Gardening Is Cheaper Than Therapy

TX Garden 2

Why is there something so therapeutic about gardening? Everywhere I’ve ever lived, two things have remained constant for me: a) I MUST decorate, and b) I MUST garden. For some reason, a place does not feel like home to me until I’ve put something into dirt.

Naturally, I’ve thought quite a bit about the poetic nature in all of this. When one puts plants into the ground, they are putting down roots. They plan on being there a few months later to harvest the outcome. They are staking a claim, telling the world that this is “their” space in the world, their plant kingdom, and that they can create a space where things thrive and then feed a family.

In my mind, there is nothing so beautiful as learning to garden. And this includes everything from performing actions of weed clearance using trimmer lines to understanding the soil and buying the best soil fertilizer based on it. It is a skill that everyone should dabble in, somehow, and I am glad that my 4 year old is already really into it. Gardening is cheaper than therapy, really.

Even when we lived in apartments and townhouses, I learned how to garden using containers. I wasn’t always the best at it, and sometimes I even went a little crazy and wrote love poems to my Basil Plants.

There was the time I had just found I was pregnant for the first time and began the incessant crazy nesting by building a window-frame garden.

There was the time I gardened in our tiny CA townhouse.

And then upgraded to large deer-proof garden beds once we bought the “Blue House”.

And then we came to TX and I immediately put herbs into some containers.

Last, but not least, we are gardening in our new planter beds, picked up for a steal of a deal (along with the dirt!) off of Craigslist this past week.

TX Garden 3

Obviously, we need a “little” more dirt to fill the other two, and I’d better get a move on because the TX growing season for most of my favorite veggies is short! I had to buy all of my seedlings this time, because I didn’t know whether we’d be getting a house or not until late February, and we were also really busy 😉 Luckily, we have an awesome nursery just 2 blocks away that has wonderful organic seedlings for just $1-2/each! And I was able to pick their brains about some of the ins and outs of TX gardening, which was quite helpful.

All in all, I am so thankful that I get to “put down roots” here in this lovely little cottage, in what is already turning out to be such a lovely Texas Spring.

TX Garden 1

Gluten-Sensitivity and IBS

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A friend emailed me the other day asking if I’d share more about my journey with gluten-sensitivity and IBS. A lot of people are quiet about this issue, mainly because they are embarrassed to talk about it. There’s also not a lot that Western medicine knows about this right now– if you’re not officially “celiac”, you usually get an eyeroll or two and then get written off as a “fad follower”.

I’ve decided to open up about my journey this past year with all of these issues, in the hope that perhaps it can help someone else who may be suffering.

I’ve talked quite a few times on this blog about how I went gluten-free nearly 2 years ago. I don’t cheat, I don’t sneak the “occasional” cracker, beer, or piece of cake. I don’t even cross-contaminate and use the same knife or cutting board as anything that came into contact with gluten. After reading up on the nature of gluten, I realized that it’s all a waste unless you completely cut it out of your life, as even the smallest crumb doesn’t leave your system for over a week.

But going gluten-free didn’t solve everything. Sure, it made things better, but my symptoms were still persisting. Horrible stomach pains that left me doubled over. Unremitting nausea. Blood sugar crashes for no apparent reason. Dramatic weight loss. Bleeding ulcers. Panic attacks. Dramatic mood swings. Massive bouts of depression and crying that didn’t stop for days.

Around this time last year, I saw a “normal” run of the mill doctor at the local clinic. He ordered a ton of blood work, wanting to rule out things like diabetes, cancer, celiac and hyperthyroidism.

But it turns out it wasn’t any of those things. By this point last year, in addition to gluten I was also unable to eat potatoes (even small traces of potato starch), chocolate (the.worst.flu-like.symptoms.ever), dairy, shrimp and beans. I had just eased off my 3 month anti-acid medication, and was finally adding back in things that contained even small amounts of acid, like citrus and tomatoes. But the list of things that I could eat was slowly dwindling down.

I started using essential oils at this time last year, and while they helped, I was afraid to do any sort of “detox” and anger my system even further. I got a few debilitating sinus infections, and was struggling to even function because of massive migraines. I could keep things manageable using Digest-Zen for stomach pain (stops nausea in its tracks!) and peppermint and Deep Blue for headaches.

Needless to say, one of my top priorities when moving to Dallas was to seek out a few specialists to help me figure out what was going on. I’d found lots of ways to cope and manage the pain, but I knew that this was nowhere close to a normal existence, especially not for someone in their late 20s.

I got my health insurance straightened out somewhere mid-October 2014, when all of a sudden, I threw my back out. I’ve always struggled with my tailbone (ever since Gregory’s birth where I cracked it), and I assumed this was the cause of my back pain. It took me two days before I was off the couch, since I constantly needed a heating pad in order to keep the muscles from spasming. Ibuprofen was also not an option, due to my tendency towards ulcers, and I really didn’t know where to turn. My friend advised me to try kratom capsules for pain relief, but I decided I should consult a doctor first.

I knew that a long-time friend from church worked as an all natural holistic chiropractor, and I’d been meaning to make an appointment for some time, but couldn’t find a place in the budget for it. Our house in CA was needing constant money and attention, and I was nervous about paying someone a lot of money to help me (he doesn’t take health insurance).

But throwing my back out forced me into a crossroads, and I finally worked up the courage to ask his wife if there was some sort of arrangement or payment plan we could arrive at. Turns out, they had been looking for a new music/voice teacher for their kids, and that my background in choir and piano lessons was a perfect fit for them. We worked out a payment system that enabled me to afford it!

I saw this doctor within just days and began treatment. The first visit was an hour long diagnostic, and a LOT of things came up. We hardly even dealt with my back pain, because, as it turns out, it wasn’t at all related to my tailbone but to all the nasty craziness going on in my gut. (Also, if anyone has doubts about Eastern medicine, you won’t after just a visit or two. They can identify EVERYTHING that’s wrong with you without even listening to your history or telling them your food allergies. I’m always amazed, time and time again).

I have been seeing this doctor 2-3x month in hopes of getting to the bottom of where all this is stemming from. As it turns out, a lot of the irregularities I’ve had ever since childhood are all linked together. For instance, whenever stressed, I start to shake uncontrollably. Playing piano for a few friends, getting into an argument, a foster care situation…all of it causes me to shake without being able to stop. The only thing that stops it is heat (heating pad, hot shower, etc.). When I do get cold, I have a few fingers that turn pink, and a few that glow white! Turns out, that’s NOT normal (I don’t know why I thought it was!) and an issue related to circulation. The debilitating migraines I’ve had ever since junior high? Directly related to where I store stress at the base of the brain.

And all of the sinus/allergies I’ve had? Directly related to my gut and the lack of health therein. Yes, even the seasonal allergies (which I used to be on lots of medications for) are a result.

Turns out, all of my symptoms point to have a hyper-aware immune system that starts rejecting foods and environmental hazards whenever I get slightly stressed. Certain people, it turns out, “somatisize” stress and store it somewhere in their body. This is why stressful situations or powerful emotions (anger, fear) manifest themselves physically. People who have a tendency towards it can be triggered by PTSD (for me, it was our foster care situation) and all of the tendencies can become full-blown.

Me? I store stress in my stomach, one specific place in my back, and at the base of my brain (which has nerves that connect to the nose and forehead, hence why the pain was always mis-diagnosed as sinus-related).

The closest our modern Western culture really comes to defining this phenomena is by targeting the physical manifestation and giving it a name. Krohn’s. IBS. Fibromyalgia. Allergies. Food Sensitivity. PTSD. Auto-immune. But we don’t really have cures for any of them, just ways to manage the pain.

Currently, I have just finished a one month detox program using homeopathic prescriptions from my doctor. We are now following it up with a powerful probiotic/prebiotic in order to restore gut-health. Although my diet could look more restricted than it used to be (the “no-no” list currently includes gluten, potato, nuts, starch of any kind, chocolate or any sugar including fruits, and any hydrogenated oils), it’s only because we are trying to give my gut a chance to heal itself before adding any stressers. Instead of these things, I’m following something very similar to the GAPS diet (although it’s Lent, so I’m actually not eating any meat other than fish, broth and eggs! Ah! Just a few more weeks!)

I still frequently experience daily nausea. I’ve actually likened it a lot to morning sickness (don’t worry, it’s not!), because it strikes at any moment and lasts for hours, only to disappear without explanation. I still get stomach pain, but it’s usually because I slipped up and ate beans, rice or (gasp!) gf cookies. But as long as I make sure I have a LOT of fat (ie., lots of butter on veggies! LOTS of avocados!) and a few servings of protein every day, I feel fine. I’ve been trying to keep my carbs under 20g/day, and I can cut that down even further once I can eat meat freely again.

And, best of all, I haven’t had a SINGLE migraine since I started seeing this doctor. I haven’t had any allergy attacks in over 6 months. The aches and pains have become fleeting, if at all, and my emotions and mood swings only stabilize more and more as each week passes.

Of course, I will keep updating things as the treatment continues. The goal is to one day be able to eat certain foods again in moderation without having it completely destroy me. I will always have this tendency, and retraining my body to handle stress in a less harmful way is going to be a priority for the rest of my life.

But I know what the problem is, and for that I am grateful. I know where to go for treatment, and I know more about myself than I ever used to. I know that I’m not “crazy”, and that all of these mysterious aches and pains have a root cause.

We’ve also identified that my 4 year old Gregory is very very similar to me in all the above ways, and so I know how to keep an eye out for any issues he may have. Turns out, his recent gluten and dairy intolerances (he used to throw up when coming into contact with them) are very similar to mine, and that with proper treatment, he should be able to eat those foods again, especially since we caught this early. He is on a special vitamin and a few other homeopathic treatments to stabilize his emotions and keep his gut strong. We’ve already seen dramatic improvement.

Thanks for listening, and hopefully this helps!

 

We Love Our New House

Fuller House living room 1

We moved last Saturday, right before a huge winter storm blew into Dallas Sunday night. School was shut down for Monday, Tuesday, and half of Wednesday due to the freezing rain and snow, so essentially we moved right before a 4.5 day weekend! The house was well-kept thanks to real professionals; due attention was paid to servicing gutters. We couldn’t have planned it any better, although I must admit I still have an eye on a Property for sale in Hua Hin. I also had some graciously awesome parents step up and offer to sub for me in my online class, meaning that I haven’t had to teach for the past few days.

Having weather in the low 20s for a few days straight enabled us to test the quality of our windows and heating, and boy did they pass the test! Our heater didn’t even need to run continuously in order to keep the entire house at an even 72 degrees (what…I like it toasty!). The inspector had told us that the previous owners had put in top of the line windows, and he was right. Siding Syracuse NY did a great job!

The boys’ room is almost fully set up, mostly because if they have a nice place to play, they will be occupied and I can get more done in the other rooms. One of the challenges that we knew we’d have with this house (or with any old house) was storage. We are coming up with creative ways to effectively store our clothes until we build on a bigger master closet and bathroom (coming this summer, most likely). Click here for artistic remodeling ideas! Zerorez Sacramento carpet cleaning specialists refresh your surfaces without the use of detergents or harsh chemicals, which means your carpet and upholstery stay cleaner longer.

Until then…here are a few snapshots of our new space! More of our cozy cottage to come! We love our new house.

The Boys Reading on Snow Day Fuller House snow

We Are Moving!

Fuller House 3

Okay, here’s what we’ve been up to in a nutshell:

We are moving!

The nightmare tenant/landlord/tenant/landlord situation that has crossed into two states (our house in CA that we were renting out, plus our rental in TX) is almost over.

Our house that we were selling in CA closed last Friday. I expected to feel lots and lots of relief, but I actually felt quite a bit of sadness. We bought that house so that we could adopt one of our foster kids, but she ended up leaving us 3 weeks after we moved in. We used that house to foster two more kids. We hosted quite a few of our children’s birthday parties on that deck. We did all of our first DIY projects there together.

For it to end on such a sour note with the thousands of dollars in repairs plus the high stress tenant situation is just really too bad, in so many ways. That house was our beacon on a hill, the house we should have never been able to afford but somehow managed to. It was our long awaited prize at the end of a journey, and our parting memories and videos of the house back in July were so sweet. In many ways, I would like to think that we truly sold the house back in July, and that the nightmare of the last 6 months was a completely different house. It helps me to remember the good things fondly, without letting everything be tainted.

This Friday, we are set to close on our new home in TX. I’ll go into more detail soon about it, but we are so very excited. It has been remodeled in all of the important ways, sits on over a quarter of an acre (not as big as our 1/2 acre in CA, but the land is much more usable since we’re no longer on a steep hill!), and is across the street from a park! The kids and I will be able to cross the street whenever they want to swing on swings or use the monkey bars or hurtle themselves down a slide 🙂

The house will be a big change for us in many ways. We’ve been living 3 blocks away from Jesse’s work for the last 6 months, but as I’ve mentioned in other posts, the area is super crime ridden (we hear gunshots at least once or twice a week, no joke), and our landlord is a slumlord. Our new house is 15 minutes away from his work, which means that we will need to buy a 2nd car for the boys and I. The last time Jesse and I owned two cars was back in 2011!

One thing that will not change is our square footage. Our new cottage/house is under 1100 square feet, which is quite small, especially by TX standards! We looked at house after house with a lot more square footage, and we were even in escrow on one twice this size for about 2 weeks.

So why on earth did we trade a much bigger house for something that has the same square footage as our rental?

I’ll have to go more into this in another post, but the short version is that Jesse and I do not like clutter, and we have been really striving towards simple living these last couple of years. We have been trying to only buy what we need in the moment, maintaining what we have even if it’s old or outdated. When it came time to upgrade our phones last year, for instance, we stuck with ours. My laptop, the one I use every day for work, is 6+ years old (and still running strong, btw! Yay Apple!). Instead of upgrading to a King-sized bed, like many couples eventually do, we traded our Queen-sized for a Full-sized shikifuton. We don’t even own a coffee maker anymore (french press all the way, baby!)

Perhaps it’s because we’ve moved so often, but we’ve also never allowed ourselves to build up junk. We are always purging, selling, reusing. When we moved across the country for the THIRD time in this decade, we downsized almost everything, and still continued to sell stuff once we arrived at TX.

And so the idea of a small house became quite appealing to us. I’ve been dreaming of even one day owning a “tiny” house on wheels, but in TX those are super unrealistic (tornadoes, anyone?). We also have two boys with a LOT of energy and realized that anything under 1000 square feet would be too tough, at this juncture anyways.

So an 1100 square foot house sounded like a great compromise. One of the startling bonuses is that our homeowner’s insurance is incredibly cheap as a result! In fact, our auto insurance for ONE car is TWICE the cost of the house insurance! Buying an older, smaller house meant that we were able to get into a cool part of the city, known for it’s walking trails, the Dallas Arboretum, and White Rock Lake.

And don’t get me started on our tiny monthly mortgage, which is less than half of what we were having to pay in CA. Since we are basically a one-income family, this part is crucial!

We will be adding on, eventually, once we save up enough extra pennies. First, we actually have to pave a driveway around the back and add a garage and an external outlet (when you have an electric car, those are kind of a MUST have!). We already have the open floor plan that we wanted– the giant dining/kitchen/living area definitely feels like a loft, which is something we’ve always wanted.

But first, we have to make this move happen on Saturday. I also had a grad school presentation yesterday, along with another paper due next Monday!

Anyways, be prepared for lots of DIY projects and decor pictures once we “resume our normal programming”. 🙂