just love 'em. Can't get enough of 'em. Even though I know that they are vile, high-fat, calorie-packed, and really really bad for me. 

Everyone around here is denying that they bought them. Well, if that's the case, then how did they find their way into my house and my freezer? 

Is the Pillsbury doughboy a partner in crime with my Bratty Inner Child Julia? She's denying any involvement in this too, btw. Not that I'd ever believe her. 

Notice that the box is open and the toaster hauled out of the pantry.

They have no redeeming qualities, absolutely none.

I don't know what a propylene glycol monoesters of fatty acids are but dang, they sure taste good.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Victory is Mine

Yeahhhh, baby!

After all the angst and toil, the Christmas puzzle is finished - and I was the lucky duck to place the last piece! 

I left it completed on the table for two days before finally crumbling the puzzle to bits and storing it away for the year.

I wonder if it will ever be taken out again? I may donate it to Goodwill with a big BEWARE note placed inside the box......

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Question Of The Day

Image found here

I was listening to a podcast from This American Life by Ira Glass tonight. It was an older episode so I'm not sure when it was recorded. But at some point during the program, the question was asked, "If you could choose between having two super powers - to be able to fly - or to be able to become invisible - which would you choose? And why?"


I could have told Ira immediately. I would choose to be able to fly.

Ira's guest went on to discuss the conversations that he had with others when posing the question, and made a generalization that men more often chose the flying power, and women chose to be invisible.

Pfft. Please.

I know what it's like to be invisible. As a chubby middle-aged woman dealing with fatigue, thinning hair, and spotty skin, believe me, I'm pretty invisible to society in general. It's not a pleasant sensation. I remember what it was like to be much younger and much more attractive and much more energetic, and thus - very visible. Ah, but those days are long gone.

No, I would want to fly. I have dreams about flying. I would want to lift my arms and effortlessly float and glide wherever I want to go, instead of eyeballing the distance from my car's parking spot to the automatic door of the supermarket and gauging if I have enough energy to walk to and through the store, and then back to the car without sitting down somewhere or having to mop a bucket-full of perspiration from my face.

I'd want to be able to grab Maggie and Lulu's leashes and just hover overhead as they trotted along the sidewalk. We'd float along for miles and miles until they finally tired out and were glad to head home. Maybe I'd land for long enough to do the responsible pet pooper scooper thing, but after tying the filled baggie to one of the leashes, I'd levitate back to a comfortable cruising altitude and we'd be off again.

I could glide up and down all the staircases in my house with ease, hauling laundry or feather dusting the chandelier or those pesky foyer windows.

As a kid, flying wouldn't have had this much appeal to me. I remember watching Mary Martin's Peter Pan on television, and watching my sister jump off the dresser in our bedroom trying to be like Tinkerbell. Oh, I joined in on the chorus when we all shouted WE DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES! WE DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES! But flying? Nah. I always thought that it was pretty stupid for Wendy to take off with a guy wearing green tights.

But now? Well, being much less Earth-bound would be wonderful. Where's that fairy dust when you really need it?

Monday, December 27, 2010

It Can't Be Over Yet!

Hard to believe that tomorrow the kids start packing up and heading north. It was a great week and our home felt like a hotel with people coming and going, which was just the way I like it.

But all good things must come to an end, and I guess Christmas 2010 is about finished, too.

The goodies thankfully are almost gone.

Just a few more pieces remain on the puzzle.

Heading to bed. I suspect that I'll be sleeping through until New Year's.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

What's Going On Over There?

I love that moment after a holiday when everyone looks around at each other and we all collectively sigh with contentment. Ahh. Another very satisfying Christmas. Let's see now...what all did we do....

Consecration image found here

We went to Mass.

We worked on a Christmas puzzle....

.....ate lots and lots of goodies....

and we worked on that Christmas puzzle some more.

We made our annual gingerbread house.....

....and exchanged a few very tasteful Christmas gifts, such as this lovely brain salt and pepper shaker set.


What would the holidays be at our house without some excellent weaponry? Like this semi-automatic battery powered multi-clip Nerf gun? And blast shield?

Everyone needs a yellow submarine lunch box.

Here's an idea! Why don't we work on the Christmas puzzle?

I didn't know Santa was so youthful looking.

Golly! LETS WORK ON THE CHRISTMAS PUZZLE....wait, maybe it's a New Year's puzzle....

We took a ride around the neighborhood to gawk at the light displays. Ours was the best.

And then we all took a wonderfully long nap. Mine lasted six hours.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Reason For The Season

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Begun.....

Roll out the Christmas cookies and pour the champagne! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Love Simon's Cat!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Echinacea, Flu Season, and Autoimmune Disease


Can you hear that?

*cough* *hack* *sniffle*

Yep. It's cold season. The time when folks roll up their sleeves for their flu shots, start thinking seriously about hand sanitizers, stuff kleenexes in their pockets, and at the first sniffle, rifle around their medicine chest for cold remedies. Many grab the nearest bottle of echinacea, an herb commonly thought to reduce symptoms and severity of colds and flu, is also commonly thought to be harmless.

Not so.

Although some studies indicate that echinacea may possibly be a useful tool to boost the immune system, it is clearly not without contraindications. This information from the University of Maryland Medical Center explains:

The use of herbs is a time honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs contain active substances that may trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, people should take herbs under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
People with tuberculosis, leukemia, diabetes, connective tissue disorders, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, any autoimmune diseases, or, possibly, liver disorders should not take echinacea. There is some concern that echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of medications that suppress the immune system. For this reason, people receiving organ transplants who must take immunosuppressant medications should avoid this herb. (See "Possible Interactions.")
In rare cases, echinacea may cause allergic reactions ranging from a mild rash to anaphylaxis (a life threatening reaction accompanied by throat tightening, shortness of breath, and, possibly, fainting). People with asthma and allergies may be at an increased risk for developing these adverse reactions. People with allergies to plants in the daisy family (compositae) should not take echinacea unless they do so under the supervision of a health care provider.
There has been one report of an individual developing erythema nodosum (a painful skin condition) after taking echinacea to treat the flu.
When taken by mouth, echinacea may cause temporary numbing and tingling on the tongue.
Despite concerns that echinacea may be unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, evidence suggests that the use of echinacea during pregnancy does not increase the risk of birth defects or other pregnancy related health problems.

It appears that there may be no reason for Sjoggies or others with autoimmune disease to even consider echinacea use since a recent study casts doubt on the efficacy of the herb. 

A new study just released, authored by Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and colleagues, and conducted by the University of Wisconsin suggests that: 
"Illness duration and severity were not statistically significant with echinacea compared with placebo," the study authors write. "These results do not support the ability of this dose of the echinacea formulation to substantively change the course of the common cold."
You can read more about the use of herbs in autoimmune disease here, and about herbal use from the University of Illinois, here

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


For the past several years, I've purchased a Christmas themed jigsaw puzzle, and just before the kids all came home for the holidays, I'd break open the box and scatter the pieces on our formal dining room table.

So far, it's been so much fun to sit in companionable silence around the table, listening to Christmas music, munching sugar cookies or fudge, while fitting brightly colored pieces together near the Christmas tree. Relaxing. Enjoyable.


This year's puzzle was a leg. You know, the infamous leg lamp from "A Christmas Story", the lamp that was Ralphie's dad's prize. The one that came in a huge wooden crate marked FRAGILE. Or fraaageeelayy! It must be Italian! as Ralphie's dad said.

So, the leg puzzle was finished in one sitting my my young friend Sarah. Smarty pants. You can buy your very own at Barnes and Noble, here.

We immediately went out shopping in search of another, more difficult Christmas puzzle, and when I pulled this one off the shelf, Sarah and Karen looked dubious.

Puzzle by Ravensburger. Order one if you're really, really good at puzzles. Or clueless, like me. 

"It looks really hard", Karen said.

Pffffffttt. Nonsense. I said. If Sarah can whip together the leg puzzle in a couple of hours, we shouldn't have any problems with this one. It will just take longer.

So I smugly headed over to the cashier and later dumped the ONE THOUSAND teensy little puzzle pieces onto the dining room table next to the already-completed Christmas leg. We began.

Days went by. I waved good-bye to Sarah and Karen over the pile of yet unsolved puzzle pieces.

I spent another day hunched over the incredibly complex puzzle with glasses alternately pushed up on my head or thrown in disgust on the table.

Daughters came home for the holidays. They pulled up dining room chairs and pored over the giant stack of pieces while peering at the box cover.

We're all still working on THE PUZZLE. We will conquer this thing if it takes us until next Christmas!

Who's stupid idea was it to buy this, anyway??

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pass the Sprinkles, Please

I'm really glad that I bought the extended warranty for my laptop, because she's acting pretty cranky today. I'm posting this from another computer and I don't have access to my pictures......I feel lost.....

I'm sure things will be straightened out quickly once my hub and son get their hands on it.

In the meantime, try to imagine this scenario - pictures will be supplied once lappy is fixed - Four moms. Two teenagers. One huge batch of roll-out cookies. Frosting. Candy. Sprinkles. Schnauzers. Everywhere.

I laughed until I cried when the teenagers decided that the simple typical Christmas cookie cutters were too boring for this batch of cookies. They decided to combine shapes to make decidedly ununusal critters and shapes.

What would YOU do with a moose and a flame cookie cutter? Or a gingerbread boy that lost one leg? Or.....well, as I said - pictures will follow. Use your imagination.

Ahh. What fun. The moose was declicious.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pictures Are Worth a Thousand Words

Friends visiting. Fun day.

There's nothing more that I can say.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Define Careful and Safe, Please.

I love my dad's hair. It always stands on end. Always. Drives Mom crazy.

My post-stroke Mom.....ah, geez.

We are all so happy with her recovery that we are giddy. Especially Dad. She's home and she's in charge. Of everything.

So her therapists told her that she could do whatever wanted - as long as she was careful and safe. Hoo, boy. These are seriously dangerous words to direct to my mom. SeriouslySeriously as in not giving a minute's thought to hopping in the car today to clean our elderly parish priest's rectory.

"He hasn't had his sheets changed for a week and a half!" she exclaimed. My mother wouldn't consider housecleaning anything but a careful and safe exercise. I think most people would think that hefting around a vacuum cleaner and tackling dishes and laundry would be pretty taxing, but no. Not seventy-six year-old Mom. She would consider shoveling the driveway or mowing all the farm's lawns as vigorous activities that would require safety and caution, but never anything as mundane as housework. Her ruler for measuring the difficulty of physical tasks is not even close to most people's scale.

I did try to tell her rehab team this. But they looked at this petite little woman who was sitting quietly in a wheelchair smiling innocently at them. And cheerfully promising to abide by whatever activity restrictions that they felt were needed. They collectively decided that Mom was capable of self-monitoring her limitations.

Boy, did she have them snookered.

After she related her activities of the day, I wanted to tell her to just take it easy, for crying out loud. It's only been almost two weeks since she was in ICU getting clot-busting drugs pushed through her IV. And by the way? Her lazybutt daughter sometimes goes a whole TWO weeks without changing the sheets, if she doesn't feel like doing the laundry.

But I didn't say a word, because these are the traits that make her Mom. First of all, she wouldn't listen to me anyway. But even if she did, adding a big dose of guilt isn't conducive to anyone's recovery, mine included. It's possible that I inherited my contrariness from my mother, because I know that when someone tells me, "Slow down. Take a rest. You don't really need to do that!" I feel the hackles on my neck rise and inevitably I do more than I should simply because someone told me NOT to. Nyeah!

Ah, well. To be honest, if my mother became a docile, nap-taking, sedentary woman, I would be really concerned.

Go get 'em, Mom.

Friday, December 17, 2010

We Are Not Amused

Nope. This is not me, although my eczema is nummular, too. So there. Image of nummular (or coin shaped) eczema found here

So I have had another outbreak of skin weirdness recently. Different from the other skin weirdness-es that I have experienced previously.

My rheumatologist looked at the circular bright pink blobs on my shoulders and chest and back and made a referral to a dermatologist. "Hm," he said. "New spots."

Off I went like a good patient to my derm doctor. And after forking over $45 dollars for the co-pay, she looked at my pink blobs and said, "Hm. Spots."

Really? Really??

She did elaborate a bit further. She said I have atopic dermatitis, or eczema. "Seems as though people with autoimmune issues also frequently have eczema. Your skin is already irritated and dry, and so it reacts. Try putting some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on it, and take benadryl if it gets really itchy. Here's some other skin-care suggestions."

She handed me a patient info sheet, asked if I had any other more interesting blotches to show her, and when I told her that what she saw is all that I had - was out the door.

Forty five bucks for about a five minute chat.

Really? Really??

I'm cranky.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let's Get This Party Started!

Lulu thinks it's time to get the holiday festivities rolling, and I think she's right. We had our first Christmas dinner party with visiting relatives last Sunday and it was so much fun.

This year, our godson is old enough to enjoy unwrapping presents.

Mostly, he likes the wrapping paper, bows, and boxes, but I think soon he'll appreciate the fact that there are toys underneath all that paper and cardboard.

He was very concerned about Auntie Julia's shoes. What a kid. What would the holidays be without these sweet little ones?

Boring, that's what.

I love this time of year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Sjogren's Feels Like

Lulu understands. 

While I was visiting Mom in the hospital last week, she made a point of telling one of my cousins about my autoimmune disease. Which seemed kind of surreal - here is Mom dealing with a major stroke and worrying about my Sjogren's syndrome. So typical.

Anyway, my cousin looked at me and asked more about Sjs. We had moved out of Mom's room and into the patient lounge so that Mom could rest. Carole seemed sincerely interested and so we chatted for quite awhile about autoimmune disease. Later in the discussion, she said, "So, I know this might sound weird, but, how do you feel? What does this make you feel like?"

Hm. Great question, I thought. But we were having this conversation following a night with little sleep, a great amount of anxiety, and a long flight crossing two time zones. And my energy reserves still hadn't been replenished after the Thanksgiving hoo-rah. This question required me to utilize more than a few functioning brain cells and I wasn't sure mine were cooperating.

I hesitated before answering. Carole looked at me expectantly. She wasn't going to let me get away with a non-answer. We knew each other too well.

We had already talked about the dry eye and lack of saliva things, so I tried to explain some of the more general sensations.

"You know how you feel when you're just beginning to get sick with something? How your whole body aches and you feel shivery - like you might be running a temperature? How loud noises bother you and you can't seem to focus on anything for any length of time? And you feel as though you have no energy and just want to sleep for days on end?"

She nodded.

"Well, since my immune system is on overdrive, my white blood cells think that they're attacking some kind of invader, just as though I was coming down with the flu. Except, I'm not getting the flu - my white blood cells are attacking me and my normal cells. But I feel as though I'm getting sick. Constantly.

Some days are better than others. Some are much worse, and those days are when I'm in a flare. But if I get lots of rest, and take my meds, and pace myself, I get by."

We moved on to other topics, and I was somewhat relieved.

It's hard to put someone else inside your skin - to try to describe life with autoimmune disease. But I was touched that Carole sincerely wanted to know.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

De-stress the Decor

Are you feeling pressured to turn your home into a page from House Beautiful this Christmas season?

Here's a very good perspective on holiday perfection written by Dr. Edwin Leap:
My wife and I were sitting and chatting about the holidays last week. She was thumbing through that most terrifying of all magazines, ‘Southern Living.’ I’m sure you’ve seen it. The pages are meant to represent the elegance and culture of the modern South. It is filled with beautiful photos of spotless homes, with neat, well-arranged furniture and sparkling floors and counter-tops. The food in the kitchens is stored like art-work. The porches, the verandas as clean and perfect as the day the builders and painters shook hands, collected checks and walked away.
Read the rest including his great definition of house porn here

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow Snow Snow

There is actually a county road underneath all this snow. My brother-in-law sent this picture today from the warmth of his tractor cab. 

On Friday, I was feeling kind of guilty for leaving Wisconsin a day early so that I could avoid the blizzard.

I'm totally over that now.

Actually, I'm really, really glad that I bugged out when I did, especially since Dad seems to be behaving himself and Mom is continuing to recover at an amazing pace. Today she tells me that she's up and around without assistance and has decided to assume the responsibility for taking care of the poinsettias scattered around the hospital unit.

"Poor things. Nobody has been watering them," she told me.

She also told me that the nurses on the unit have had to go looking for her to administer her medications since she's been hoofing it all over her hospital unit. She's been taking messages for her roommate and tidies up their room. Today she went to the patient therapy kitchen and cooked her own breakfast. "I just hate hospital oatmeal," she sniffed. "So I made some for myself."

Oh, yeah. My mom is definitely back. Just wait until she starts re-organizing their linen carts.

So about twelve hours after my plane took off for the Pacific Northwest, the blizzard hit with a vengeance. Check out this video of the collapse of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, just a bit north of the Minneapolis/Saint Paul airport. Wowsers.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Our Light Fantastic

Awhile back, you may recall that I posted about my son's plans to make our house a flashing Christmas light extravaganza.

Well, he did it, and I have to say it turned out pretty danged good. He tells me that this is simply a starting point from which to add to every year.


My son may have formulated the plan, built the circuit boxes from scratch, and forked out for truckloads of Christmas lights, but he had a staff of thousands at his beck and call.

Yup. He soldered together each one of those little doohickeys. Or whatever electrical people call them. Made eight wireless controller boxes.

I helped wrap the tubes that made the cascading arches. I like them best.

Lulu supervised everything.

Once everything was ready, he put his troops into action:

And heeeeeeerrrrrreeeeee's the finished product. Ta Da!

Sugar Plum Groove - Christmas Lights from John Oleinik on Vimeo.