Monday, March 31, 2014

Movie Monday 3/31

Finally got our power back! It was out most of the day today, due to high winds, but came back on just barely in time for me to make dinner (my older son and I were starving because we had to make do with a cold lunch and are eating a restricted diet right now - so much for those yummy Chinese leftovers!)

We went away this weekend for a mini getaway - it was the only 48 hours we had with all four of us alone together until summer! Crazy, right? That's the hectic schedule that's been causing me so much stress lately. So, we squeezed in a little vacation to St. Michael's, a lovely little town on Maryland's Eastern shore, about two hours from here. We stayed at a fabulous inn (something we couldn't afford in the on-season!) out on a point of land, surrounded by water on three sides.

Unfortunately, it was dark and rainy the entire weekend! We had that gorgeous view and couldn't see much beyond the raucous waves of the bay. To make matters worse, my youngest son came down with a sinus infection and bronchitis before we left town on Friday, and I had to run him all over, squeeze in a doctor's appointment, and get him started on antibiotics. So, he felt awful on Saturday...and so did I, probably from all the stress and running around Friday! We made the best of it, though - hunkered down in our nice room, rented a video from the nearest Redbox, and watched it on my son's laptop. We also managed some great meals, a little bit of walking around town, and some fun card games in the evening. Not quite what we'd had planned, but it was still time spent alone together with no distractions.

The movie we watched was Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the second movie in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, based on a popular series of middle-grade books by Rick Riordan. We all listened to this book on audio together on a road trip many years ago, but none of us remembered much about it, except my oldest son who has an incredible memory for books! The basic idea behind the series is that Greek Gods are alive and well in the 21st century. They sometimes get together with humans, creating "half-bloods," kids who are half-human and half-God. These kids are in danger from mythic monsters, so they stay at Camp Half-Blood, an area that's protected by a powerful magic (I think it's out on Long Island if I remember the books correctly). In this second book/movie, the protective barrier has been breached, putting all the campers at risk, and it is up to Percy and his friends, Grover (a satyr) and Annabeth (daughter of Athena), to find the mythical Golden Fleece and fix the barrier. Like the first movie, it's got nonstop action, lots of mythical creatures, and a good sense of humor. My older son was annoyed that the story sometimes veered significantly from the plot of the book, but all in all, it was a fun bit of entertainment on a rainy sick day. It's rated PG, so it's a good family movie to watch with somewhat younger kids (though probably a bit scary for the under-8 crowd).

Have you seen any good movies lately?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Learning to Live with ME/CFS Now on Twitter!

Yes, I have finally joined Twitter...kicking and screaming and dragging my feet! I swore I would never do this - just because I am already doing more things than I have time or energy for - but I was kind of forced into it, so I will give it a try.

A good friend told me about a very cool Writer Residency program that Amtrak is sponsoring - they will pick 24 writers to win a free trip on Amtrak (from 2 to 6 days) in a sleeper car. The idea is to promote the arts while also promoting Amtrak. It sounds great to me - I can always use some uninterrupted writing time, and this opportunity comes with a bed for resting!  So, I filled out the form, wrote my answers to the short essay questions, uploaded a writing sample...and then found that the site wouldn't accept my application until I entered a Twitter handle. Really? Yup, Twitter was a requirement. I suppose they just want to get the maximum PR from the free trips they are giving away, and apparently, blogs are just so 2013.

So, I bit the bullet and signed up for Twitter - finally. The Twitter handle for this blog is @livewithmecfs, so go look me up! So far, I have zero followers. I got further annoyed with Twitter when it required me to pick at least 15 Twitter feeds to follow before it would sign me up. Sheesh. I don't like being forced to do things! ha ha

I'm sure I will end up enjoying Twitter. I just need to be careful not to let it get too time-consuming. I had just started making some progress in the past week in taming my e-mail and Facebook obligations and trying to limit my time spent on those. Back to square one.

What have been your experiences with Twitter? Any advice on keeping it from taking up too much time? I don't have a smart phone and mainly just use my cell phone to keep in touch with my husband and kids. I really don't like the idea of being constantly "on call," so I will probably check Twitter online for now. Any suggestions for this newbie are welcome!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie Monday 3/24

As I posted last week, I got away for a mini "me retreat"for a couple of days. I didn't feel great while I was away, so I rested and enjoyed the lack of responsibilities. I did manage a little writing, lots of reading, and plenty of TED talks (I don't like eating alone, so I watched TED talks during meals!). And I indulged in a couple of girly movies I knew my husband wouldn't be too crazy about. All in all, it was a good movie week:

Although they are not movies, I'll include the TED talks because I watched some really good ones last week. I worked through most of this What Makes Us Happy playlist and really enjoyed all of the talks. Some were so inspiring that I started taking notes so I wouldn't forget what I'd heard! If you are looking for some inspiration and joy, check out these talks on happiness - some are very thought-provoking, some are funny, and all are interesting.

Now for the fun fluff...the first movie I watched on my own was The Answer Man, a romantic comedy. I chose this one because I was looking for something light and fun, and I really like Lauren Graham (and it was free on Amazon Prime!). Graham plays a struggling single mom named Elizabeth who is trying to start her own chiropractic business and is very over-protective of her young son. Jeff Daniels play a reclusive author named Arlen Faber with problems of his own. He wrote a best-seller 20 years earlier about his close relationship with God, but since then, his inspiration has completely dried up. He's become a cranky, difficult man who rarely leaves his home or talks to anyone...until he hurts his back and literally crawls through Elizabeth's office door. I really enjoyed this movie, and it was better than I expected it to be. The great thing is that I was undecided whether to watch a fun movie or an inspiring one, and this was a little bit of both, since Arlen's spiritual quest is a big part of the plot.

I was very indecisive the next night and had trouble picking a movie, until it was getting late and length of the movie became a critical factor! I chose Two Lovers, starring Gweneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin plays Leonard, a man struggling with mental illness (should have been my first clue that this wasn't really light); he seems to be manic-depressive with suicidal tendencies (the opening scene shows him considering suicide). He's had to move back in with his parents (his mom is played by Isabella Rossellini), a nice older Jewish couple living in an apartment in Brighton Beach who are worried about their son. They try to set him up with a nice Jewish girl, the daughter of a business associate, and Leonard does like Sandra. However, he is drawn to his bad girl neighbor, Michelle, played by Gweneth Paltrow. Michelle is clearly a poor choice for Leonard, with some major issues of her own, but his attraction to her is strong and passionate. It's a good movie overall (how could it not be with that cast?), but it is quite dark and depressing. Not quite the light and fun flick I was in the mood for, but a very well done melancholy drama.

Back home, my husband and I watched American Hustle, one of many recent DVD releases we've been dying to see. Our 16-year old son watched some of it with us, too, though he wasn't really in the mood for sitting still! Christian Bale and Amy Adams (like you've never seen her before - this is not the sweet princess from Enchanted!) star as Irving and Syndey, a con-man and his girlfriend who get caught by the FBI and are forced to help with a sting operation to catch bigger fish. Bradley Cooper plays Richie, the FBI agent in charge of the operation who keeps seeing the possibility to catch bigger and bigger fish, as the operation rockets out of control. Jennifer Lawrence also stars (a long ways from Katniss!) as Irving's wife. All of this is set in the 70's, with fabulous fashions and hairstyles also starring (you must see Christian Bale's comb-over and Bradley Cooper in perm rods!). This is a fabulous movie from start to finish, with an all-star cast, an intriguing plot, and great acting. Highly recommended.

Have you seen any good movies lately?

P.S. If you are also interested in what we've been reading this week, check out the Monday post on my book blog.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Alone At Last!

As I explained here recently, I had a mini mental breakdown last week. No big deal - just one of the occasional downs that go along with the ups in this rollercoaster life of chronic illness. I was feeling overwhelmed (what's new?), stressed, and frustrated, and I over-reacted to a well-meaning family member. I broke down in sobs for a few minutes, then wiped my tears away and got back to the business of life: taking care of myself and my family.

At the same time, since the beginning of the year, I have been trying to make some improvements in my life in terms of time management and organization. Over the past year, I realized that I'd let various obligations and responsibilities take over my time. Much of that has to do with helping other people: those newly diagnosed, those who've been sick for decades and have never had any treatment, and especially, parents of kids who are struggling with chronic illness, like my own. All of this is very, very important to me, but the e-mails, group interactions, blogs, etc. were easily expanding to take up all of my available time. My writing - even here on my chronic illness blog! - has definitely suffered, as has my peace of mind.

So, I had a lightbulb moment last week and decided that I needed to get away for a quiet respite...SOON. A quick look at the cluttered calendar showed that I couldn't just pick up and go - soccer and school commitments, doctor's appointments, deadlines, etc. stood in the way last week. But this week looked relatively open in the middle, so before I could think of excuses, I talked to my husband (who was supportive, as always - he doesn't like to see me fall apart either!) and asked a good friend (who also has medical problems and a sick child so she gets it) if I could borrow her family's condo at the beach for a couple of days. This wonderful friend texted me the door code immediately and said, "Go and enjoy it!"

So, a little preparation, rescheduling, and packing and a week later, and here I am! I arrived at noon today, picked up a giant Thai Chicken Salad from Panera, and settled into the very quiet condo by myself. It's not very nice beach weather (we got 4-6 inches of snow yesterday and it is cold and overcast today), but I'm not really here for the beach anyway. I am hoping to recharge and recuperate...and also get some writing done, without that lengthy to-do list in front of me.

Leaving for a mini getaway like this is always an amazing feeling. I finally got everything packed this morning (I don't travel light, as I'm sure you can understand!) and settled into the car (the nice, newer car with cruise control and a CD player - oooh!). Of course, the moment I pushed the button to put down the garage door, my college son texted me that he thought his bronchitis was back and his phone battery died. I almost laughed out loud at the timing, but instead I texted back where his antbiotics were (after running back into the house to find them), what time he could meet up with his dad at the house, and where to look for the new shipment of probiotics due in today. Then I gave myself a little pep talk that he'd be fine without me, and I left.

Driving away from all of my obligations and responsibilities is so freeing! I used to experience the same thing when I'd travel for business, that feeling of freedom and of only being responsible for myself. Truly amazing. I enjoyed listening to my audio book during the almost-2 hour drive down here, though I had to keep rewinding because my mind would wander to those waiting to-dos and my family's needs.

The funny thing is that once I finally arrived, I felt kind of lonely! I know, you are probably thinking I am nuts, but my normal daily life with chronic illness is pretty isolated, and I am naturally a very social person. I'm sure you can relate to this - I use up all of my limited energy taking care of my family and myself, and there is rarely enough left for social interactions. It had only been a few hours, and I was already missing my husband (hi, honey!) who is often the only adult I see during a typical day (not counting my best friends at the pharmacy).

So, I am adjusting to the quiet and solitude, and it is growing on me. I was pretty wiped out after packing, driving, and carrying all my stuff up to the second-floor condo, so after lunch, I took my usual afternoon nap. I woke up feeling achy and worn out, dragged myself out of bed, and went to the bathroom. Then I thought, "Wait a minute. I can do anything I want to do - there's nothing I have to do." With that revelation, I grabbed a cup of hot herbal tea, a new book, and crawled back under the cozy down comforter and nestled back into the fluffy pillows. Getting back into bed in the afternoon - what a concept!

I am planning to rest more tonight and hopefully feel well enough to tackle some long-neglected writing projects tomorrow - and maybe even take a short walk on the beach.

I am very grateful to both my friend and my husband for allowing me to have this mini getaway/writing retreat.

And, hey, if you have any suggestions for girly movies that my husband would hate, let me know! I may just relax and watch a movie on amazon tonight.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Movie Monday 3/17

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Things have been so busy these last weeks that I skipped a Movie Monday (or two maybe?).  I've barely had any time at all for writing blog posts and am horribly remiss at visiting other blogs (even my favorites lately - sorry!), but I am taking steps to try to get more organized and manage my time better. The problem is that answering e-mails and participating in groups for ME/CFS has really grown to take up a lot of my time. Helping other people is very important to me, but I need to find a way to be more efficient and balanced. Anyway....that was a bit off-topic.  So, movies!

Last week, we watched The Heat with our 16-year old son. He and I picked it out, and my husband wasn't thrilled with our selection! He thought it looked stupid...and still thought that after watching it! Normally, he and I don't go in for the goofy, slapstick kind of comedies, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed this one, as did my son! It stars Sandra Bullock (I am a big fan of hers) and Melissa McCarthy as mismatched police officers teamed up together (reluctantly) to bring down a crime lord. Bullock plays an uptight FBI agent who strictly follows the rules and has devoted her whole life to her career. McCarthy is a local Boston PD officer who plays loose with the rules, dresses like a slob, and swears like a sailor. Some of the comedy of their being paired up is predictable, but I thought the best parts of the movie are the scenes that bring the two of them closer together (aw, come on, you knew that would happen, didn't you?). Lots of action in this movie, a bit of suspense, and a whole lot of laughs! As long as swearing doesn't bother you, this is a great movie for a bit of laugh therapy.

This weekend,  the three of us watched Catching Fire. Our son was lucky enough to see it in the theater on the first day it was released, but my husband and I hadn't seen it yet (and we both read and loved the book). This is the second movie in the series based on The Hunger Games trilogy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, who is as good as ever here. We all loved the movie. The plot stuck pretty closely to the book (except for a small detail toward the end but nothing important), and the acting and costumes were just as amazing as in the first movie. This is a visual feast about a dystopian society where the government keeps its citizens in line with an annual fight to the death, in which the participants are children and teens, chosen through a lottery, and the entire horrifying contest is televised for mandatory viewing. Katniss and Peta outsmarted the Games in the first book/movie, but their quiet life of leisure doesn't last long, as citizens of the districts become increasingly rebellious, and the government looks for ways to get them back under control. As with the first movie, this one is violent but also thought-provoking and intriguing. It is action-packed but with plenty of good dialogue, excellent acting, and astounding costumes and sets.

Have you seen any good movies lately? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bitterness, Resentment, and Forgiveness

With all that's been going on with my son's worsened medical problems, plus all the usual challenges of my own, things have been tough for me lately. I have been feeling even more overwhelmed than usual, my to-do list packed with medically-related urgencies (call doctor #1, fax doctor #2, e- mail doctor #3, order supplements, refill prescriptions, pay bills, etc., etc.). In addition, at this time of year, I am usually planning and looking forward to some fun vacations for our family - spring break, a 3-week summer road trip, a few camping weekends - but I realized that this year, between my younger son's soccer and school schedules and my older son needing to take a class during summer session (and none of their school breaks matching up), we don't have a single full weekend when the four of us can be together until mid-July....and then we will only have about two weeks when there is nothing else scheduled. It was a depressing and frustrating realization.

Feeling so overwhelmed and with no breaks to look forward to really pushed me past my limits. I was talking to a family member, hoping for some empathy, and instead I got some breezy throw-away advice, including "been there, done that." These interactions just added to my stress and sent me over the edge. I got so angry and fed up...and of course, those negative emotions only made me sicker. It's a vicious cycle.

I've written here before about the challenges of helping friends and family to understand the bizarre world of chronic illness that we live in, a world where every moment of every day is ruled by The Illness and where positive-thinking aphorisms often just don't apply. I know I am fortunate. My immediate family - my husband and my two sons - of course understand because they are living with the very same restrictions and limits (mine as well as some of their own). And my closest friends who live locally also understand - some of them are dealing with their own health issues (with themselves or their kids) and others are just wonderfully compassionate people who have spent enough time with me to "get it."

The bigger challenge lies with my extended family, none of whom live in the local area. They only see us a few times a year, so they don't understand the daily restrictions and limits that rule our lives. They see us for a couple of days when we are pushing ourselves to keep up and enjoy our time with them and don't see the resulting crash afterward. I wrote a bit about this in my post, The Invisible Illness. I thought that after 12 years of my living with chronic illness, they at least understood to some degree. But they don't. They think that my life, as a wife and mother with two teens, is the same as their lives are/were. Sometimes, they think I have it easier because I "don't have to work."

Most of the time, I try to make the best of the limited times that I spend with my family, ignore the minor misunderstandings, and maintain good relationships with my family members. Early on in my illness, I went through some very difficult times with my family, as I explained in this post on family. Many of my family members struggled with denial at that point, and things got bad and really hit bottom. It's better now (with most of them), and I decided that having relationships with my family was very important to me. All I need to do is think of one of my oldest friends, who lost her mom to cancer when we were just teens who once said to me when I was complaining about my mother, "I would love to have my mom around to drive me crazy." She's right, and I try to remember that and keep things in perspective.

I also know that negative emotions like anger, bitterness, and resentment not only eat away at me - like they do with anyone - but also make me much sicker. I've seen that effect first-hand many times, including this week. Re-reading this blog post about misunderstandings and misperceptions helps - it reminds me that sometimes the problem is mine, not theirs, and that I need to be careful not to jump to conclusions. I know all that rationally but sometimes my emotions still get the best of me.

So, I try hard to let go of bitterness and resentment, and I try to remember how much my family means to me. But sometimes, like earlier this week, it's just so hard to do. I've also noticed that I tend to be hardest on the people I love the most. Feelings of resentment tend to spring up most with my husband and my mother - the two adults I love most in the world. Why is it that we are able to be so much more forgiving and understanding with casual acquaintances and we expect so much more from those closest to us?

I know I need to learn better how to let go of resentments and how to forgive and forget, but I don't know how to get better at those things! If anyone out there knows of any good books or other resources on these topics, I would love to hear about them.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

To-Do List Blues

Imagine some blues music playing in the background...

I'm just feeling frustrated this week - here it is Thursday afternoon, and I feel like I have done NOTHING at all this week! We had our big Mardi Gras party on Saturday (not so big these days but still a major event for me and our only major entertaining event all year), plus house guests all weekend, so I was moderately crashed for the first half of this week. In some ways, moderately crashed is worse than totally crashed. When I'm in really bad shape, I give in and stay in bed or on the couch. When I'm just feeling moderately crappy and achy all over, I can't help still trying to get stuff done and feeling guilty for not accomplishing anything.

When I made my weekly to-do list on Monday (the only thing I actually finished on Monday), I labeled it "Catch-Up Week." With my older son managing a bit better and the Mardi Gras party behind us, I figured I would devote the week to catching up on all the half-finished, rather urgent stuff that needed to be done and has been languishing on my to-do list for months: figure out the new insurance system and finally pay all the medical bills piled on the counter, write up all the changes we've made for my son the past month and e-mail/fax the summary to all his doctors, write some long overdue book reviews, write some long overdue posts for this blog...well, you get the idea.

Instead, I have crossed nothing off my list all week! I've barely managed to get through each day, plus taking my son to a doctor's appointment. Oh, and my older son, who was doing better, texted me on Monday that he was badly crashed with a sore throat (probably a viral trigger), so he came home for a while. I did finally feel better today, but I had to use that precious energy to get groceries. It is so frustrating to me that running to the store for an hour uses up all of my energy for a full day! I'm not complaining because I know some of you would love to be able to go to the grocery store at's just frustrating.

To make matters worse, I started off the new year by reading a book about time management and meeting your goals, so I was all mentally motivated and thought things would be different this year! I know...I have a bad habit of thinking I can do more than I really can. I was like that even before I got sick, but it's even worse with such low energy and stamina.

Well, venting and ranting a bit helps. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Happy Mardi Gras 2014!!

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today is the final day of the 2014 Mardi Gras season, which is a reason to celebrate! We used to live in New Orleans, so this is one of our favorite holidays of the year, but anyone can join in the fun.

Here's a Weekend Cooking post from my book blog this weekend, with lots of ideas on how to celebrate Mardi Gras, with foods you can either cook or buy, plus some fun links.

And here's an older post from this blog, all about the Joy of Celebrations - making room in your life to celebrate things big and small, to add joy to a life currently focused on restrictions and limits.

I am off to post some old Mardi Gras photos for my friends and then to a friend's house for our annual Popeye's dinner, to celebrate Mardi Gras with several of the people who used to live in New Orleans when we did.

Hope you are all having a fun Fat Tuesday!

And, if you're reading this too late to celebrate Mardi Gras, start decorating and planning because St. Patrick's Day is only 2 weeks away - another great excuse to celebrate!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Adventures in Eating: Paleo and Anti-Candida Diets

I am way behind in writing an update here of my son Jamie and how's he doing since we made all those drastic changes to his diet, supplements, and medicines a few weeks ago. In fact, I am overdue in writing any posts at all here. Even though Jamie did go back to college, I have still been focusing most of my time and energy on his medical issues (researching, learning, shopping for specialty foods, cooking in a whole new way, trading e-mails with our biochemist/dietician consultant, and more). Also, I am still struggling to understand some of what's behind all this, but I will share what I know so far and what we have learned.

First, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the very strict diet Jamie is on was designed specifically for him by the biochemist/registered dietician we are consulting with. He has a very complicated mix of problems: ME/CFS, severe methylation problems, Lyme disease, plus two other tick-borne infections (bartonella and babesia), and long-term yeast overgrowth (plus other problems) from years of constant antibiotic use. So, I am definitely not recommending this diet for anyone else - it's pretty drastic and focused on his individual needs right now. Here are some of the reasons behind the restrictions (anything in quotation marks comes directly from our biochemist/consultant):
  • No sugar and no grains because they feed yeast, plus the biochemist/dietician says "they are also mitochondrial and brain poisons."
  • No dairy, gluten, or oats because casein (protein in dairy), gluten, and gliadin (protein in oats) block one of the methylation pathways. "Dairy also inhibits the uptake of cysteine by neurons which impairs the neuronal production of glutathione. Considering the brain and its neurons is the most aerobic organ and glutathione the most important antioxidant, the brain becomes subject to severe oxidative stress. Casein also blocks the reduced folate receptor and the transport of reduced folate into neurons." (I told you she was knows a lot!)
  • Only pears for fruit because "Pears do not contribute to a yeast overgrowth.  Neither do they ferment."
  • Legumes, tree nuts, whole grains, and certain vegetables are also on the No list because they contain oxalates. I don't fully understand yet why oxalates are bad for Jamie (and possibly me), but she said "oxalates and yeast are partners in crime." This has been a tough one here at home because we normally eat a LOT of beans (and they are also not allowed on Paleo - see below).
My son has kept up this strict diet for the past 3 weeks. As you can see from my earlier post, all he can eat is meats, eggs, about 10 different vegetables, 1 pear a day but no other fruits, seeds (like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds), and whey protein a bit of chocolate but with very little sugar. Avocado and coconut are both OK, too, but he really hates both of those! No grains at all, though I have been experimenting a bit with coconut flour. He needs his Sunday morning pancakes (this recipe for coconut flour pancakes is pretty good - they don't taste like regular pancakes but when you've had no grains all week, they are still a treat - I put diced pears in them. I also added lemon juice to the coconut milk in order to mimic buttermilk and give the baking soda something to combine with). He has been managing this on campus each week, as he is able to review the menu ahead of time and special-order whatever he needs. So, for instance, if the dining hall is serving BBQ pork for dinner, he can ask for the pork without the BBQ sauce. The pasteurized egg mixture they normally use for scrambled eggs and omelets has milk in it, but he can request fresh eggs each morning.

Generally, he has been eating scrambled eggs with some sort of breakfast meat for breakfast and meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner (unfortunately, he is ordering green beans at every single meal since it's his favorite!). The dietician encouraged him to eat between meal snacks - something he doesn't normally do. She said it's important to give the mitochondria a steady stream of fuel and not "starve" them for long periods between meals. For snacks, he has been eating natural jerky (with no nitrates or sugar), seeds, his one pear a day, and whey protein shakes (flavored plain whey protein powder mixed with water, with only stevia as a sweetener). When he comes home on Sundays, we have those coconut flour pancakes for breakfast and usually steak (his favorite), green beans, and pureed cauliflower for dinner.

Meanwhile, here at home, my husband decided to try the Paleo Diet, in part for moral support and in part because he's wanted to try it for years for weight loss. The Paleo Diet is basically eating the way prehistoric man ate, lots of fruits and veggies, lean meat, nuts, and seeds, with no grains or processed foods and only natural sugars. So, I have been cooking Paleo for dinners here at home and eating mostly Paleo myself while still sticking to mostly no sugar (I still eat a few whole grains, like oatmeal for breakfast 2 or 3 times a week because I feel better when I do). Here's a Weekend Cooking post I wrote on my book blog last week about our Paleo dinners, including a few tasty, easy recipes.

In addition, much of my time has been taken up with experimenting with various chocolately treats for my son (and my husband and I, too). I have tried two different grain-free, dairy-free brownie recipes. These coconut flour brownies were pretty good, though a bit dry (coconut flour is very dry and absorbs liquids like a sponge!) - they are more cake-like than brownie-like. I didn't follow the recipe exactly because it calls for 3/4 cup honey or maple syrup - WAY too much sugar for us. The only sweeteners he is allowed to have are a small amount of coconut sugar or maple syrup and a small amount of stevia (though stevia is actually good for Lyme disease, our biochemist says it is bad for mitochondria). So, I substituted 1/4 cup maple syrup and then made up the liquid with an extra 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted, plus 1/4 cup coconut milk. I also added about 2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted, for additional chocolate flavor and liquid.

Last weekend, I tried these Avocado Brownies (not telling my son they contained avocado, of course!). We all liked these better - the avocado keeps them more moist. Again, I had to sub out some of the sugar. I used only 1/4 cup of maple syrup, plus 1/4 cup of unsweetened coconut milk, and a couple of teaspoons of stevia to make up the sweetness. Like I said, there's been a lot of experimentation! My kitchen has been a chocolate laboratory the past few weeks.

One experiment that didn't go so well was cooking with raw cacao nibs. The dietician told me they melt. I can say with great authority that they do not melt! We tried everything - microwaving, stovetop, and oven, following her instructions carefully. What came out of the oven every time was a  burned, smoking mess...and still individual, hard nibs. I finally gave up on those, and sent my husband to the grocery store for unsweetened baking chocolate. It contains nothing but chocolate, so the dietician gave it the OK.

With that more familiar ingredient, I have been able to make my son all kinds of chocolate treats (fortunately, our whole family loves very dark chocolate). I melt a package of baking chocolate (4 oz), add in a tablespoon or two of coconut sugar, plus a teaspoon of stevia, stir well and melt more (the coconut sugar remains a bit gritty) and then use the chocolate mixture in a variety of ways. I have made plain dark chocolate bark (pour it out onto wax paper and let it harden then break it up), chocolate bark with sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds mixed in - that's become my son's favorite treat! - again poured out onto wax paper then broken up when it hardens, and my proudest achievement, sunflower butter cups. My son loves peanut butter, and his favorite treat is peanut butter cups, but peanuts (legumes) are off the menu.

These took some further experimentation. I bought some disposable aluminum tiny muffin tins at the grocery store. First, I drop balls of sunflower butter onto bits of plastic wrap covered with cooking spray, using a melon baller. I wrap each one up, pop then into the muffin tray, and freeze them (this process is the only way I found to keep the sunbutter from spreading out). Once they are solid, I melt the chocolate and add sweetener as I described above, pour a bit into each muffin spot, unwrap the sunbutter balls and put them in the liquid chocolate, then add more melted chocolate on top. Finally, pop them back into the freezer to get solid. Then, they go into plastic baggies, and Jamie keeps them in his mini fridge at school. They are delicious! And now, my son will eat sunflower butter which he wouldn't touch before.
Step 1: Drop balls of sunflower butter onto pieces of plastic wrap covered in cooking spray
Step 2: Wrap up balls of sunflower butter and put into holes of a tiny muffin tin to freeze.

Step 3: Cover balls of sunflower butter in melted chocolate...the finished Sunflower Butter Cups!
So, that's what I've been doing lately! Now you know why I haven't had time to write much - I've been in the kitchen with my fingers covered in chocolate.

Oh, I forgot to tell you the bottom line. Besides the diet, Jamie also quit all antibiotics (including herbals) for several weeks, as described in my earlier post, to give his body a chance to heal. The biochemist says that antibiotics cause damage to our mitochondrial DNA. We increased his Diflucan (anti-fungal for yeast) from 1 a day to 2 a day (200 mg total). Last week, we just began adding antibiotics back in, as his Lyme symptoms began to increase, starting with oregano. The plan is to slowly, gradually add stuff back in.

With all that...he's been feeling pretty good! His energy is better, brain fog is clearing up, and he's managing his 3 classes (including 2 labs) every week at school. He finished his Calc 3 final which was hanging over him from last semester, he's felt well enough to hang out with his friends again (I almost cried with joy when we brought medication to him on campus last week and he said he wasn't in his dorm room, he was in the student center playing ping pong!), and he's even done a little bit of exercise, though he recognizes he needs to take that slow. All good news so far...which is why he's been willing to stick with such a strict diet. The biochemist/dietician wants him to stick with it for another few weeks, to make sure this isn't just a honeymoon phase and the improvement is here to stay, then she will add a few of the lesser bad guys back in.

Oh, and me? Well, I've had a good few weeks, too. I'm not sure if it is due to the partial Paleo Diet (I wasn't eating much sugar or white flour anyway and haven't had dairy for years) or simply that I got my own yeast overgrowth under control (through double Diflucan plus dietary changes) last month. It is very possible that I've been living with behind-the-scenes yeast overgrowth for years without realizing it.

I'm very interested to hear your own experiences with dietary changes, whether Paleo or anti-candida or other trials.