Friday, May 29, 2015

Alaska Cruise!!

Yes, we did just get back from a cruise to Alaska =) It was fantastic! If you ever have the chance to go, DO IT!!! (Side note: I know a fantastic travel agent who can help you plan your trip! Check out www.trippinwithjamie.com) Pictures just do not do it justice...but you can still expect me to post more than necessary =P Spoiler alert: long post with many photos!

We flew out to Seattle on Friday evening and the ship left Saturday afternoon. It was a huge relief when we finally boarded the ship, because I had been dealing with a partial bowel obstruction the week before we left, and it had been a bit up in the air whether I would even be able to make the trip...but thankfully things finally got moving and we were able to go!

Crown Princess
Leaving Seattle (space needle on the left side)
We sailed on the Crown Princess, and it was my parents, me, Nick, my brother, and his friend (who is practically my brother too). Our first day was at sea, so we had no stops, just exploring the ship. 

Side note: if you ever go on a cruise with my family, be prepared to WALK. Elevators are against our religion (=P) so we took the stairs everywhere (shout out to my amazingly tolerant husband to putting up with the weird eccentricities of his in-laws =P).

Our first port was Juneau. Interesting fact: Juneau is the only US capital that is inaccessible by car. You can only get to Juneau by plane or boat. As we were sailing into the port, we got our first glimpse of Alaska. Like I said, photos do not do it justice, but at least it can wet your appetite for your own trip to Alaska (www.trippinwithjamie.com)!

Sailing in to Juneau
Juneau, Alaska
We did a kayaking trip along the coast in Juneau which was a lot of fun. The scenery was incredible, and while we didn't get to see any bears or moose on the shore, we did get to see some sea lions! They were no more than 20 feet from our kayaks and would pop their heads out of the water, look around, go under, then resurface a little ways away. I didn't get any good pictures of the sea lions unfortunately, but here are some of the scenery.

Kayaking along the coast
Two-person kayak!
Beach, forest, mountains - quintessential Alaska
The next day we were in port in Skagway. While Skagway is technically accessible by road, it is pretty far from anything...all their supplies are brought in by train once a week. It is a town of 850 year-round residents, and during the summers they can get up to 10,000 people coming in on cruise ships each day! 
Tourist train that you could ride up to White Pass
Town of Skagway at 6:30am

I think Skagway was my favorite of the 3 Alaskan ports we visited. My mom and I got off the ship when we got to port at 6:30am to run around the town. Skagway is set in a bit of a valley with the mountains surrounding it. It had a really nice small town (obviously) feel and the scenery was incredible. We did a hike/float trip in Skagway where we hiked 2 miles along the trail that the miners used when they first came during the Gold Rush. Then we got in a raft and floated down stream where we could take photos and see the scenery.
Overlook of a bay just outside Skagway
Hiking - everything is covered in moss
BEAR claw marks! These were about 7-8 feet up...
Can you believe it was about 70 degrees??

The day after Skagway, we were crusing in Glacier Bay. Not all the cruise itineraries we looked at went through Glacier Bay, but this was one thing that we all really wanted to do. We made sure we were on a cruise that did go through it, and it was definitely worth it. 
Iceberg!
The water was so smooth and quiet the reflections were incredible!

Margerie Glacier - It is about 3xs the height of the ship
Our last Alaskan port was Ketchican which is the southern-most city in Alaska. It is a primarily fishing based town that is built into the mountains. Where Juneau and Skagway were mostly flat, Ketchican was very hilly (what can I say, runners notice these things =P).
Salmon capitol of the world
Built on the side of the water on stilts
Lots of fishing boats and homes along the coast
Our final port was Victoria, Canada, but we didn't get off the ship there. It was only in port from 7-11pm our last night, and we had other things to keep us busy...such as croquet!! Peroutky/Scheff/Boka/Baldwin style of course! Instead of boring you with details, I'll just say that Nick and I were the two-person team champions getting it both FIRST and TWICE!!
CHAMPIONS!!
So that's pretty much our cruise! We had a great time, and I would go back in a heart beat! I felt really good pretty much the entire cruise =) Our Head Waiter and Waiter were fantastic and made sure I was included at meals even though I wasn't eating much. I ate rice milk pudding and orange jello the whole week, and was even able to try a couple scrambled eggs and a few bites of fruit by the end of the week. It was a huge blessing to be able to go on the cruise, and having Herman II was not even much of an inconvenience. Although there were times when we had a different server who thought it was weird that I was only eating pudding and jello as my entire meal. 

God is good, and I am so grateful to have been able to do something "normal" with my family and feel more or less healthy. Thank you so much to everyone who was keeping me and my family in your prayers this past week. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to do something fun and get away from doctors and ERs even for a short bit. 
Family (don't ask how many tries it took to get this =P)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Published!!

I know it's been a bit since I posted an update, but you'll have to wait a bit longer. I promise it will be worth waiting for, pictures will be included =)

In the mean time, check out this link:

http://themighty.com/2015/05/how-my-husband-and-i-made-our-trips-to-the-er-more-romantic/

A blog post I wrote was published on The Mighty! Check it out, comment, and share with friends and family!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Food Allergy Awareness Week

If you hadn't guessed from the title, it's Food Allergy Awareness Week!!!

I figured it was appropriate for me to share since right now I'm kinda allergic to food in general...or at least digestion, which tends to come along with eating food...

Anyway, even when I am able to eat, I still have actual allergies to dairy and wheat. This does makes things challenging at times, but honestly, when I've been on a diet of only smoothies and liquids for months, somehow a diet that excludes dairy and wheat doesn't feel so restrictive...haha =P

I thought I would share a fun (and hopefully educational) post about where dairy and wheat products like to hide for anyone dealing with similar allergies. One thing I found when I was first diagnosed, is that ingredients can hide or show up in surprising places. If you don't know to look for them, you might not even think to check, and as all food allergy sufferers know, that can lead to potentially severe consequences.

So here goes!

1) Candy

If you're allergic to milk, you're probably used to avoiding chocolate products, but did you know that wheat can hide in candy as well?? Did you know there is wheat in Twizzlers??? Chewy, gummy NOT grain-based candy?? Anyone with a wheat allergy, Celiac disease, or a wheat/gluten sensitivity, make sure you are careful when handling this candy! This is not the only gummy candy that contains wheat either, so make sure you are reading labels when you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth. Sour patch kids ARE gluten and dairy free...just saying =)

2) Vegan products

Another common misconception by people outside the allergy community or newly diagnosed is that vegan = allergy free. I want to dispel this myth now! I'm not going to debate the health ramifications of a vegan diet, but emphasize that just because something is vegan does not mean it is allergy friendly. Actually, products labeled as vegan often contain quite a lot of gluten because it is a binding agent which may be even more necessary in products without eggs that are commonly used as a binder. (Side note: If you also need to avoid soy, watch out for vegan products. Tofu is often used as a meat substitute or in other ways in vegan products and can be a hidden ingredient.) On the flip side, vegan products are guaranteed to be dairy free. Because vegans avoid all animal products, any form of milk that is not plant based will not be used.

3) Gluten free products

Switching gears here now to highlight some tricky, hidden sources of dairy. If you have multiple allergies, you may have found "allergen friendly" brands in the grocery stores, but WATCH OUT! There are many gluten free brands that still contain milk or milk products. Don't assume that just because something is gluten free or advertised as allergen friendly means that it is also dairy free as well. Glutino is one brand that has some products that are okay for me to eat, and others that contain milk products. I learned the hard way that you have to read the ingredients every time on every product, no exceptions.

4) Lactose free/Lactose intolerance friendly products

Another BEWARE for dairy allergies. Despite how these products are labeled, THEY LIE! There is still lactose in almost all "lactose free" products. How do they manage this?? They also add the lactase enzyme to the product so lactose intolerant people can safely eat the product because the enzyme is already there. If you truly have a milk allergy, though, this does not help. Whey protein and casein are two milk proteins that are typically the source of milk allergies. These are often still in "lactose free" products. Be careful of any dairy product labeled "lactose free" unless you read the ingredients yourself. Like I mentioned before, if you find a dairy substitute that is labeled vegan, you are good, no milk proteins there. Daiya brand cheeses are gluten, dairy, and soy free. I think they taste pretty good, but remember, I haven't had regular cheese in 7+ years, so I may not be the best judge =P

5) Vegetarian products

Not vegan, those are going to be dairy free, but vegetarian products often slip dairy into the ingredient list. Watch for whey protein, casein, or cheese added to things like veggie burgers or other meat substitutes. If the product is labeled Pareve, that means there is no meat or dairy in that, so it should be safe.

6) Medications

This is the last one I want to mention because I think it's the most important and most overlooked. Food allergy sufferers are often obsessive about reading food labels at the grocery store, friends houses, potlucks, etc. But how many are reading the labels on their medications? If you take regular medications, do you know what the inactive ingredients are? Check, check, and double check. If you change brands, check again. If you get a refill from the pharmacy and the pills look different, ASK! As someone dealing with a fairly severe milk allergy, I have run into this on multiple occasions. For my MCAS, I take H1 and H2 blockers daily. H1 blockers can be zyrtec, claritin, allergra, etc. I take zyrtec, HOWEVER, I can ONLY take the liqui-gel. The tablets and capsules for zyrtec all contain milk products in the inactive ingredients. Same for my H2 blockers. name-brand zantac is the only medication in its class that does not contain milk products. Watch for lactose monohydrate as a milk product that is often found in tablet coatings.

Story time: When I have been in the hospital, they often do not stock zantac in the pharmacy. Instead, they have other H2 blockers such as pepsid or similar medications, such as protonix. When I was admitted in October, the doctor decided he wanted me to start taking an H2 blocker since I wasn't at the time. He prescribed protonix. The nurse brought it up, but before I took it we asked her to double check the ingredients as well as checking the INACTIVE ingredients. When she returned she said that it did contain milk products in the coating. So she had the pharmacy send up pepsid instead. When it came, and I looked at the pill, I knew there was no way there wasn't milk in it. I asked her to check again. At this point she was a bit frustrated, I'm sure, but it wasn't worth risking my health (even if I was in the hospital =P). Sure enough, the pepsid also had lactose monohydrate as an inactive ingredient. We ended up going out to a local CVS and buying a bottle of zantac ourselves so I knew it was safe.

Moral of the story: CHECK, CHECK, and CHECK AGAIN. And this applies to managing any allergy in general. You are your own best advocate. Even when I was in the hospital with my allergies on file, the pharmacy STILL sent me medications with my most severe allergen in it. Had I not been paying attention, or known to ask, or willing to advocate for myself even though I frustrated my nurse in the process, things could have been really bad.

I have learned a lot in the 7+ years since being diagnosed with food allergies, and I hope this can encourage and equip others who are also dealing with similar diets! Feel free to email me or leave a comment with any questions or comments!

Anyone else have any tips or suggestions of hidden allergens in common foods??

Monday, May 11, 2015

No Words

I've been meaning to write a post for a while now, but every time I sit down and try to write, nothing comes to mind. It's not that nothing has been going on, just that sometimes life hits you with more than what can be expressed in words.

I could tell you about our most recent "date night" in the ER last week...

I could do my best to explain in words pain so severe I was crying and yelling for Nick to put me down when he was carrying me to the car to take me to the ER...

I could describe the frustration that comes when everything my doctor prescribes does nothing to remedy the problem...

I could attempt to put my feelings of helplessness on paper when I see how my pain and illness makes my family worry and feel helpless right alongside me...

I could try to communicate what it feels like to be afraid of anything going into my stomach because I just. can't. handle. the. pain...

Sometimes there are just no words. This past week has been one of those weeks. But sometimes, it's okay not to have words to describe what has been going on. Sometimes I think it's okay to just let things pass, not focus on the pain and hardship, but be reminded of the only things that matter.

"For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing."
Deuteronomy 2:7

For whatever reason, Deuteronomy is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I don't really know why, and I'm not even sure when I read it that made it my favorite, but it is. I recently started reading it again, and this verse really jumped out at me.

I AM BLESSED! How easily it can be to lose sight of that when things are hard. Regardless of how rough life gets, God has given me the gift of life. That is enough to declare with confidence that I am blessed beyond words! I am also blessed so far beyond that with an incredible family, friends, and the health that I do have. There are so, so many who struggle much more than I do. Yes I have pain, and yes I do cry that God would take it, but even just this year, God is blessing me so immensely.

GOD KNOWS! Any pain I deal with in this life, Jesus had first. His spiritual and emotional pain the week before His death, the physical pain He experienced during beatings and on the cross, they FAR exceed anything I will ever experience. God created me and knows exactly what I am going through. Jesus personally experienced pain, isolation, fear, doubt, and the deepest desire for God to take the suffering but the willingness to endure if that was God's plan. Nothing I go through is outside of God's knowledge or compassionate understanding.

GOD IS AND HAS BEEN WITH ME! In the midst of the most severe pain when I can't move or breathe, God is wrapping me in His arms. And regardless of what comes in the future, God will continue to hold me. Notice, this verse doesn't say that they always followed God exactly or were perfect children. If anything, the reference to the wilderness may indicate that there was some aimless wandering going on. Yet God stayed with them.

I LACK NOTHING! Sometimes it's okay not to have words because maybe they aren't necessary. I am never beyond the reach of God, so when I can't think of anything to say, I can just rest knowing it's okay. Maybe it's a season for me to begin listening instead of always saying.

I know that's a lot of text for a post beginning with me saying I don't have any words, but I guess the moral of the story here is that I don't have anything to say! This is just what God's been teaching me lately and what's been on my heart. Hope it can be encouraging to at least one other person!

Thank you for your prayers these past few days. I am doing better, but still have a ways to go. Check back for another post later this week!