Going Solar

Ok, yeah, this is supposed to be a blog about rheumatoid arthritis and Paleo. Since I’ve gone Paleo though, I’ve realized how challenging it is to get good healthy food and how our planet is in such a polluted state.  Our house is in a town that is surrounded by north-south running railroad tracks. There is one set of tracks 2 miles east of us, and another set 2 miles west of us.  On the east set of tracks, there are mile+ long trains filled with coal that run south to the coal burning power plant ALL THE TIME.  I see them almost every time I am on that side of town.  It’s depressing to think about all of that air pollution.  Quite honestly, all of the pollution weights heaving on my mind (driving my car, heating my house, buying a new appliance).  There’s only so much I can control though, so I can only bite off so many things at a time.  Here is my latest chomp.

We went solar.  It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but it’s been unaffordable until now.  My local co-op power company does not allow a program for leasing solar panels.  To hook them up to the grid, you have to be the owner of the panels.  Thankfully, after many years, a solar company came up with a plan.  It’s still expensive in a way, but in the long run I think we’ll break even or come out slightly ahead.

6 panels on the front of the house, facing east.

6 panels on the front of the house, facing east.


24 panels on the back of the house, facing west.

This is 24 panels on the back of the house, facing west (from our neighbor’s porch).

We bought a 7.65 kWh system. It was very expensive (think about the price of a car).  The solar company financed us by giving us a 30 year loan, similar to a mortgage.  We pay our monthly electric bill (starting at the same rate we normally pay to the electric company) to the solar company, and they use that money to pay off our solar loan.  They increase the electricity rates slightly over time (just like the electric company does) to make sure the loan gets paid off within 30 years.  Now, the federal government is offering tax rebates until the end of 2016, and we hope to get almost 1/3rd of the cost of our panels back in our 2015 taxes (this is dependent on how much tax you pay the feds.  You can’t get back more than you pay into federal taxes).  We will sign that money over to the solar company, and that will drastically drop the amount of our loan.  We hope to be able to stay ahead of the loan and perhaps get it paid off in about 5-6 years.  If we can’t, we’ll stick with the 30 year plan, and pay it just like our normal electric bill.

We are NOT off-grid.  We do not have batteries.  We are staying grid-tied.  We still must pay a monthly fee, a fee we’ve always had to pay of $13, to stay connected to the grid.  We feed into the grid, and the electric company has to pay us for any excess we produce that we don’t use.  They pay us at wholesale electric rate (I think 4.9 cents per kWh), not at the price we pay for electricity (10.9 cents per kWh).  The solar company guarantees a certain solar output each year for 30 years.  If we fall below, they pay us the difference at the 10.9 cents/kWh rate.  They also insure the panels against damage for 30 years. Not a bad deal.

Where we live is one of the sunniest places in the country.  Well, it was until we got our panels hooked up.  We haven’t had a full-sun day in over a week since.  I won’t complain though, as April is too early to have wildfires, and we’ve already had several.

So, keeping in mind that it’s been pretty cloudy and rainy since we got this up and going, you can check out our solar production online, if you’d like.  We’re getting rather addicted to watching how much energy we’re producing.  Has anybody else taken the solar plunge?

Rheumatoid Arthritis – An Experiment in Fasting

So, I had a weird thing happen yesterday.  I had the most exhausting day at work, came home, took off my shoes, and felt like I had a splinter on the bottom of my right big toe.  I couldn’t find anything though, so I just went on with my evening.  A few hours later, my whole right leg (foot, angle, knee) was in extreme pain, and my foot was very very swollen.  I could barely put any weight on it, so sat on the couch, keeping it elevated.  I suspected that I had been walking funny since my toe hurt.  I don’t know about you all, but I can adapt to pains like that without even thinking about it.  Even changing shoes can cause a flare up my leg by slightly changing the way I walk.  See this post.

I went to bed fearing I would wake up a mess and have to miss work.  I guess in a way, I was hoping for that to happen, as Monday and Tuesday were REALLY exhausting days at work. Sometimes you just need a break.  Anyway, I woke up and my leg was normal, but the bottom of my big toe hurt pretty bad.  The skin hurt, not the joint. It isn’t warm.  It doesn’t look injured.  It’s just really really swollen and sore on the bottom.  It’s so swollen that it’s changing how I walk.  I took a shower, woke my husband, and asked him to look at it.  I was debating staying home, knowing that my whole leg would swell if I was walking weird on it all day.

In the end, I decided to make it to work.  I only work 4 hours on Wednesdays, and I know my coworkers would really need me if Wednesday was anything like Monday or Tuesday (thankfully, it was a much better day).  To get through the day, I decided to try something I used to do quite frequently, but not much at all in the last 10 years.  I decided to fast.  Sometimes when my body hurt and nothing else worked, fasting helped.  Today, I did it more as a test.  I didn’t take any pain medication (no ibuprofen, etc…)  I did drink water, and I did take my thyroid medication. Other than that, I didn’t eat anything from about 6:00 Tuesday night until 4:30 Wednesday afternoon, almost, but not quite 24 hours. 

So, what happened?  Well, I made it through the work day.  My right ankle swelled and hurt a little, but not nearly as bad as Tuesday night.  I even made it to the grocery store after work, something my husband insisted I not do after seeing my foot Tuesday night.  I was very tired, although I’m not sure that was related to the fast.  It was the sleepy kind of tried, not the lack of energy kind of tired.  I took a nap for a little over an hour when I got home.  Amazingly, I wasn’t hungry, and I didn’t get the shakes until about 4:00 PM.  Then I was absolutely starving.  I think I have Paleo to thank for the not being starving all day long.  I’m no longer the sugar addict I used to be.  This was reassurance that my hunger cycles are very different now than they used to be.  I suspect I could have gone longer had the afternoon not been crazy.  My son has a huge project on Abraham Lincoln due on Friday, and it has to get done by tonight, as he has a baseball game tomorrow.  Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to get a 9 year old to get his butt moving on such a big project.  He was needing constant supervision and encouragement to keep going on the project.  I soon realized how irritated I was getting with him and how hungry I was becoming.  I wonder if I would have done better if our evening had been more relaxed.  This was not the case though, and I suddenly went from feeling fine to feeling very stressed.

So, how did I break my fast?  I made myself a shake minus the greens.  Probably not my best choice.  I was already hungry and cranky.  After the shake, I was still hungry, cranky, and cold!  2 hours later, I’m sitting here eating some plain turkey we made in the crockpot Sunday night.  I’m feeling pretty normal.  My foot is not bugging me much, but the skin on the bottom of my big toe is still very sore.  I may need to see the doctor about it, as it seems very unusual, and I have no idea what’s wrong with it.

Next time, if I can get some less-stressful days, I may try for a 2 day fast.  Supposedly fasting helps reset your immune system, and I heard something recently that a 2-4 days fast can do really good things.  http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-06/uosc-fts060214.php

Rheumatoid Disease – An Update

I haven’t made an update in a while, and that’s sort of purposeful. When I encounter challenges, I like to know the solution before I talk about it.  Unfortunately, I’ve been having a battle for a while now, and the solution is evading me.  Hang on!  This might be a long post!

A little over a year ago, I was 133 pounds and feeling really well.  Then, things started to change.  My RA was a smidge more active.  I was feeling tired and having symptoms like my thyroid (which was radiated and killed off in 2007, so I take supplements) was too low.  At a rheumatology appointment, it was tested, and it was low.  I called the results into my primary care doc, and she increased my thyroid medication.  This seemed weird to me though, as this is the highest dose I’ve ever been on (even having lost all of this weight).  The increased dose helped for a a few months, and then I started showing signs of being too low again… weight gain (up to 149 without changing my diet), my periods were coming about every 24 days (normal for me is 30) and lasting 7-9 days (normal for me is 3-5), my RA was more active, and my thyroid eye disease was too.  My sleep had become really poor too.  My sleep was becoming so poor that on mornings I worked, I was needing caffeinated tea to get out the door.

In December, I had my thyroid tested again as well as my inflammation markers.  One inflammation marker was normal and one was slightly elevated.  This was a huge disappointment, as that hadn’t happened since they normalized 3 months into Paleo.  My thyroid tests showed a normal (at the low end) TSH, meaning my body thinks it’s making plenty of thyroid hormone.  My T4 was at the high end of normal, meaning my medication level was almost too high.  My T3 however, was very very very low. Because of the elevated inflammation marker, we increased my Enbrel back to full dose.

I made an appointment at the endocrinologist’s (who I hadn’t seen since 2008).  My rudimentary understanding of this is that the medication I take (Synthroid) is mostly (maybe all?) T4 and that there are different tissues in my body that convert T4 to T3.  For whatever reason, my body is not doing that.  Why?  The doctor had no answer and said this is very rare.  The answer was to start me on a T3 supplement in addition to my Synthroid.  While Synthroid takes weeks to build up in your system, this T3 med is immediate, but doesn’t last long.  I was supposed to take one in the AM and one in the afternoon.  The morning one was great, but the afternoon one kept me awake all night long, so I wound up only taking the AM dose.

This new T3 med seemed to help for a while, then it almost seemed like it was too much.  I had 2 weeks where my RA was more active than it has been in 3 years.  I was waking at night from pain, although still functional during the day.  I began taking ibuprofen at bedtime, and that helped a lot (although is completely contrary to what I should be doing, as I know ibuprofen sets off my RA.  At some point I’ll have to deal with the ramifications of that).  Two and a half weeks before a new rheumatologist appointment (appt was in late March), I was still feeling poorly, and I was needing to fly to Pennsylvania for a funeral.  Worrying about my inflammation markers and my ability to hold up on this trip, I cut out ALL sweeteners.  I don’t eat tons of sugar, but I do have some non-dairy chocolate, honey mustard chicken, Paleo pancakes with maple syrup, and tea with honey sometimes.  I went cold turkey on them all, and walked into the rheumy’s having had no sweets for 2.5 weeks. 

My inflammation markers showed one normal, and one a smidge high (sorry, I don’t have the numbers…. the test they used changed anyway, and doesn’t run on the same scale as previous tests I had done).  The smidge high one was less high than previously, so I guess that’s good.  Why?  I don’t know… more Enbrel, no sugar?

The next week, I had a follow-up with the endocrinologist.  My T4 was still at the high end of normal.  My T3 hadn’t really moved from being really low (although I was told that it drops out of your system so fast that the time of day has a lot to do with it).  My TSH was low now (0.22) meaning that my body now thinks that I have too much thyroid hormone.  This doesn’t make sense to me as my T4 is in the normal range, and my T3 is still very low.  Course of action is to stay on the T3 and decrease my Synthroid.  I’ve been doing that for almost a week now.

The good news in that my weight is down to 139, but I fear that may be because I have too much thyroid hormone.  I am starving (also a sign of being too high) and am eating a little more than I usually do.  Over Easter weekend, I blew it on the no sugar and had a piece of Paleo applesauce cake 3 days in a row.  That actually seemed like it had an immediate poor effect, so I might be onto something with the sweets.  I am now on day 3 with no sweeteners again.

So, my RA, my thyroid eye disease, and my general feeling of well-being is not the greatest as of late.  I have some plans to address it further once summer comes (I don’t work in the summer).  I am thinking this is diet and/or stress related.  I am also wondering if this means that I am eating something that I shouldn’t be or I need to be eating something that I’m not.  I stopped taking supplements almost a year ago (except occasional magnesium).  I have now started them up again (vitamin D, fish oil, and turmeric).  When summer comes, I am going to try to do Terry Wahl’s version of Paleo (which includes 9 cups of veggies from 3 categories daily).  In the meantime, I’m going to plug through the rest of this school year and keep my fingers crossed. 

To end on a positive note, one exciting thing in our lives that I hope to post about soon…. we got solar panels last week.  They’re on our roof, but are not yet attached to the grid, so we’re not generating power yet.  I’m sure I’ll have some interesting things to say when that happens.

Love to you all!