Blog Change

I have restarted this blog on a new platform with a new look and a new name. All of the content on this blog has been copied to the new blog.

a Lot & a Couple ~

Happy 6th Birthday to Dulce!

Today is our sweet Dulce's 6th birthday! We adopted her when she was four months old from Ratbone Rescues, just a month before we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. She has been with us almost through our entire married life, here for all of our adventures. She is our first baby, she is spoiled, and she will forever be referred to as a "puppy" in our house.

Have I ever mentioned how Dulce got her name? It was "Snow" when we adopted her but we changed it. Dulce means "sweet" in spanish and Johnnie proposed to me while we were staying on a resort on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. The name fits her well, as she is a very sweet and loving dog.

Dulce is well trained, has free reign of the house at all times. We have yet to get her a doggie door for our new house so for now she lets us know she wants out or in with pawing and a sharp bark at the door.  Every night before we go to bed, she goes out to pee and secure her territory one last time before coming in for a bedtime treat. 

She has a dog bed in the living room that she naps on during the day. She also has a dog bed on the floor in our bedroom but often sneaks out to sleep on the couch in the middle of the night (she's not allowed there during the day). The minute she hears one of our alarm clocks, she jumps up on our bed to kiss us good morning. She likes to get her cuddles in with us in before CC wakes up.

Dulce loves soft beds and blankets, getting baths, small toys that squeak, Nylabone DuraChews, and circular braided rawhides. She loves food and will do anything for a treat. She is very patient, she travels well, and she would never run away even if we left the front door open all day long. She loves us as much as we love her.

Happy Birthday, sweet girl! We wish for you many, many, many more years of adventures with us!

“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog.”
~M.K. Clinton

Moving, Traveling, Waiting

Traveling and waiting... this is our life right now.  We are enjoying it but we're also anxious for it to be over.  Alas, there is still more traveling and waiting to do.  Life has felt so temporary for the past year, living in multiple different houses with most of our things in storage, which is why it's hard to continue waiting now when a glorious end is in sight.

Johnnie's new assignment is taking us to Valdosta, Georgia.  It's a large town (population about 56,000) at the very bottom of the state. Wikipedia defines the deep south as "those states and areas where cultural elements most often thought of as "Southern" exist in their most concentrated form." Valdosta is the deep south.  It is southern through and through, and it has a small town mentality.  It's quite the experience for a yankee Pennsylvania girl like me and I think I'll have some fun blogging about it.

Valdosta is not new to us. We actually lived there for over three years before heading to South Korea where I started this blog.  Johnnie's squadron was moving there and I was in the process of moving myself so I decided to change my plans and also move to Valdosta to give our new relationship a chance.  Things obviously worked out well between us! ;)

We spent over three years in Valdosta so we know it very well.  Johnnie was the A10 East Demonstration Pilot so he got to know many people in the community and state.  I taught elementary school there for over two years so I know hundreds of people myself.  The classes of 5th graders that I taught my first year there are currently seniors in high school - that's crazy to think about and I'm afraid I won't recognize any of them if I see them.  We adopted Dulce while we were living there so she is also very familiar with the area and the wildlife there... squirrel!

When we first heard we were returning to Valdosta, I wasn't thrilled about it.  Three years there was long enough and we were not sad to leave.  It's not that it's a terrible place, it's just that it's very southern and there isn't much there.  It's a town of dollar stores, Walmarts, banks, churches, and unhealthy (but delicious) food.  It's also the land of swamps, red ants, and alligators.  Luckily, it's less than a two-hour drive from Jacksonville (for great shopping) and it's driving distance to many other great locations in the south (cities, beaches, mountains, Disney, etc).

On the plus side, Valdosta is a family-friendly town, the houses are affordable, we know a lot of people there, we already know our way around, and we know what to expect.  It's going to be a much different experience for us this time around since we're now older, we have a child, and we have four extra years of worldly life experience under our belts.

We left Hawaii in mid-January.  We packed up our suitcases, piled up a ton of things for donation and trash, and had Royal Hawaiian Movers pack up everything else.  Royal Hawaiian Movers were a great group of guys who did a fantastic job preparing our things for shipment across the ocean.  Our things got back to the mainland quickly and are already in Valdosta waiting for us.

We bid farewell to our Kailua house with no tears (glad to leave the house that I was allergic to), dropped Dulce off at a kennel, and went to the Aulani Disney Resort for a week.  This resort is pretty amazing and was such a relief from our previous living conditions.  It is an expensive resort but staying on weekdays and having a military or local discount both helped substantially with the cost.  It was a very relaxing and enjoyable week.  It helped us feel like we were leaving the island on a high note.  We did have a few small sad pangs of "good-bye Hawaii" but after three years, we were more than ready to leave and left the island smiling.  Hawaii is a much better place to visit than it is to live.

We flew on a Delta flight direct from Honolulu to Atlanta, which was almost a nine hour flight. CC did pretty well on the flight. We put her Diono Radian RXT car seat on her seat between ours and she sat in it for about seven of the nine hours, sleeping some and watching TV some.

We landed in Atlanta early in the morning so we started a brand new day thrown headfirst into a five-hour time change.  It took us all, especially CC, an entire week to fully adjust.  CC cried when we walked out of the airport into the cold air.  She never felt such cold before and I hadn't felt it myself for three years... I didn't miss it.  We enjoyed a stay with friends for a night in Atlanta to relax and recover from the long flight.  The next day we drove to Valdosta (it's almost a four hour drive) to start our house hunting adventure.

We actually already own a house in Valdosta from the last time we lived there but it's small and it's a great rental property so we don't want to move back into it.  We originally planned on renting a house this time around but after the bad rental conditions we put up with for the past few years, and with the great prices of the houses in Valdosta, we decided to purchase a home instead.  Being familiar with area, we already knew the exact neighborhood where we wanted to live and what would be best for resale in the future.

We met up with our amazing property manager who showed us over a dozen houses and we also met with a contractor to discuss building a house.  It was a lot of fun and made us feel like we were on an HGTV show!  Due to time constraints, we ultimately decided against building.  In the end, we narrowed it down to two houses: a brand-new construction home that was near perfect but not on a very nice lot, and a slightly older home on the perfect lot/location but that needed some updating.  We would have a house either way so with nothing to lose, we went in with a low offer for the older home and after a little negotiating, we got the house for over 13K under the asking price!  That gives us more money to put toward the updates we want done.

After the last house we lived in, you can be sure that we had a very thorough inspection done to check for mold, bugs, and any other issues - the house is perfect, thank goodness!  We then brought in a contractor to discuss renovations.  The major projects will include a complete remodel of the kitchen, painting all of the walls, replacing all of the flooring, and a complete remodel of the master bathroom. Stay tuned to this blog to see all the before and after photos!

With the remodeling and the amazing lot and location, this is sure to be our most favorite house that we've ever lived in!  We are beyond excited for this, especially after four years of rentals.  As a bonus, I found out that our new next door neighbor is a friend I used to work with, and that we have many friends who live nearby in the same neighborhood!  Hawaii was actually quite a lonely assignment therefore living among so many people we know makes me incredibly happy.  As I said, I wasn't thrilled when I first heard we were heading back to Valdosta, but higher powers have been showing us that we are meant to be there and that this is going to be a very good assignment for us. :)

We were only in Georgia for a week to find our house and then our traveling and waiting journey continued.  Johnnie left the country for some work-related training (that's actually enjoyable and a nice break for him) so CC, Dulce, and I went to visit family and friends until he returns.

Our first stop was Indiana, where we are stayed with my best friend and her two young children. This was the first time CC saw snow and she preferred to look at it through a window rather than be out in it.  She had no interest in going outside, especially since there were two other kids and lots of toys to play with inside.  During our first week here, we all got really sick.  We were so rarely sick in Hawaii that I forgot how miserable it feels.  Once we started recovering, we started having fun.  CC didn't have a lot of interaction with other kids in Hawaii so being there was really good for her.  She had a blast playing with her friends every day.  She learned to play with others and to take turns with toys.

I had fun reconnecting with my best friend and shopping!  I'm in the process of building an entirely new wardrobe.  I wore the same shorts and tank tops for the past three years so most of them got tossed.  All of the cold-weather clothing I had from before we moved to Hawaii was sizes too big since I've toned up and lost weight since I last wore them.  The task of reinventing my personal style is fun but intimidating!  It's a slow process.

After three weeks in Indiana, we drove to Pennsylvania to visit with my family.  We will be here for a couple of weeks before Johnnie returns and we all head down to Georgia.  I love seeing my family but this weather is miserable.  I think we'll save all future visits for the warmer months from now on.

Once we return to Valdosta, we'll have to stay in a temporary location for a while until our house renovations are complete - it's no fun but it's necessary.  I know that all of this waiting is just going to make the end that much sweeter, but it's still hard to wait.

We are very blessed to have this time to visit with friends and family, especially since it has been almost two years since we last saw most of them.  Still, it's not easy living out of a suitcase, being off of our normal schedule and routine, and being long-term guests in other people's houses (and being in this winter climate).  I'm anxious to get to Georgia so I can find a new doctor to work with on my health issues.  I'm also eager to get there because our bodies are revolting against the cold and dry indoor air: CC's eczema has flared up and my hands are continuously cracked, bleeding, and painful.  I really hate snow and freezing weather - thank goodness we're moving south!

Traveling, waiting, traveling, waiting...  keeping the faith that everything will happen in due time.

"Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting."
~ Joyce Meyer

Still Here

I'm still here, I just took a hiatus from blogging for a while.  Shortly after we moved from the North Shore to Kailua, I began experiencing physical and mental issues that were baffling and debilitating. I didn't have the motivation or the mental clarity to blog about it and I was overwhelmed with where to even start. I spent all my free time researching and trying everything I could to fix myself.  I felt so incredibly broken and hopeless. In December I got some answers that helped steer me in the right direction and in January, after we moved from the island, I got even more answers.  Now we've been away from Hawaii for a couple of weeks and I'm finally feeling my normal self beginning to shine through once again. I'm not healed yet but I'm on my way.

To be honest, the entire past three years have been rough. We were living in Hawaii so life should have been great but it wasn't all rainbows and beach time like you might imagine. Our time there was nothing like we thought it would be. There were plenty of good things but just as many bad. It was a love/hate relationship. Sure, Hawaii is absolutely gorgeous but I didn't love living there. You have no idea how guilty I feel about not loving it when everything and everyone told me that I should. Living in Hawaii is vastly different than vacationing there.  I've found that if I said anything negative about it, people responded with "but at least you are in Hawaii!" So I tried to keep the complaining to a minimum and kept the blog posts focused on CC and the positive things.

Housing and health were our biggest struggles. I was newly pregnant when we arrived in Hawaii. We stayed in temporary lodging for two months before we finally got a house. Johnnie was gone a lot during that first year and almost missed CC's birth which happened 3 weeks early because I was induced with sudden severe hypertension.  I battled my blood pressure for over a year after that and I still have to check it regularly.  Johnnie deployed for 6 months when CC was 6 weeks old. That was just about the time I started developing severe postpartum anxiety that lasted for about 10 months. The severe anxiety, along with the deployment, being so far from family and friends, and everything that comes along with birth, a c-section, recovery, and caring for a new baby... honestly, I was so miserable that entire first year and things that I thought and felt were so terrifying that it still upsets me to think about it.  I never want to can't go through it again.

When CC was about 7 months old, she developed a small spot of eczema on her face that became severe and uncontrollable, covering her face, arms, hands, and legs. It was heartbreaking and it baffled all of her doctors and specialists. Dulce was also having issues with recurrent yeast infections on her nails and also with cracked and bleeding paws that wouldn't heal. It was a very difficult time and I spent every free moment on the internet searching for answers that I never found. I was inundated with so much "helpful advice" every single time we left the house that I purposefully kept it off the blog and Facebook (I'm an expert in Photoshop) because I didn't need more advice coming at us from that angle as well. Our house was build on the old Hickam flight line which was highly contaminated with petroleum and who knows what else. We weren't made aware of this until after we moved in. We were warned not to even touch exposed soil. Dulce didn't even like going into the yard. We assumed that the contamination had something to do with CC and Dulce's issues but there is no way to know for sure.

Last January, we decided to move off base so we could experience "real" Hawaii living for our final year here and see if it might help both CC and Dulce's persistent and puzzling health problems.  We left our big new house that had central air and a garage and moved into a tiny beachfront vacation rental on the North Shore.

The house itself was great, although it had some issues due to poor upkeep, and we loved the location. It was a short drive to work for Johnnie, I walked on the beach every single morning, and we spent most of our time outside on the large deck overlooking the ocean - I cherished our days there! As an added bonus, CC's eczema started healing and was completely gone within a few months! Dulce's paws also completely healed! The hassle of moving off base was worth it just for that. We can't say for certain that the soil contamination at the other house had anything to do with their issues but it's a pretty big coincidence that they both got better after we moved.

It was a furnished vacation rental so we put all our things into a storage unit and looked forward to living a simple life for a year.  As it turned out, it was an extremely poorly run vacation rental.  All of the bedding, towels, and kitchen items were unusable so we had to get some of our things out of storage to use. Living beachfront meant constant wind and salty humid air.  It ruined everything that we had outside within a few weeks. Even things inside the house had a salty coating on them and began to rust. Worst of all, the owner was c-r-a-z-y and the property managers didn't do much to help. We were paying a lot to live there and the owner was inconsiderate and uncooperative. She kept making things worse for us and after five months, we had enough and decided to break our lease and move (which we were legally allowed to do because the landlord was not holding up her end). Our large security deposit was held for no valid reason so we actually had to go to court to get it back, which we did successfully.

We moved from the North Shore to a house in Kailua. The house was larger, cheaper, only a few minutes walk to the beach, and walking and biking distance to everything in Kailua. The landlord was super sweet, lived right next door, and was fine with only a six month lease that we needed. The house looked great and most of our things fit but some things still needed to stay in the storage unit (which I'm now very thankful that it was all in a safe, clean, climate-controlled location).

Johnnie left for six weeks right after we moved in. Within days of him leaving, I came down with some sort of intestinal bug that lasted for five days. CC never got it so I assume it was something I ate.  A week after that, I had the worst PMS ever and then I suddenly started having full-blown panic attacks. I had three or four panic attacks every single day that lasted for about an hour each. I could barely function to take care of CC, Dulce, and myself. One morning I had to call our sweet landlord to come over and make CC breakfast because I couldn't get off the floor. I couldn't even drive two miles to the grocery store without having an attack. Every little thing about life felt completely overwhelming. With only a few friends on the island and all family an ocean away, I felt stuck and every day seemed impossible to get through.

You couldn't possibly know or understand how terrifying a panic attack is unless you have ever experienced one for yourself.  It literally feels like you are going to die.  There are terrifying physical symptoms (including all the ones of a heart attack) as well as intense unrelenting feelings of fear, adrenaline, panic, and anxiety. Irrational and uncontrollable emotions and thoughts raced through my head. I felt like I was losing my mind and going crazy. Every thought, emotion, and feeling I had felt exaggerated and wrong and there was nothing I could to stop or change things.

The panic attacks came out of the blue and they were so frequent and so severe, that I thought something must be wrong with me. I refused to believe it was "just stress". I had severe anxiety for a long time after CC was born but no panic attacks, so why now?

Besides the panic attacks, I was having a ton of other symptoms that included frequent shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and constant heart palpitations. A sweet friend drove me to a walk-in health clinic on base so I could get checked out, since I couldn't drive there myself. I had basic blood work done but it was all normal. I had thyroid and iron checked but that was normal. I had B12 and folate checked and the B12 was actually high. They did an EKG but that was normal. I even wore a heart event monitor 24/7 for two whole weeks but that also came back normal.  So I got no answers from all of that but at least I know I have a healthy heart now!

The panic attacks lasted for one monthly cycle, then I had horrific PMS once again, and then just as suddenly as they started, the panic attacks stopped. What the hell?! That made me start thinking that everything could be related to a hormonal issue. Although the panic attacks stopped, the anxiety continued. I was filled with high anxiety every single day, all day long.  It was unbearable but at least I was functioning better and able to drive again.

Occasionally I would have a non-anxious day only to sink into a very low depression, feeling like every ounce of happiness was sucked out of my soul and would never come back. I was a mess. To top it off, I had a few scary reactions to foods I normally ate which made me assume that my dairy allergy had gotten worse.

Back story: When I was 30, I had a few scary reactions to uncooked dairy. Within 10-15 minutes of eating/drinking, I get a lump in the back of my throat and it becomes extremely painful and difficult to swallow even my own saliva. I can still breathe but I can't swallow at all.  It was terrifying but since I was breathing okay and had no other symptoms, I never went to the hospital. From then on, I assumed that I had a dairy allergy but I was never officially tested for it. Over the years, I found that I could eat butter and most cheeses without a reaction and I was also okay with things containing dairy that were cooked. I haven't had ice cream or yogurt for seven years now! After CC was born, I had some new reactions to goat cheese and other dairy-containing things I had been eating prior, so I cut back on dairy even more.

With new reactions happening, I started avoiding all foods that contained or may contain dairy.  My high anxiety made this worse, to the point where I became terrified to eat any food that I didn't make myself.  It's difficult to know if dairy is an ingredient in food prepared at restaurants. For example, did you know that the raspberry vinaigrette dressing at Quiznos contains dairy protein? Me neither, until I had a reaction from it. My diet quickly became the cleanest it's ever been - nothing packaged or processed, no artificial or chemical ingredients or preservatives of any kind. I even started baking our own bread.

This change in my diet did not help my anxiety level. However, I did notice after cutting out all traces of dairy that my lifelong digestive issues went away. That made me think about my younger years and made me realize that regardless of whether or not I'm allergic to dairy, I am obviously lactose intolerant. I wish I would've realized it sooner!

I finally got an appointment to see my primary doctor with the long list of symptoms I was experiencing: panic attacks, anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, feelings of complete overwhelm, uncontrollable fears and thoughts, no libido, short menstrual cycles, heavy and painful periods, severe PMS, bloating, gas, indigestion, increased food sensitivities, hair loss, itchy skin, swollen joints, congested sinuses, headaches, itchy painful eyes, sensitivity to light, random body and muscle pains, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and so forth. These were all new or exaggerated symptoms since we moved into the Kailua house.

My primary doctor listened to me explain my symptoms and to the concerns I had about a hormonal imbalance due to the cycle of panic attacks. He refused to test my hormone levels because he thought the tests are unreliable. His professional opinion what that my symptoms were "just a normal part of my body changing as I get older". WHAT?!?! I'm not a doctor but I know that a sudden onset of panic attacks and all the other symptoms are not a "normal" part of anything! He offered to write a prescription for antidepressants and birth control pills, both of which I refused. I wanted to find the cause of my symptoms, not just take some pills to cover them up.

He was no help at all and really made me feel like everything was just in my head and that I must be going crazy. He said to come back if I changed my mind on the prescriptions and suggested I see the clinical psychologist in the office. Thanks for nothing. I did actually go see the psychologist a few times but he was of little help as well, only offering the typical relaxation techniques and also suggesting antidepressants and birth control pills. I also went to the nutritionist who was also no help at all. With our insurance and our quickly approaching move, I couldn't just go find another doctor so I really felt stuck and helpless.

One thing I did manage to get out of the whole ordeal with some persuasion, was a referral to an allergist so I could at least get officially tested and figure out my food issues.  I had to wait two months for that allergy appointment.

In the meantime, I tried hard to relax using all of the techniques that the popular self-help articles, books, and websites suggest: yoga, massage, acupuncture, meditation, deep breathing exercises, gratitude journaling, positive thinking, stress reduction, etc.  I also learned how to crochet and completed a complicated paint-by-number project to keep my hands and mind busy.  I listened to many self-help podcasts while I painted. In one podcast, I heard Dr Sarah Gottfried talk about her book, The Hormone Cure. Parts of her own personal story sounded so much like mine that I immediately bought the book and devoured it.  According to her questionnaires and checklists, I absolutely did have the hormonal imbalance that I suspected, and likely adrenal fatigue as well.  Her protocol suggests balancing everything in the most natural way possible - with diet and supplements if possible, then with herbs and other things if needed.  Following her suggestions that fit with my symptoms and it did make a difference - very minimal if any PMS now, my cycles are a normal length again, my hair loss stopped, and most importantly, I started sleeping through the night again.  I was feeling better physically and hormonally but I was still having the severe anxiety. (Waiting for that allergy appointment didn't help with that.)

Allergy testing happened in December. Nothing about it was what I expected. I thought I'd just get tested for dairy and a few other things but they skin pricked me for 78 different things, mostly food items but some non-food things. The doctor was ancient - he seriously looked and moved like he was 100 years old, straight from a nursing home. Since I had to speak louder and slower than normal, I didn't feel like I could have a good conversation about all of my concerns. He also simply eyeballed my prick reaction measurements instead of using any kind of ruler which made me question the accuracy of the test. I'm sure that he's extremely knowledgable since he's obviously been in practice forever but the whole experience left me uneasy with more questions than answers.

Allergy skin testing isn't completely reliable. In fact, 50 to 60% of positives are usually false positives.  However, if something reads negative, then it is likely to actually be negative. My results? It showed that I'm mildly allergic to pretty much every single food that I eat on a regular basis. It also showed that I'm mildly allergic to cats, dogs, and glycerin. It showed that I'm moderately allergic to vanilla, buckwheat, dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and candida. Dairy only showed as a mild allergy which I expected to be much worse.

They gave me a small shot of epinephrine at the clinic, a prescription for an EpiPen (because of the symptom I get when eating dairy), and an order to get blood drawn for an allergy blood test.  My bumps and redness all went away by that evening and I wondered if the whole ordeal was even worth it. The next day, I had three spots flare up again with swelling and redness - candida, mold, and cockroaches. The candida spot continued to grow for another day before it started to go down. There was still a red spot remaining there two weeks later and then it peeled like a sunburn before disappearing... strange.  My allergist never answers the phone and they haven't returned the messages I left so I never got answers about it. You can bet that I'm changing my health insurance when we move so that I can choose my own, more reliable doctors and allergists.

The re-flareup of the candida allergy prick spot made me think I had an issue with it. I didn't know anything about candida and was surprised to read that I did have a few symptoms of candida overgrowth. It made sense, especially after the bad intestinal bug that I had a few months before. That research led me to information about leaky gut which I found I had many symptoms of.  I was eating a very clean and natural diet but it did contain a ton of fruit, gluten, and grains which was surely feeding the candida and making the leaky gut worse. I immediately started an anti-candida diet, avoiding all forms of sugar (including fruit), gluten, all grains, starchy vegetables, alcohol, and caffeine. I also avoided all the foods that I was potentially allergic to, as shown by the allergy test. (I have some super strong willpower because I'm desperate to fix myself.)  I then learned about the GAPS diet so I started adapting to that. I make bone broth and drink it with every meal. I also started taking a high-dose probiotic. I have since then been adding in advice and recommendations from the book Clean Gut by Dr. Alejandro Junger and from the website of Dr Josh Axe.

Shortly after changing my diet, my anxiety started going away! For the first time in six months, I regained my mental clarity and started to feel somewhat normal again. Despite feeling better mentally, I was feeling worse physically. I assumed some of the physical discomfort was due to candida "die-off", which is side effects from the toxins candida releases when they die. The thing that concerned me most was that my blood pressure went up. It had been holding steady at 110/70 and it jumped to around 135/85 - still "normal" enough but I was uncomfortable with the sudden change being that I've had blood pressure issues in the past. I started adding in green juice, berries, nuts, and almond butter. This made me feel better physically and my blood pressure returned to normal.  The diet I'm currently following is not permanent, although some of the healthy changes will be. I will be adding foods back in slowly, watching carefully for signs of reaction or inflammation.

I just got the results back from my blood allergy test last week.  These results are much more clear and concise than the skin prick test, although they are not 100% reliable either.  Almost all the foods that the prick test said I'm allergic to, the blood test said I'm not - thank goodness!  The only foods that turned up as a positive IgE response were wheat, gluten, and egg white. Luckily those things rated as a "low" reaction. I suppose however, that when I was eating a ton of homemade bread every day and also eggs on a daily basis, that I was exacerbating the inflammatory response in my body.  Coincidentally, I ate a ton of wheat and gluten (to keep my milk supply up) and egg whites (CC ate the yolks) during CC's first year which may have had an impact on issues I had at that time.

I was surprised to learn that all dairy proteins tested as negative because I know that I have a reaction to it. I have another theory regarding that reaction that I'll get tested for when I can.

Two things showed up as a "very high" IgE reaction in the blood test: cockroaches and dust mites.  Testing for a mold reaction was not done in the blood test although I'm assuming it would be high as well based on the prick test and how it re-flared like the cockroach.

That brings me back to the Kailua house we were renting. It was older (built in 1961), had no air conditioning (other than two small window units in the bedrooms), and the wood slat windows didn't close so they let in the wind, salty humidity, and bugs. It was miserably hot this past summer - I was literally dripping sweat 24/7 for months.  Parts of the house were falling apart, there was water damage and a musty smell in multiple locations, and the roof leaked in spots, so I would guarantee that the house had mold.  My allergist said Hawaii has the highest concentration of dust mites of any state so I know that was surely an issue as well.  Finally, the house was infested with cockroaches. They all came out when we turn off the lights at night and we had to clean up their poop and egg sacs every day. We had to keep all food in the fridge or in plastic containers and couldn't use anything without first checking it for poop and chew holes. In other words, I was allergic to that house.  No wonder I was having so many new and crazy issues living there!

If you are wondering why we would rent a place like this to live in, remember that it looked great when we moved in, and it was in an amazing location.  It wasn't a shack, it was a 1.6 million dollar house with rent and utility costs that would make you cry.  But hey, at least it was in Hawaii and we were by the beach, right?  Riiiight... I don't want to put up with that even if it IS Hawaii. Most Hawaii houses have doors and windows open constantly because electricity is so expensive. Many houses do actually look like shacks (compared to houses on the mainland). The average person/family in Hawaii would not be able to afford the house we lived in. I think it's safe to assume that cockroaches, geckos, heat, and humidity are things that most people are willing to deal with in order to live in "paradise".

When you are constantly exposed to an allergy, your body stays in a constant state of inflammation and cannot function or heal itself like it should. CC's eczema and Dulce's paws couldn't heal when we lived on base because they were continually exposed to something that was aggravating them. My mental and physical health deteriorated in the Kailua house because I was living among things that I'm highly allergic to. Living in Hawaii has been rough on all of us, health wise.  I am so relieved in so many ways to be done with that assignment and back on the mainland!

I believe that everything happens for a reason, though sometimes the reasons take a while to show themselves. Dealing with CC's eczema was awful to go through but caused us to completely change our views on food, ingredients, household cleaners, chemicals, etc.  Dealing with my own allergy issues was almost unbearable but changed my views on food and allergies even further, and has sparked a passionate interest in allergies, gut health, and healing through diet.  Dealing with bad rentals and living conditions has changed our views on what is truly important to us and what we want for our family. Our lives and habits are completely different now than they were three years ago and we are much better off for it.

"All disease begins in the gut."

Happy 2nd Birthday to Cameron!

Monday, September 8, was CC's 2nd birthday! We kept things simple this year and had a small cookout party at our house the day before with only a few friends.  The theme for her party this year was her favorite television show, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, with simple red and yellow decorations and supplies.

I made CC's birthday party invitation myself using Photoshop and images I purchased in a digital set on Etsy (here).  I also used the same images from that set to create the cupcake toppers using card stock paper, double-sided tape, and toothpicks.

I made the cupcakes for the party myself.  We are a clean eating family so I wanted something yummy but natural.  I have a dairy allergy so I also wanted something I could enjoy as well, besides the fact that we actually don't have any dairy in our house, other than cheese, to use in a recipe.

I used a dairy-free white cupcake recipe from the blog Veronica's Cornucopia (here) and the cupcakes were AMAZING! They were rich, moist, and delicious. This is seriously going to be my go-to cupcake recipe from now on.

I found some all-natural, dairy-free vanilla icing (Cherrybrook Kitchen Vanilla Frosting) and all-natural sugar sprinkles at our local Whole Foods. I was pleasantly surprised with both! I put the icing into a large ziplock bag, cut off a small piece of one corner, and piped it onto the cupcakes in a circular motion. 

CC doesn't actually like very sweet things, mostly because she hasn't been exposed to them much, so she wasn't a fan of the sweet icing but she did enjoy the cupcake.  She loved hearing everyone sing the birthday song to her and has been singing "happy to me" ever since then :)

CC needed all of the characters on her cupcake :)

We gave CC a Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood themed present that included:
     Book - Goodnight Daniel Tiger
     Book - Meet the Neighbors
     Book - A Ride Through the Neighborhood
     Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Trolley
     Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Friends Figures Set
     Tabletop Hardwood Blocks

On Monday morning, CC's actual birthday, we woke early and went to the Aulani Disney Resort for the Disney Character Breakfast.  This is a gorgeous resort on the south-western side of the island. You do not have to be a guest at the resort in order to go to the restaurants there. Reservations are recommended.

There was a huge buffet with a wide variety of food options that should appease even the pickiest eaters.  There were three characters (Minnie, Mickey, and Goofy) that walked around the entire time we were there, stopping at all the tables multiple times for photos, autographs, and laughs.  Goofy was CC's favorite, he made her giggle every time he came near.

Our waitress brought out a tiny birthday cake with a candle for CC and we all sang to her.

CC was slightly overwhelmed with all the people and noise - she was quiet and observant but we could tell she enjoyed it and had a great time.  The breakfast crowd was full of tourists, primarily all Asian. Although the breakfast is geared toward children, there were many couples without kids and quite a few honeymooners.  Disney is HUGE in Japan, seemingly more so for adults than for kids.

There was an ukulele musician who walked around strumming and singing the entire time. She led multiple songs and activities that children were invited to participate in.  CC volunteered to participate in a few of the activities.

We walked around the resort for a while after breakfast and met a couple more Disney characters. I don't know if CC will remember this day at all but it was a fun one and great way to celebrate her 2nd birthday!

"Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever."
~Walt Disney

Family Friday: 23 Months Old

It's been over a month since my last post.  I involuntarily took a break because this was honestly a really rough month physically and mentally and I didn't get much of anything accomplished.  This post is about her, not me, so I'll leave the details for another day.  I did at least get these photos done, even if they sat on the memory card for the past 3 weeks.

This month CC and I went to the Byodo-In Temple in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park near Kaneohe for her photos.  This is a buddhist temple that is a smaller-scale replica of the Byodo-in Temple in Japan.  It is open to the public daily for a small fee.  The temple and gardens are a beautiful and peaceful place to spend some time.

The last time we were here, CC was only 6 months old! What a difference a year and half makes! I had no idea at that time that her head would erupt in a mound of curls!

At 23 months old, CC is still wearing size 4 diapers, mostly size 2T clothing (some smaller), and size 6 shoes.  Being summer year round here, we really get a lot of use out of her clothes since she can wear them until she outgrows them instead of just until the season changes. There are some things she has been wearing for over a year now! She still has a few 12 and 18 month shorts and skirts that still fit. It depends on the brand, not all sizes are created equal.

CC still follows the same eating and sleeping schedule.  She has been eating 4 times a day and sleeping 12 hours a night since she was 5 months old.  She started coming into this schedule on her own around 4 months and I just made sure she stuck with it.  Consistency was key and it still is.  If we want a happy toddler, then she needs to stick to her schedule (within reason).

There is a small gift shop on the temple grounds where you can purchase a small bag of fish food.  If you are military, you get a bag of food for free!  CC had a great time feeding the fish and birds.  She threw out one pellet at a time... thankfully we weren't in any hurry!

CC still loves her pacifiers. They are definitely a comfort item now and an addiction. I'm not going to make her quit them cold turkey yet but we are limiting them to only the crib and the car for longer rides.  There have been a few times in the past month when CC really wanted her paci.  When I tell her she could only have the paci if she's in her crib, then she wants in her crib so she can suck it! She sits quietly in her crib for about 20 minutes, gets her sucking fix, and then wants out to play again.

CC is still primarily babbling when she speaks but she is constantly learning and adding new words to her vocabulary.  Most notable for month 23 was that she started saying yes and no instead yeah and uh-uh.  She also started saying please ("eese") consistently and unprompted. She introduces Johnnie and I to everyone who pays attention to her as mama and daddy.  She knows her name but has not said it yet.

CC loves her babies (baby dolls and stuffed animals) and loves seeing real babies when we're out somewhere. She still loves Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and watches an episode of that almost every day.  She loves to "write" with pens, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. She also loves to brush her teeth and would brush them all day long if I let her!

Soon CC will be 2 years old! We are having a small casual cookout with a few friends to celebrate. Johnnie's parents will also be here for a visit.

For the past year, I've been referring to CC by number of months instead of simply saying "She's 1."  I know this annoys some people (usually those who don't have children) but there is such a HUGE difference between a 13 month old and a 23 month old despite both technically being "1". This has been such an incredible year for change, in both her looks and her abilities.  Once she turns two, I will stop counting by months.

I will also be stopping the monthly photos when she turns two and consider this project complete.  I'll still take random photos as often as I always do but I'll leave the official photo shoots to once a year. This was actually an extremely difficult project and I'm honestly glad it's about over.  CC is not a cooperative photo subject (notice how few photos in this post actually show her face?) so these photo shoots were quite stressful to accomplish.  I'm glad I have these monthly photos and I hope she appreciates them someday.  I also hope that she will eventually cooperate for photos, or at least look at the camera :)

"The key to happiness is letting each situation be what it is
instead of what you think it should be."
~ Mandy Hale

Family Friday: 22 Months Old

We were a little late with this month's photos. We moved at the beginning of the month, then stormy weather rolled in, and then I was sick for a week...  I'm getting caught up just in time to take more photos!

For this month's photos we went to the Kawainui Marsh Trail in Kailua.  This is a 1.3 mile long path for foot, stroller, and bicycle traffic only.  There is a paved sidewalk next to a gravel road about the width of a car.  We saw a lot of people walking their dogs, jogging, and riding bicycles.  We didn't notice any bugs on the evening we went but people we talked to said that gnats and mosquitos can be really bad at times.  The views are great but there is no shade so going in the morning or late afternoon is best.

At 22 months old, CC is still wearing size 4 diapers and mostly size 2T clothing. She is wearing size 6 shoes.  I haven't measured her height or weight lately but she is definitely getting taller and leaning out some.  Her hair is growing and getting lighter, although I'm pretty sure she is destined to be a brunette.  It is still as curly as ever!

CC still has a bedtime of 7:30pm and sleeps for about 12 hours.  She takes an afternoon nap everyday, usually from 1:30 to 3:30pm.  She has stopped crying at nap time and bedtime now. She throws her selected baby dolls into the crib, goes in willingly herself, and then goes to sleep without a fuss. Easy-peasy... finally!

CC eats 3 meals and 1 scheduled evening snack every day.  She has started occasionally wanting a mid-morning snack which I do give her when she asks.

CC drinks water all day and always has multiple cups sitting around the house.  I'm amused by that because I have always done that myself, even when I was young.  CC does not like plain milk of any kind.  For calcium, she does eat a lot of cheese and I make her smoothies with breakfast made with either almond milk or coconut milk (because that's what I drink myself).

CC is such a little person at the table now.  We never bought a high chair for her.  Instead, we used the Inglesina Fast Table Chair so that she would be more a part of our meals (besides the fact that high chairs are big and take up a lot of space).  She used the Inglesina for a year, until she was about 18 months old, and then we switched to the Graco Blossom Booster Seat. The booster was short lived, she only used it for about 3 months. She loves to put her baby dolls in it now and play with the buckles but she refuses to sit in it.  She wants to sit in a normal chair like everyone else.

CC drinks from either a real cup or a cup with a straw now.  She can also drink from normal water bottles.  She uses real metal silverware (I bought some small sized real forks and spoons) and she occasionally use real plates (our salad plates are the perfect size). All of these changes make eating out at restaurants so much easier since we no longer have to take any of our own things along.

CC's language is still a lot of baby babble but occasionally she'll say things in plain English.  She understands everything and follows directions extremely well.  Her list of words she uses on a daily basis is growing.  Her top most-used words are uh-oh (something's wrong), uh-uh (no), yeah (yes), agua (water), and more (still accompanied by the sign language).  She is starting to say please and thank you (also still usually accompanied by the sign language).

CC says Dulce (deh-see) and has picked up a few things on her own in regards to Dulce just from watching me.  For example, CC calls for Dulce by yelling her name and smacking her lips (trying to mimic the sound I make); when we leave the house, she tells Dulce to be a "guh goo" (good girl) like I always do; and when Dulce rolls in the dirt, CC says "bah goo" (bad girl) and shakes her finger.

CC still loves music and loves to dance and sing.  She plays her keyboard and other instruments every day.  Her favorite toys right now are her "babies" and her shopping cart.  She loves to color but still needs supervised with writing utensils.  She still loves to read and looks at books quietly by herself.  Lately, instead of wanting me to read to her, she gives me a book to read while she reads her own book beside me :)

CC watches a TV show once a day.  Last month she couldn't ever decide which TV show she wanted to watch. This month it is Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood every single time.  She loves that show!  I honestly love it too - the characters are cute, relatable, and diverse (some are animals and the rest are people of different races), there is a lesson of the day that is sung often throughout each episode, the show really focuses on feelings, the content is very relevant to toddlers and preschoolers, and it is educational!

CC still throws tantrums and she screams when she gets frustrated.  Fortunately both of those things are short lived once I give her the understanding and words that she needs to describe her feelings.  The Happiest Baby on the Block was my lifesaver when CC was a newborn.  The things I learned from Happiest Toddler on the Block are a huge help now.  Below is a great video clip of the author Dr. Karp on the Dr. Phil show putting his advice into action.  You do feel like a moron at first but it does actually work, especially if you use it consistently.  It is now second nature for me to start most things I say to CC (even in normal conversation, not just tantrums) with "You want..." or "You don't want..." which lets her know that I hear her and understand her. This almost always calms her down quickly during a tantrum or prevents one altogether.

Some people talk about the Terrible Twos while others swear that two was fine and that it's the Terrible Threes you have to worry about.  Every child is different... we'll just take it one day at a time and see how it goes!

"Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up
is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing."
~Phyllis Diller