Garden Skillet

Garden Skillet (summer squash)

Garden Skillet (summer squash)


  • 3 slices thick bacon, cut into 4-5 pieces each (scissors work well for this)
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and sliced into skinny rounds
  • 1 yellow summer squash, seeded and cut into bite sized chunks*
  • 1 apple, cut into 12-16 slices
  • 2-3 large kale leaves, removed from main stem and ripped into chunks
  • eggs (optional)

* Fresh sliced mushrooms are a nice substitute if you don’t have squash (half a container).

Place bacon in bottom of skillet on medium to medium/low heat. Layer peeled and sliced sweet potatoes on top of bacon.  Cover with lid (glass lid helps to see how things are doing).  Cook until sweet potatoes are soft.  You may need to stir it if bacon starts getting overcooked before sweet potatoes are soft.  Try not to stir as long as possible. 

When sweet potatoes are fairly soft (not mushy), add squash and apple.  Cover again and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and recovering skillet. 

Add ripped kale. Stir and cover for about 1 1/2 minutes.  Pile ingredients to one side of pan.  Add eggs to empty side.  Cook as desired (scrambled or over easy/medium are both yummy options).


Bacon and apples are super yummy!

Garden skillet (mushrooms with egg)

Garden skillet (mushrooms with egg)



Rheumatoid Arthritis – So Much Going On!!

Well, I’ve been quite bad about blogging, so I thought I should put something out today, as I have some time. 

I did something crazy the last year.  I went back to work full time.  I’ve been working part time for about 12 – 13 years, but some odd circumstances made it clear it was time for a job change.  It was actually a significant pay cut hourly, but going part time to full time has definitely helped our financial situation. I was worried my body couldn’t do it.  I thought it could, but there’s always that self doubt.  Well, I made it through in one piece.  My RA is a bit more active.  I’ve been taking a bit more Enbrel (I was down to 1/4 dose or less, now more like half to occasionally full dose).  Stress and lack of time got me eating less nutritionally, but still following the big rules (no grains, no legumes, occasional cheats with dairy that have not been kind).  Sweetened caffeinated tea made its way in, and I’m trying (since school is out for summer) to get unaddicted.  Gosh, I’m tired!  All exercise was thrown out the window, and I’ve gotten very wimpy.  Got to work on that starting this week.  Weight has been creeping back on for sure.

On top of full time work, I took an 8 month Permaculture course (1 full weekend per month).  This was fascinating and is making me rethink all of my gardening techniques.  Our back yard is in year 1 of a probably 3 year renovation to incorporate Permaculture principles and maximize healthy food output.  Permaculture has a variety of great principles, but what I take away is it’s how to make nature work for you with as little work as possible to maintain it.  For this year, we moved all of our working garden beds (annuals) closer to the porch so that there is easy access to them (more likely to go and pick my favorite foods, if they’re right off the porch).  Further out in the yard we will have perennials and fruit trees, things we don’t need to plant every year and just need to harvest once or a few times.  Makes sense, right?  Keep things further out we don’t need to get to as often.  That’s more of year two.  We also got baby chicks 3 weeks ago.  In addition to giving us eggs at some point, they eat bugs, mow my lawn, give me fertilizer, and are generally kind of cute.  Well, except Minerva. I’ll tell you about Minerva later. 

Hopefully I’ll be able to post more and do some videos on this Permaculture thing.  Paleo drove me here.  We’ll see where it goes.

I hope you all are well!  Take care!

Paleo – Thanksgiving Dinner

We had a fabulous relatively Paleo meal yesterday for Thanksgiving.  I chose the word “relatively” because I have my relatives bring the non-Paleo stuff, for the most part.

What we made:

  • Turkey (whole, unstuffed, with olive oil and some fresh sage and rosemary, baked)
  • Gravy (made from the cooked juices of the turkey with arrowroot starch and water as thickener).
  • Broccoli (cut into chunks, steamed, then sauteed in garlic slices and olive oil)
  • Paleo stuffing 
  • Bread stuffing (NOT Paleo, but it was my grandma’s recipe, and I LOVE just the smell of it.  I don’t eat it.  I get to use a lot of herbs from my garden for it).
  • Sweet potato pudding (my other grandma’s recipe, adapted to a Paleo version, and very yummy)
  • Homemade applesauce
  • Cranberry sauce (the canned stuff, as my son won’t eat the chunky kind his grandma makes…. I eat Grandma’s!)
  • Gingerbread (from Paleo Indulgences cookbook)
  • Pumpkin Pie (I burned the heck out of the edge of the crust…. make sure to cover the crust edge or only press the crust into the bottom.  It was still very good.)

What other family brought:

  • wine
  • non-paleo breads
  • mashed potatoes
  • chocolate pie
  • cranberry sauce (Paleo)
  • raw veggies as pre-dinner snacks

We had a ton of food.  It was awesome.  With the exception of turkey, we have tons of leftovers.  We had an 18 pound turkey, and it was almost gone for 9 people!

Paleo Recipe: Grammy C’s Sweet Potato Pudding

Grammy C’s Sweet Potato Pudding Recipe (Paleo adapted):

  • 6 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 to 1/3rd cup full fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup cooking sherry
  • marshmallows, if desired (watch ingredients on marshmallows, I’m not sure of their Paleoness.  I usually do one side with marshmallows and one side without).

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into chunks.  Boil potatoes until very soft.  Drain water off.  Hand mash sweet potatoes with coconut milk and sherry.  Place in ungreased baking dish.  Add marshmallows on top, if desired.  Make at 350 for 20 minutes (watch your marshmallows so they don’t burn).

Recipe – Turkey Pepperoni Pesto Roll Ups

I invented this a few years ago, but never made a post for it.  Today, we made it with basil (for the pesto) and lettuce (for the wraps) from the garden.

One of our many basil plants.  This one is growing in a pot with some flowers on the porch.

One of our many basil plants. This one is growing in a pot with some flowers on the porch.



Place a turkey slice flat on a plate.  Place a pepperoni slice flat on top of the turkey slice.  Place some lettuce or a few spinach leaves on top of that.  Add a glob of pesto.  Roll up and poke with a toothpick to keep in place.  See photos below.

My pesto.  It's pretty chunky.  I didn't exactly follow the linked recipe.

My pesto. It’s pretty chunky. I didn’t exactly follow the linked recipe.

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Paleo & Rheumatoid Arthritis – Gardening

Admittedly, I am a crazy person.  The further I get into this Paleo world (over 5 years as of this post), the more paranoid I become about Big Business trying to poison us all.  I heard the other day that 80% of foods in the US listed as organic are not organic, and that most come from China which is heavily polluted with things like arsenic.  AGH!  We do not eat all organic, but I do buy organic when the price is reasonable and we can afford it.  I’ll be pissed if I’m not getting what I pay for.

If you do reading on the state of the world’s food supply, you’ll hear things like we’ve only got 30 – 60 years of top soil left before we can’t grow crops here anymore.  You also hear about the chemicals, like Monsanto’s Roundup, that are poisoning us all.  I live in a farming community with farmland on the south side of my house.  In the summer, the crop duster comes around 5:00 AM spraying nastiness that makes us all wheeze.

Then, of course, there are some theories that the reason we’re all getting autoimmune diseases is that our soils (and therefore the foods we eat) are depleted of nutrients and/or loaded with chemicals.

Remember when I said I was crazy? Ok, so then I think about how far our food travels (like from Chile or China), and how the way we raise animals to eat is both inhumane and destroying the planet.  That’s starting to keep me up at night.  On top of that, Colorado has a significant lack of water problem (on top of being in the high plains desert, the oil and gas industry takes most of our water for fracking).  We don’t even have the rights to water that falls from the sky in our yards in Colorado. They just passed a law last year that now allows us to keep two 55 gallon drums of water from rain.  That’s not much.  Scary, huh?  That starts creating scares not just about water security, but food security as well.  Colorado has an ever shrinking agricultural economy.

I started thinking about all of this, and thinking it is completely wasteful to be watering a lawn in my yard, when I could grow food and at least recoop that water in food that I eat.  When we moved into our house in 2003, we made a few garden beds in our back yard, which I have used every year.  This year, with my new found craziness, we expanded our endeavors with 5 new 4 foot x 4 foot wood square planters, 4 for food, and 1 for compost.  So, here’s what I’ve got in pictures so far.  Most of these were taken on June 7th, so still very early in the season.

4 foot by 4 foot square box garden with strings every 1 foot.  10 foot pvc pipes criss crossed to allow shade cloth (in this case, burlap) or plastic to make it like a greenhouse and extend the growing period.  This picture, taken June 7th, has lettuce (has already had at least a dozen salads from it), broccoli, carrots, and scallions.

4 foot by 4 foot square box garden with strings every 1 foot. 10 foot pvc pipes criss crossed to allow shade cloth (in this case, burlap) or plastic to make it like a greenhouse and extend the growing period. This picture, taken June 7th, has lettuce (has already had at least a dozen salads from it), broccoli, carrots, and scallions.



 This box contains lettuces, cauliflower, tomatoes (not ideal, as they get too big), and kale.

This box contains lettuces, cauliflower, tomatoes (not ideal, as they get too big), and kale.



This box, with the exception of the PVC pipe was a kit from a company called Greene's.  It is not as deep as the others, which we built from scratch.  It contains sweet potatoes, a pepper, strawberries, and some seeds (carrots and scallions) that haven't come up yet.

This box, with the exception of the PVC pipe was a kit from a company called Greene’s. It is not as deep as the others, which we built from scratch. It contains sweet potatoes, a pepper, strawberries, and some seeds (carrots and scallions) that haven’t come up yet.


Not ideal for large plants, this box has 1 cucumber and 1 cantaloupe.  We did not break it up into 1 foot sections as these will be long vines and will outgrow the box.

Not ideal for large plants, this box has 1 cucumber and 1 cantaloupe. We did not break it up into 1 foot sections as these will be long vines and will outgrow the box.

 This is one of our old beds from 2003/4.  The white flowers are arugula that came up from last year and is already going to seed.  There is a broccoli plant with yellow flower (close) that was also a surprise from last year.  Planted among all of that mess is kale and collard greens.  Kale is wonderful baked into chips.  We also juice kale and collard greens.

This is one of our old beds from 2003/4. The white flowers are arugula that came up from last year and is already going to seed. There is a broccoli plant with yellow flower (close) that was also a surprise from last year. Planted among all of that mess is kale and collard greens. Kale is wonderful baked into chips. We also juice kale and collard greens.


This used to be my son's garden, but he hadn't planted anything the last 2 years, so my husband took it over.  There is a new apple tree planted to the left.  I don't know what all he has planted in that bed.  In the back fence corner, there is a large rose bush.

This used to be my son’s garden, but he hadn’t planted anything the last 2 years, so my husband took it over. There is a new apple tree planted to the left. I don’t know what all he has planted in that bed. In the back fence corner, there is a large rose bush.


This is one end of a very long bed.  You can see sage, chives, and oregano.  In the mulch, you can see the shives have spread, as has the arugula from 15 feet away.  There are pumpkins, zucchinis, and yellow squashes planted in here also (behind these plants).

This is one end of a very long bed. You can see sage, chives, and oregano. In the mulch, you can see the chives have spread, as has the arugula from 15 feet away. There are pumpkins, zucchinis, and yellow squashes planted in here also (behind these plants).


Pots interspersed with flowers, basil, and rosemary (basil and rosemary are annuals in Colorado, so must be replanted every year).

Pots interspersed with flowers, basil, and rosemary (basil and rosemary are annuals in Colorado, so must be replanted every year).  The bottom pot is my lemon tree, which almost died before it got warm enough to go back outside after a long winter under grow lights.


My orange tree is getting buds.  Maybe I'll get some oranges.  I've had the tree for 3 years and have gotten a total of 4 oranges.

My orange tree is getting buds. Maybe I’ll get some oranges. I’ve had the tree for 3 years and have gotten a total of 4 oranges.

There’s a lot more going on in the yard than this.  It looks pretty messy, but I don’t care.  I do eventually want to kill off the grass, so we won’t have to mow.  We are composting everything we can get our hands on, so you’ll see cardboard on the ground in some of the pictures.  Very little is going to waste in our house, but I’ll save that for another post.





RA – An Update

I had two doctor’s appointments this week, one with the rheumatologist and one with the Paleo physician’s assistant.  I didn’t have any tests done at the rheumy’s (by my own choice).  I did have a few done with the PPA, but I don’t have the results yet.

I’ve been struggling a little more for the last year+ due to some thyroid issues.  I had my thyroid radiated and destroyed in 2007 (a decision I now regret) because of Grave’s Disease.  Given how hard it has been to keep my body happy since my thyroid was destroyed, I wouldn’t have fallen for the “simple solution” of radiation. 

If you have thyroid issues, make sure your doctor is doing more than a TSH test.  My TSH was normal, as was my T4, but my T3 was extremely low.  If you take Synthroid or Levothyroxine, these are primarily T4 medications that your body must convert to T3 to be useful.  My body was not converting.  Now I take less T4, but I also take T3.  It has taken almost a year to feel better.  My T3 still hovers at the low end of the normal range, but if I take more medication, I don’t sleep.  My periods had gotten way out of whack… as in 8-9 days long, the first few days of which were so heavy that even with hourly restroom trips, I always leaked through my clothes.  I wasn’t sleeping.  I was constipated.  I was more itchy than my itchy normal.

Just within the last 4 months, my periods have started to normalize. My adrenals seem to be happier, and my thyroid levels are measuring better, although still not as good as I’d like.

I started taking an additional supplement, Oil of Oregano.  I started taking it because it was supposed to be a natural antibiotic, and I was having a hard time getting over the flu.  I don’t think it helped my flu, but it helped my RA quite a bit.  It’s not something you’re supposed to take all the time though, so I take it for a week or two, then stop for a week or two.

At my doctor’s appointments though, here is what I found myself saying:

  • I felt good.  I had energy.
  • My RA is much better.
  • I am taking my 25 mg Enbrel every 10 days instead of every 3.5 days.
  • I am sleeping better.
  • My periods are nearly normal.
  • I’m not constipated any more.

I was at day 10 for Enbrel when I saw the rheumatologist.  He said my joints looked the same as before (which is good…. I have 3 swollen joints that seem to be permanent soft tissue swelling rather than active RA).  This is with less Enbrel.  This is good.

Although I didn’t have all the testing done, I suspect that my numbers would say I’m back in remission.  This is good.  I may have the numbers run later in the summer.

In case you’re wondering what I’m doing (this will be different for everybody), here it is:

  • Enbrel shots, 25mg every 10 days
  • Paleo Diet (no grains, dairy, legumes, tomatoes, white potatoes, minimal egg)
  • Levothyroxine, 125 mcg 2x/week, 112mcg 5x/week
  • Liothyronine, 5 mcg every AM
  • Vitamin D, 2000 IU every morning
  • Vitamin B complex with methylfolate (NOT Folic Acid) 1/day
  • Magnesium Glycinate 400 – 600 MG daily at bed time
  • Oil of Oregano capsule, 1/day for no more than 2 weeks at a time
  • Vitamin C powder (not taking as much, not sure it helped)
  • Quercetin (taken if I know I am eating a high histamine food, which helps with itching)
  • I also revisited my egg tolerance and determined that I can’t have straight egg and that I can have it as a small ingredient in something only on rare occasions.  Brain fog was helped a lot when this was taken out.
  • I revisited my nut tolerance, and still found it to be ok, but still have to figure out if high dose, ground up nuts are ok, as those recipes also tend to include egg, so it’s hard to tell what the problem is for sure.
  • ***Trying*** to stay away from the computer/electronic screens for an hour before bed.
  • Increasing my carbs.  I’ve been doing this since last summer. This is hard, as I am more hungry with increased carbs, and I’ve put weight back on.  It doesn’t make me happy, but I think there is good reason for it, and I think it helps my adrenals, which seemed under double attack from my low thyroid and lower carbs.
  • I’m supposed to be exercising and meditating. I am still struggling with both of these. I will exercise for a while, then quit.  We’ll see how summer goes. The increase in daylight hours right now is making me feel wonderful, and I’ve been going out and sitting in the sun.   AHHHHH!

Love to you all!

Recipe – Paleo Turkey Pear Salad

This is my new favorite Paleo recipe.  It is SO good.  I modified it from a recipe I had at a restaurant.  It has balsamic vinegar in it, which I shouldn’t eat as it make me itch.  UGH, but it’s so good!  And I’m trying to get off nuts.  Eggs have been out for a couple of months, but the nuts have not been <sigh>.

It’s that time of year when frozen turkeys have become widely available for the holiday season.  This usually lasts from some time in October to January, possible even March, depending on the store.  On sale, frozen turkeys are a pretty cheap source of protein, and we make about one per week during this time of year.  That means that by spring, we’re pretty sick of turkey.  I’m always looking for new turkey recipes!

DSC05868 (3)

Recipe -Paleo Turkey Pear Salad

You’re gonna LOVE my measurements!

  • Handful of bag o salad (I use a 50/50 spring and spinach mix usually)
  • Small handful of leftover baked and shredded turkey
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 red pear, sliced
  • A few whole pecans (10 maybe)
  • Some dried cranberries (20-25 maybe)
  • A small sprinkle of balsamic vinegar

Dump it all in a big bowl (yes, I’m eating it out of a serving bowl), mix, and eat.

I’ve also added thinly sliced red onion, but the last time, I got an unusually strong onion, and it was so awful that I haven’t used it since.  It still might be good, if not so strong.

RA- Thyroid Vs. Adrenals

So, if you read my last post, you know I was bitten pretty severely earlier this week. My bite appears to be healing (below is a picture of day 6), although it looks really awful.  It’s been a crazy week.  FOUR doctor visits…. yeah, really.  Only Doc #1 was for the bite.

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Interestingly, as a result of the bite, I think I learned some things about teasing apart thyroid from adrenals.  I thought perhaps both my adrenals and thyroid were doing a bit better, up until the bite.  When I got bit (on the calf, a “lock on” bite that lasted about 20 seconds), I was extremely calm.  I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it or make this student let go, so I stood there and waited.  When it was done, I continued working for over an hour (maybe 2?) until we could get more folks to help, and I could go to the doctor.  By about 30 minutes after the bite, I was shaking, cold, very very irritated, having problems thinking and recalling words, etc…  This had a very familiar feeling.  It felt like I just stepped back in time 2 months to before I started treating my adrenals.  I think my adrenals just took a big whack, as I stood there, as calm as possible during the bite.  Now, I imagine, my cortisol is high again. These are the effects.  I also haven’t had a good night sleep since the bite, and I had been sleeping really well for several weeks.

Doc #2 Endocrinologist (for my thyroid issues):

When my thyroid is off, my RA is off, so it’s something I need to stay on top of.  My thyroid continues to drive me a little crazy. I am now on levothyroxine at 112 mcg (a decrease from 125 mcg) and liothyronine (a T3 supplement, as my body is not converting T4 to T3) at 5 mcg.  They wanted me on 7.5 to 10 mcg, but I just can’t sleep when I take that much.  After 2 1/2 weeks at 7.5, I went back to 5 on my own.

My periods are coming every 20 days, and lasting for 8 of those 20 days.  Thankfully, they’re not real crampy or anything, but they are extremely heavy.  They were up to 26-28 days (my normal is 30) when I was on 125 mcg of levothyroxine.  My skin is super super itchy, my hair is falling out, and I’m constipated.  Ahhh, life is entertaining.  Did I mention that I feel like having my thyroid radiated was my biggest medical mistake in my life?

Now, the good things are, I had been sleeping much better (once back down to 5 mcg on the liothyronine several weeks ago).  I hadn’t been sleeping well in months prior to that.  I had been thinking clearly, not having significant word retrieval issues, not as cold, etc…  I had been thinking these improvements were a result of getting treatment for my thyroid issues, but now I think differently.  These issues all changed within minutes to hours of the bite.  I don’t think my thyroid had anything to do with these improvements. This was adrenal improvement!

I told my endocrinologist (first appointment with my old endo, as I had a different one for 3? visits) about my adrenal salivary test results.  Although she didn’t outright say it, it appeared she thought it to be quackery.  I told her that 3 of the 4 times I was high and 1 was normal.  She told me that I was supposed to be normal/low at night, and that this wasn’t abnormal.  When I told her I was high at night, and the Paleo doc thought this might have to do with my poor sleep, she seemed surprised.  She then wanted to see the results. Now I have to find where I put that paper!

Test results: T4 middle of average range.  T3 low end of average.  TSH low end of average. I’m going to slightly increase my T4 (levothyroxine) 2 days a week to see if that helps my periods, itchiness, hair loss, and constipation.

Oh, and she saw my bite and thought I should be on antibiotics, which I was not prescribed.  She was a bit shocked.  That unnerved me a bit.

Doc #3 The Podiatrist:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a podiatrist for my RA, but my rheumatologist recommended seeing one, as my 2 little toes are turning inward.  I wanted to get some splints made to hold them in place at night, and he thought this would be the place to go.  Apparently not, and she was not real sure where to get them made either, so I’m going back to physical therapy to get some exercises to do with them and maybe custom splints if the can.  She also wants me to get orthotics for my shoes, although I have to admit that I am very hesitant to do this.  My feet do not bother me when I walk, and we both agreed they look really good for 19 years of RA.  She seems to think my toes are curling a bit.  I think it’s just one toe, and it’s been like that since 1998, and I don’t see much reason to change things now.  We’ll see.  I’ve actually been thinking about trying more minimalist shoes (without much sole on the bottom).

Well, then she ordered x rays, and admittedly they came back quite a bit worse than my last ones in 2006.  I was a bit surprised.  My littlest 2 toes have had a ton of permanent damage since the late 1990s.  That was not surprising.  Now it appears my middle toe does too.  I was not aware of this, and it doesn’t cause me pain to walk.  When she pushed on them, I did note some mild-moderate pain.  There are also some other joints in the report that I can’t even figure out where they are that are having some issues.  I really want to know when that damage occurred.  I was in a horrible flare from Dec. 2005 until 2012.  The last xrays were in 2006 (not sure of the month) and showed no further damage than x rays in 1999.  The current x rays said there was no notable soft tissue damage.  Does that mean my feet are not currently flaring, and this is old damage?  I’m confused.  I will take the report to my PT and try to get a better understanding.  She’s good, and always takes the time with me.

Doc #4 The Paleo Physician’s Assistant (for my adrenal/RA/thyroid issues):

I’m doing better. That’s the cool thing.  I’ve implemented most (but not yet all) of the things she asked me to do.  She asked me to do then one at a time, and I’ve had a few hiccups along the way, so I think that’s ok.  I am now on 600 mg magnesium glycinate, 1,000 IU Vitamin D (she’d like me on 4,000, but I have some worries), a daily B Complex with methylfolate, lots of Vitamin C, going higher carb while I try AIP again.  This time, I am eliminating 1 food at a time rather than all at once.  I removed eggs, and I think that helped a lot with my mental clarity (planning, word recall, etc…).  I cut back on nuts, but haven’t eliminated them yet.  Phosphatidylserine is something I’ve tried twice, but made me feel intensely hungry, barfy, and dizzy.  I will try it again, but that might be a no-go.  There is one more herbal supplement she wants me to try.  Plus more exercise and meditation.  Yeah, I’m just thinking “Calgon, take me away!”

Did I mention that a couple of months ago (around June or July) I got “addicted” to the ibuprofen again?  I wasn’t able to sleep without it pain-wise, and I know it long-term makes my RA worse.  Then I was up to 3-4 a day in early August or so.  Now I am down to 3-4 a week, which is a huge improvement.  Since the bite, I am feeling like I want to take it more.  My RA seems to be a little worse since the bite, but I am trying to stick to my 3-4 per week.  Hopefully my system will calm down again, and all will be well again.

She also looked at my bite, asked me if I was on antibiotics, and was surprised that I wasn’t.  She said that used to be the standard of care.  Again, unnerving.

Something Else I Learned:

The workman’s comp doctor had asked me if I ever had the Hep B vaccine.  I had, as my last job mandated it, back in the late 1990s.  It was a 3 shot series.  The doc called me back after my test results.  They tested me for Hep A, B, and C, as well as HIV.  All were negative, however, I didn’t have antibodies to Hep B, meaning the vaccine didn’t work.  It’s supposed to work for life.  Talking to some of these docs, it is likely that I was too immunosuppressed for my body to have the appropriate reaction to the vaccines.  So now the question is whether to get the vaccines again, get a booster, or give up as maybe it won’t do anything anyway.  This brings into question whether any of these vaccines have worked for me in the past (flu, pneumonia, whooping cough, tetanus, etc…)

I guess that’s about it for the updates. I hope you all are well.

Life – It’s Been A While Since I Posted.

Oh, I hope I’m not about to alienate all of my followers!!

This is one of those crazy posts that you make after a long month of work and 2 rum/water/juice/vitamin C combinations.  Oh yeah, it’s that crazy!  I’m implementing my Paleo doctor’s recommendation of vitamin C (liquid form) into an after work drink.  My drink: 3/4 water, 1/4 mango juice, and oh to make it above 100%, we’ll call it a splash of coconut rum and 1/2 tsp of vitamin C.  It’s been a rough few days.

I have to be honest that I try not to let my private life interfere too much with my website, as I’m a very opinionated person, and I don’t want to alienate anybody looking for help with RA.  Call it a rough week, the drink, or the exhaustion speaking, but I thought I would air it all for the world to see…. this one time.  Please forgive me if you share different views.

I suppose it’s not hard to figure out from previous posts that I lean toward that hippie side of life with worm composting and solar panels.  I realize more and more every day how privileged I am in this world that I have the opportunity to get my medications for RA, choose more expensive foods that are healing my body, work part time, and still enjoy a somewhat comfortable middle class life style.  I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have married a man who supports me in my endeavors and acknowledges, without (much?) judgement, my weaknesses.

My new favorite word (besides “snarky” which is totally fun to say) is “privilege.” I see more and more every day how lucky I am in this life, and how others aren’t always able to meet life’s challenges in the same way. 

I’m a speech-language pathologist (SLP).  I’ve been working with kids who have profound autism for over 18 years.  I work with challenging kids in a Kinder – 6th grade program.  A typical kid coming into kindergarten in our program would not have communication skills in any basic way, not be potty trained, and not interpret the world in a way that would make sense to most people.  Most of our kids come in with some form of aggression as a way to get what they want.  I feel like this job is my calling.  I feel good at it.  Where most SLPs in this position leave after 1-2 years, I’ve been in my current job for over 15 years.  The program I’ve helped to set up structures everything very clearly for our kids.  It’s not perfect, but I’ve had the joy of having kids say their first meaningful words in kindergarten.  I’ve been able to take children who are very aggressive (as this is typically the only way they know how to get their needs met) and get them organized, calm, and communicating.  It’s not every kid.  I don’t have a magic pill, just patience, persistence, and knowledge.  But it’s a lot of kids.  It’s enough kids to keep me going back year after year.  I had the awesome experience this last spring to hear one of my former students, initially nonverbal, who ripped all of the outlet covers off the walls the first day I worked with him, give the commencement speech at this high school graduation.  His dad nominated me for one of those “everyday hero” awards on the radio.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

For about 10 years now, I’ve been working part-time.  Initially, this started as somewhat of a nervous breakdown.  My full time job was stressful, working 2 1/2 days a week in the autism world, and 2 1/2 days a week serving moderate communication needs in a high poverty school.  It worked for 4 years until it didn’t.  In one school year, I sold my house, was “homeless” (aka living with friends), got married (while “homeless”), bought a new house, had friends live with us temporarily (waiting for their house to be built), had my in-laws (very nice folks) temporarily live with us, was in a major car accident with my husband in which he broke several ribs and transverse processes of his spine, and I had to have the upper left quadrant of my face reconstructed, the ensuing medical bill nightmare, the death of one of my students in a house fire that he started, the death of my grandmother, and a miscarriage.  Quite literally, I cracked somewhere around the death of my student.  With an extremely understanding husband, and the thought that it would be temporary, I went part-time at work, working only in the autism program.

Well, then I got pregnant, had my son, and the ensuing RA nightmare that I didn’t really ever fully recover from, although certainly became as “normal as possible” 7 years later after starting Paleo.  I’m still working part-time.

The thought has come to me that I should go back to work full time.  We could use the money.  We live cheap (no cable, no cell phones, old cars, etc…) to allow me to stay half-time.  Unfortunately, the “old cars” caught up to us, and in the past 3 years, both of our vehicles had to be replaced, which included dreaded loans. 

I love what I do.  I feel called to it.  I’ve been able to see many miracles that I don’t think happen all that often in the autism world.  I feel like I’ve had a big part in those miracles.  Again, not for every kid (oh, how I wish), but enough. 

Here’s my dilemma.  I cannot work in autism full time.  I went to physical therapy for 2 years, on my own (thankfully heavily discounted) dime, to be able to continue doing this job.  It’s physically demanding.  I am exhausted at the end of every school day.  I probably change 30 diapers a week on kids who sometimes beat on me while doing so.  I need to lift kids, some kids who are heavier than me.  When kids are struggling, or having medication changes, or not sleeping, or dealing with changes in their lives, I put my body between theirs and peers to protect.  Although it’s not typical, I get hit, bit, scratched, have furniture thrown at me, head butted, punched, etc…  And every day, I do my best to hold no grudges, go back and demand a student’s best efforts, try to not be afraid, and to know and understand that my kids see the world differently.  I try to make my demands simple, clear, organized, and rewarding in a fashion that my kids understand.  Yes, I know you can do this simple task. Yes I know you’re used to getting your own way, sometimes by hurting others.  Yes, I know this is not you, but your interpretation of this world.  Yes, you need to do this task to learn and grow and function in this chaotic world you struggle to understand.  Yes, I will sit and wait until you are ready, even if that means you are mad, even if that means you scream and hit, even if that means you don’t want to, even if it takes two hours, because I believe in you, and I know you can.  I know that if you start doing these simple things, it will lead to harder things.  It will lead to learning, and it will lead to life making more sense to you.  I will wait until you are ready to show the world what you know.  I will wait.

Jump up a level to the world of education, to the politics, to the funding issues, to real life.  Yeah, here’s the part I’m probably going to piss some people off.  It doesn’t take much to realize that education is being bashed.  I am being held to the standards of “No Child Left Behind” and “teacher accountability” and everything else.  My pay has been hijacked by people who know nothing about what I do.  They say because my kids aren’t reading and writing and doing math at grade level that I am ineffective.  Working with this challenging population is suicidal to my career and livelihood.  Yes, I see miracles, and yes, I have some parents (certainly not all) who think I am the best thing that ever happened to their child.  But none of that matters.  According to the news, and the crazies in charge of education, I am lazy.  My knowledge and training mean nothing.  A good politically designed curriculum and an uncertified minimum wage teacher could do just as well.  And they are pushing hard for that.  Very hard.  And through billions of dollars in propaganda, they’re winning that battle, both politically and socially.

I still cannot believe I have done this.  I am not this type of person, or so I thought.  Hmm, but I guess I am.  I’ve become a political activist.  I am the crazy lady that approaches you at your kid’s soccer game about signing a petition to get something on the ballot to increase education funding.  I have protested.  I have taken my son out of school to teach him about appropriate civil disobedience.  He has protested.  He has marched in an Occupy movement with me and his dad, carrying a sign in support of his school.  Did I mention that my state typically falls between 45 – 50th in per pupil funding of the 50 states?  Did I mention the district where I live (and he goes to school) is ranked 172 of 178 districts in the state for per-pupil funding?  Although I work in a district outside of where I live, when the recession hit, I took a pay cut for 3 years starting in 2008.  I still have not “made up” that loss.  Of course, some will say I got a raise when they reinstated my 2007 pay. Hmmm.

So in the midst of all of this, I had a really really awful day yesterday.  Our kids, according to our district, don’t deserve adequate teacher and para-educator coverage when somebody is ill or has a training.  Well, they will hire a substitute for the teacher, but they pay so little, that nobody shows up, as in this case.  Para-educators, forget it.  Make do.  Figure it out, they say.  Yesterday, that meant that we were short 3 of 6 adults in our classroom (wow, the germs have hit early this year, and it never fails the kids get sick one week, and the adults the next).  As a result, we couldn’t maintain our structures and routines.  As a result, the kids had a confusing day. Confusion is never good.  It leads to panic and behaviors kids wouldn’t demonstrate in their typical structured environment.  In addition to that, we had a student who has been having a really hard time both at home and school lately.  Long story short, I got bit, badly, as in I had to leave and go see a doctor.  In 18 years, that’s never happened to me before.

Deep down inside my leg, it hurts terribly, but on the surface, I have about a 6 inch round circle that I can’t feel at all.  Nearly my whole calf is swollen.  Luckily, most of my flesh is still there.

I complain about my job a lot, the cowardice that is politics, the money grubbers out to make money off of for-profit charters and privatizing, the folks who want to pretend that my students…. my kids…. don’t exist, the people who pretend that complex problems have simple answers, the people who take support away from my students, the people who think me ineffective.  And you know what?  For 18 years, it’s been a complaint, it’s been a source of my political activism, a source of my defiance in the face of it all.  But then yesterday happened, and even though I was able to go in today and not hold a grudge, to show my best face, and to love this child through her troubles, I am angry.  This political system is putting my kids in danger.  I am liable for the safety of these kids, staff or no staff.  It is putting my career in danger.  It is putting my physical health in danger.  And I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this work, but for the first time, I think I am seriously questioning if this is worth it.  And I know that’s what “they” want.  They want me to quit, for the public education system to be starved into failure, because we can’t afford to hire staff, because we can’t afford substitutes, because we can’t afford to support kids with special needs, because we can’t even afford enough staff to keep kids safe.

Will this setback become further political defiance for me?  Will I give up?  I don’t know yet. Can I go back full time in this climate?  Certainly not.

And then we get back to privilege.  You know what?  My kids were not born with privilege.  My families struggle immensely under the struggles of autism, the costs associated with therapies, the marital strains, the frequent health problems that co-occur with autism.  They need somebody to care.  They need good teachers, SLPs, and community members to stand up for them. If I don’t continue to do this work, who will?  Because people leave in droves every year, and each year, new and less experienced people come in, burn out immediately, and leave.  And not just in autism, but in any high needs population.  Does anybody care?  Is anybody listening?  Can this message be heard above the propaganda?  Does anybody care that our “great society” is not adequately educating our kids (and not just in the world of autism)?

And I’ve got my health challenges to look out for.  Do I give up my  ability to get my medications? (yeah, even when I got health insurance through my work, the out of pocket costs and work and attorneys needed to get things covered were out of this world… by the way, attorneys are very helpful and not necessarily as expensive as you think, especially compared to a big medical bill).  Do I continue on this increased cost of living without any consequential pay raise?  What happens to me when I can’t afford to take care of my health?

I think I need to be done ranting now.  Should I even post this?  <sigh>

Love to you all, and I hope that your lives are secure, and you can get the medications and therapies you need, and you’re able to manage your lives and health with dignity.  I hope that you are loved and supported in this challenging place we call life.