NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Grand Geneva's Christmas in the Country

For the past few years we've taken the short drive over to the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva after we've finished our Thanksgiving dinner to enjoy their Christimas in the Country outdoor and interior decorations.  This year Wayne did all the cooking and most of the clean-up as usual, and opted out of the drive after having a game of cribbage with my dad while everyone had pie.  Well, everyone but me, who had the surprisingly delicious gluten-free chocolate cupcakes with creamy vanilla frosting.

Katrina didn't make it home for Thanksgiving from Eau Claire this year, but we had my mother's cousin from Georgia as a very special guest and Cory's girlfriend Kati join us for dinner and for our after dinner outing.  Kati lives minutes from the Grand Geneva and has seen their elaborate outdoor display featuring the 12 days of Christmas before but had never gone inside to see the gingerbread house competition entrants or the interior decorating.  We all grabbed pencils and ballots and voted for our favorites in each category, being careful to notice whether the younger group maybe had a little too much help!

Notice Toto and the witch's hat on the left!
Feliz Navidad! I especially liked the use of rock candy in front of the gate.
Nothing says wintry fun like hot chocolate and pond skating!

The Grand Geneva changes their interior decorations every year, and this year it was all about candy and was very "sweet".  I felt there was a message in the m&m's display that I wasn't quite getting, perhaps someone will explain it to me!

Of course all of this was just a warm-up for my upcoming trip where we're hitting the Ashland Estate in Lexington, the Biltmore in Asheville, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for more holiday eye candy. Yum!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Surprise Diagnosis

Just a quick update, though I'm sure my journey to completely conquering my symptoms is just beginning!  I had my endoscopy and colonoscopy today, and got some surprising results.  The colonoscopy revealed nothing, which I expected.  Results of the biopsy for Celiac to come at a later date, of course.  But the endoscopy discovered Barrett's Esophagus which is a result of longtime GERD.  Photo below is not mine, but is very similar to what mine looked like. Normal esophagus on the right.


Ironically, I normally only get heartburn symptoms if I sleep on my right side or eat a tomato based  meal late in the day.  All the other things that worsen heartburn and would lead to a diagnosis of GERD such as alcohol consumption, caffeine, eating large meals and obesity are a not a factor for me for the last 8 years or longer. I gave up alcohol, caffeine and soda pop almost 20 years ago! Perhaps this is why I haven't been bothered by symptoms and didn't give it much thought.   I knew that my esophageal sphincter was probably faulty, but since it didn't interfere with my life and never take OTC medications I didn't give it any thought.  However, longterm acid leaking from the stomach to the esophagus causes tissue changes that could increase the risk of esophageal cancer.  Slightly increased risk, but treatment for prevention of course is encouraged.  Treatment will now include taking omeprazole even though I'm not symptomatic and having regular endoscopic exams to make sure it does not progress and become precancerous.

While I wasn't surprised the colonoscopy results found nothing (yay!) I do have a new plan of action for my original problem.  I'm to start taking Miralax twice a day in addition to the Amitiza twice a day and see how that affects things.  Sudden onset of difficulty with slow transit and excessive painful gas that is difficult to resolve due to certain foods are what drove me to see a GI doctor in the first place.  Perhaps by relieving the slow transit problem it will affect the gas production problem.  We'll see.  If not, then the next step is a hydrogen breath test to check for fructose malabsorption.  The doctor also agreed with me that whether or not the biopsy shows Celiac that wheat intolerance seems to definitely be an issue and to continue with a gluten-free diet.  That's okay, it'll keep me from buying those cakes, cookies and other things that aren't good for you anyway.   As for pizza...I'll keep searching for a crust recipe that satisfies for that occasional home-made treat.

I had some of my carrot bread with peanut butter and a slice of cheddar before succumbing to a nap after my morning adventure and hours later did not experience any food intolerance symptoms.  I was a little worried about the carrot bread and hadn't determined whether small amounts of peanut butter were being tolerated by my system, so if nothing else I have two more foods to add to my "safe" list.  Three hours ago I ate a baked potato with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and a small piece of salmon and again seem to be suffering no ill effects.  Maybe I'll be lucky and the slow transit really is the culprit in the gas/bloating problem and I will be able to add fruit and vegetables back to my diet soon.  I could test that theory with an apple before bed tonight...but it is so wonderful to be symptom free today that I hate to "upset the apple cart", ha ha.

Sorry for such a boring problem filled post, but I wanted to get this out there for those in a similar situation that may be doing google searches like I have been.  I welcome those seeking answers to ask me further questions about my journey, especially if they are looking for reliable resources as those can be difficult to find, but again, I do NOT want unsolicited diet advice.  I do my research, check my sources, and what results I come up with are through careful trial and error to determine what is right for me and I am not interested in fad diets as everyone's food intolerances and dietary needs are specific to their situation.

I promise my blog will not become a health or recipe filled outlet, but will perhaps post an occasional update as things progress.  I would much rather write about my travel and outdoor experiences, and hope to post another one of those soon.  A car trip to Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia is coming just after Christmas and I'm looking forward to it so much!

If the weather holds maybe I'll get another mini adventure in after Thanksgiving, too. In the meantime, I have a gluten free chocolate mayonnaise cake recipe to try tomorrow so I can have a treat on the holiday, and I hope everyone else eats well and has fun company on Thursday!  Gobble gobble!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Isn't That Romantic?

I know I promised a trip to Iowa for our anniversary my readers and to myself.  But, life has changed my plans...again.  A few have noticed that over the past few months I will throw out a teaser and then not report on it.  This has mostly been due to gastrointestinal health issues interrupting my plans.  I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy and endoscopy on Tuesday, but I'm pretty certain the diagnosis is going to be IBS-C combined with fructose malabsorption whether it's on Tuesday or another day.

Isn't that romantic conversation on one's 23rd wedding anniversary? My husband is one lucky guy!

I first noticed the occasional "bad day" back in the spring and by summer it was a few times a week.  Come August I was symptomatic every day, and started making appointments to see doctors.  Diet changes have helped a little, medications pretty much not at all.  I've gone from my high fiber diet filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables to a diet so stringent I struggle coming up with something to eat that won't make me suffer and have lost about 14 pounds in the process of trying to find food my system will tolerate.  So far I've got plain oatmeal, quinoa, small amounts of unseasoned meat or eggs, cheddar cheese and corn products. Seriously.  Here is a picture of my lunch at 11:00 today.  Needless to say, I'm no longer a vegetarian out of necessity.

It's almost 8:00 and I haven't eaten again because my stomach is distended and painful and due to the nature of what is going on I can't be certain whether it is from today's meal or from yesterday's piece of bread that I forced myself to eat because the GI doc wanted me to add wheat back to my diet.  Yesterday was not a good day either, but I've been eating a slice of bread one day a week in an attempt to keep some gluten in my system so they can determine if celiac is an issue.  If one slice a week for the past 2 months is not enough to diagnose the celiac...does it really matter? Celiac or wheat intolerance, all I know is that the bread makes things much worse. 

Sympathy is welcome, but please don't post any fiber or other constipation advice.  Like I told my GI doc, I was doing all the right things before the problems even began.  I drink only water, exercise daily, and ate a high fiber diet filled with quality food.  The very things that should "help" tend to only make things worse.  The constipation seems due more to slow transit, food intolerances and fermentation issues and not more standard causes.

On the bright side, I've been experimenting with gluten free cooking and I just pulled a loaf of carrot bread out of the oven. "Free at Last" by Patsy Catsos is a very detailed guide to the FODMAPS dietary concept, but when I tried the elimination diet I was symptomatic...I'll have to modify it and try again another day.

The bread for my gouda, provolone & pesto sandwich I got from the gluten free goddess blog and doubles as a pizza crust recipe. The pizza crusts and breads in the stores are HORRIBLE.  Those who need a gluten free diet, take heart and try baking it yourself, it's definitely worth the trouble!


I special ordered the book "Food Intolerance Management Plan" by Sue Sheperd because it was supposed to be the written by the expert on fructose malabsorption, but I found it to have no more information than websites I stumbled upon.  The cookie recipe was good...but most of the other recipes were too weird to even try.

Well, the sandwich, the carrot bread and the cookie are in my stomach for better or worse.  Wayne is with me for better or worse as well, and is as anxious as I am to try to get this condition managed.  Soon I'll have answers to some of my questions, but in the meantime I've got to fill up a little whether I want to or not because tomorrow it's a liquid diet!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Washington D.C. Field Trip 2007

In 2007 I took the kids to Washington D.C. for a homeschool field trip by train on the Capitol Limited from Chicago.  The first thing we learned was that traveling by train may be economical, but was prone to delays and the seats were incredibly uncomfortable.  We got in four hours late, exhausted and irritable.  We took a cab to our hotel and then made our way over to the Lincoln Memorial.

While in D.C. we did a LOT of walking and used their metrorail system to get around, too.  We toured the Smithsonian Institution's  "castle" which contains a variety of objects that represents all of the museums.  The 19th century Gothic Revival architectural style was an exhibit of its own, and Katrina and I especially enjoyed seeing a pair of Kristi Yamaguchi's signed figure skates.

Everyone recognizes the iconic Washington Monument, which was visible from many places we visited while in D.C.  The monument was built between 1848 and 1884 as a tribute to George Washington's military leadership during the American Revolution.

The National Archives and the Jefferson Memorial were definitely my favorites. The Rotunda of the National Archives contains the permanent exhibit of the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.  Talk about seeing history come alive!  The Faulkner Murals and the Rotunda itself were just as impressive to see.

photo from National Archives website

 The Jefferson Memorial was just so beautiful, and we were lucky enough to get there shortly before sunset to see the marble kissed by those golden rays.  Jefferson was quite the statesman and philosopher, and his words inspiring.  One of my travel goals is to visit Monticello, Jefferson's plantation which he designed himself.

So many museums, so little time! Some of the other places we visited included the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Ford's Theatre, the National Air and Space Museum, the Old Post Office Pavillion, St. Patrick's Church, Arlington Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum.

Seeing the giant pandas at the National Zoo was a nice break from all the serious museums.

And last, but not least, we toured the Capitol building. If you want to really see it, make a request through the office of your U.S. Congressman.  One of the interns met us at Paul Ryan's office and we took the tunnel over to the Capitol. I couldn't begin to describe all the things we saw, but a quick list includes the Old Senate, a stunning collection of paintings and sculptures around every turn, the Crypt, the National Statuary Hall which contains 100 statues honoring notable persons from every state, and we also popped into the House of Representatives to watch the goings-on.  Be careful of what information you take away with you...apparently the interns make up some things sometimes!

This was my first trip to the capitol of our country, and Wayne hasn't gone yet, so I'm sure we'll get there for a visit of our own someday.  While we packed as much into our few days there as we could, there was a lot the kids and I didn't get to see!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

There's no Kissing in Hunting

This morning I tagged along with Wayne and two of his friends on their pheasant hunt at Bong Recreation Area in Kansasville, Wisconsin.  We arrived at the parking area shortly before hunting opened at 9:00 a.m. and it was a good morning to be out walking with no wind and the temperature just over 40 degrees.  The orange sweatshirt of Wayne's that I had to wear may have been much too large, but it was great for stuffing my extra camera lenses in the big front pocket.

It was only a few minutes before Wayne discovered that his sole was coming off his boots.  Uh-Oh! Luckily they held up for the next two and a half hours, but were destined for the trash when we got back home.
Kenny's dogs were friendly but focused on getting into the field and couldn't wait for start time.  When we got back home I looked up a little information on pheasant hunting in our area.

Kenny and his "boys"

In response to the population decline of the ring-necked pheasants in Wisconsin, the Pheasant Stamp was created in 1991 to provide funds for pheasant restoration and management. The management of ring-necked pheasants in Wisconsin is in large part due to revenues generated from the sale of the Pheasant Stamp and along with countless partner dollars and efforts have managed, preserved, and restored thousands of acres of nesting and winter habitat. 

The State Game Farm stocks pheasant on private and public hunting lands.  Initially, pheasants were stocked to bolster the wild pheasant population and to provide quality pheasant hunting opportunities. Subsequent research has proven that, over time, stocked pheasants do not have the survival instincts to evade predators or hunters long enough to contribute to the wild pheasant population. Current stocking efforts aim at providing quality pheasant hunting opportunities on public hunting grounds. Pheasants are stocked weekly beginning the week before opening weekend through November on most properties.

Reggie and Wayne worked together well
The dogs were very excited and bounded tirelessly through the fields.  We had to change direction often whenever we stumbled into the path of other hunters.  One unfortunate fellow we chatted with had taken on some shot from another over-eager hunter, and two of our party felt some "rain" at one point.  I hung back with my camera and tried to be as visible yet unobtrusive as possible.  I like a great story, but I didn't want today's adventure to end with the photographer being shot.

The nice thing about pheasant hunting as opposed to fishing is that being quiet is not a necessity.  Not that I talked much, but it was nice not to have to worry about walking too loudly or thrashing through the brush too much, especially since I followed Kenny often and he seemed to have a knack for finding the brush that was full of thorns and I was surprised into saying "ouch!" a few times!

We seemed to spend the morning pushing pheasants toward all the other hunters while only having the opportunity to shoot twice ourselves.  Wayne shot at one that the dog flushed and it came up right underneath him, but he only winged it and it got away. Wayne says "no excuses", but he hasn't hunted in four years so I think he deserves a little slack!

Kenny and I heard cackling ahead of us alongside the Ice Age Trail (boy that Ice Age Trail is everywhere I go, it seems!) and when he stepped into the brush it darted out onto the trail, saw me, and took to wing toward Kenny low over the field.  He shot twice but had no more luck than Wayne. 

Kenny's German Shorthair, Moose, hasn't hunted pheasant before.  He was a rescue dog they got last year and Kenny hasn't been out hunting since they got him.  He did find some feathers in the field to try to give the dog the scent.  Moose mostly just copied what Reggie was doing and bounded around smelling things happily.

The dogs weren't the only ones who were happy.  Wayne was glad to be back out in the field, too.  He used to hunt at Bong quite a lot back when we had a chocolate lab and a springer spaniel.  Those girls got too old to hunt eventually and now are no longer with us. 

Cocoa's birds, 1994

Because our kids were small at that time this is the first time I've ever been out hunting with my husband.  At one point he was standing waiting for me and when I caught up to him I asked him if he was waiting for me so he could kiss me.  His response was "There's no kissing in hunting!"  It reminded me of Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own" saying "There's no crying in baseball!"

It was great to get out into the outdoors for some fresh air, exercise, and an opportunity to try my hand at photographing some action shots.  Of course when the pheasant did take to wing I just stood and admired them and the fellas and dogs trying to outwit them.  Even though the guys left empty handed this morning, there were smiles all around.  And who knows, maybe there will be a pheasant or two in the crockpot yet this fall!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Presidents Past and Present

I've been thinking about doing this post for a few weeks, and the time is right this morning after the presidential election.  One of my travel goals is to see all of the presidential museums.  This goal began after Katrina and I took a little road trip to Michigan in 2009 and one of the things we did was visit the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.

The exhibits in the museum review the highlights of his presidency, and they did a very good job of making that period come alive.  In 1974 when President Ford was sworn in after President Nixon resigned I was only 6 years old so I had no memory of any of the national events. The only thing the exhibits sparked a memory about for me was the celebration of our country's bicentennial.  That I do remember, specifically going to see the replica of the Liberty Bell which traveled on the Freedom Train throughout the country.

photo stolen from panaramio!

 A good museum draws you in and keeps you interested, and this museum didn't disappoint.  I won't spoil it and give out all the details.  Our favorite part of the museum was a section of the Berlin Wall, right in the lobby. If you're ever in Michigan, make the effort to stop in and visit for yourselves!

Katrina was inspired to make it a goal to visit all the presidential museums also, and so far is beating me in the race! During spring break in 2011 she went on UWEC's Civil Rights Pilgrimmage and one of their stops was the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas.  In 2012 she went to Boston with friends for spring break and visited the John F. Kennedy Museum.  In an effort to catch up I'm hoping to visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in Iowa this month to celebrate our anniversary.  Ahh...dead presidents and wintry Iowa cornfields, the height of romance!

I'm also planning a trip right after Christmas with my mother and when I mentioned to Katrina that we were going to stop at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum in Atlanta that was all it took to get her to come along! Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976 and began his term of office in January, 1977. I was still in grade school, but I remember our class holding a mock election and voting for Carter myself. The reason why is lost to time!

I took the kids to Washington D.C., but I'll save the details about that for another post.  My only other presidential travel experience was when we visited South Dakota and stopped in at the National Presidents Wax Museum in Keystone.  I hear you laughing out there! Our visit was in 2009 and we were greeted by none other than President Obama himself.

Some of the wax figures were very realistic, and some were not, but our favorite was the depiction of President Kennedy at his desk with John Jr. playing underneath.

Now that President Obama has been re-elected it looks like I'll have to wait even longer to visit a museum about his presidency, but hopefully they'll build it in Illinois where I'll have easy access to it!  It'll be interesting to see how today's current events are looked back upon.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Birthday Katrina!

While everyone else is thinking about the big election today, I've got my daughter on my mind because today is her 22nd birthday.  The year she turned 18 election day was on November 4th and she was devastated to be so close but unable to vote.  At the polling place this morning I held open the door for a young mother pushing a stroller and I was also reminded of the day I first voted in 1992 because I was pushing Katrina in a stroller myself.  Today Katrina is driving to St. Cloud, Minnesota to look into a grad school program...she's come a long way!

First sheep encounter....
..but not her last sheep encounter!
I've talked about Katrina and her adventures at college a few times on my blog, and the funny thing is while she is still the same girl in a lot of ways, in other ways she's the complete opposite of her childhood self.   As a baby she was usually content and eager to laugh to and play.  As she grew older she was unfailingly sweet and kind, especially to her little brother but also to the other children I took care of and her friends.

For the most part she enjoyed quiet activities like reading and playing dress-up, and when she went to school she was eager to make new friends, but also very shy. She was also a little nervous about trying new things that seemed a little scary, but we supported her and encouraged her to keep spreading her wings and facing her fears.

Meeting Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea at Irishfest in Milwaukee was a big deal!
 Joining 4-H was a turning point for Katrina.  4-H helped develop her confidence, and it wasn't long before she discovered she had a knack for helping and leading others.  At the age of 12 she was elected president of her club, and she learned a lot from the responsibilities that the club leader gave her.  4-H isn't all agendas and Robert's Rules of Order, and she made friends and had a lot of fun both at the club and at the county level.  I'm so grateful that we found 4-H because it helped her blossom into the confident young women that she is today.

goofy fashion for the Looking Good project
rainy County Fair day
The Cat Project was her favorite, she was a Youth leader at the county level and helped the judges one year, too.
Music wasn't her strongest area but she enjoyed participating in MusicFest.  When it doesn't come easy that gives us strength to keep trying new things! Learning dance steps along with singing carried over to her figure skating, which she also worked hard at during her early teen years.

The other skill that she took away from 4-H was acting through their annual Dramafest competition.  She participated a couple of times, and after leaving 4-H she eventually auditioned for local community theater through The Haylofters in Burlington.  Whether working backstage, acting onstage, or directing the children's production of Wizard of Oz one year, she enjoyed it all.

Katrina as Emma Duckworth in The Haylofters' production of Bus Stop
All these early experiences, along with homeschooling, gave her a strong sense of purpose and of who she wanted to become.  She chose Women's Studies as a major and Sociology as her minor in college, and along with her classes she participates in UWEC College Democrats and has acted as president for Advocates for Choice and the College Freethought Society.  Social issues are very important to her, and she has also interned at Planned Parenthood and a local women's shelter.  She's a senior this year and is eager to embark on a career helping others through employment in a non-profit organization.

It's the sense of enthusiasm, caring for others and big heart that has remained unchanged all these years.  She's had her share of obstacles: schoolyard bullies and adult figures who disappointed her with their lack of good judgment and leadership, but through it all she's retained her optimism and her determination.  Anyone who knows her is lucky to have the opportunity to see the world through her eyes, the world she is determined to help make a better place for others.

Today is my Katrina's birthday, and while I sometimes miss my little girl who danced around singing PBS songs in her nightgown I'm also happy to have such an inspiring adult daughter.  There's a possibility that I might be working less hours soon, and as I left the polling place this morning and watched that mother loading her kids into the car I contemplated how I might help others in my community if I have more time on my hands.  On her birthday she's given me a gift: I want to be like Katrina when I grow up!