Keys to a Healthy Marriage

I don’t claim to have the perfect marriage.  But I’m a little saddened when my kids’ friends comment on how unusual Rob and I are in that we’ve been married for almost 22 years and are still madly in love.  They find it a little bizarre that we still hold hands, offer little pecks as we pass in the hall, and engage in playful banter.  We are, in fact, still courting.  Even though we bicker about some pretty stupid stuff sometimes, we both know that we’re in it for the long run, partners against all challenges, and we have no intention of letting go of that.

http://www.brianhowardblog.com/5-things-you-absolutely-must-do-to-have-a-healthy-marriage/

Although this post was specifically targeted towards men, there is some great advice here for both partners.

Be Pursuant–Actively pursue your spouse and opportunities to meaningfully connect with them.  Pretend that you’re still dating, and you’re trying to convince them that they want to spend the rest of their lives with you.  Because in a way, you still are.  Show them that they are worth pursuing.  Commit random acts of kindness whenever you see an opportunity.  LOOK for opportunities.

Be Present–Both physically AND mentally.  Take some time to bestow your full, undivided attention upon your spouse each day.  NO, being in the same room while you’re both on your iPads does not count.  Find something you enjoy doing together.

Be Playful–Not just on the topic of sexuality, but in little things too.  There are enough serious moments in our day-to-day lives; we need to share some playful moments with our spouses, even if it’s just a saucy wink as you pass each other.  Why do you think “He makes me laugh” is so often at the top of the list of things women love about their men?

Be Pride-less–This is without a doubt the hardest point to remember.  It’s the underlying source of most conflict in marriages.  “I don’t want to admit that I might have made a mistake, so I’m going to fight you tooth and nail, even though we are supposed to be on the same team.”  We are supposed to be partners with our spouses, us against the challenges this world throws our way, not us against each other. Whenever you find yourselves getting off track, take and step back and see what it’s going to take to get you both back on the same page.  Chances are, you’re both going to have to admit that you were at least a little in the wrong.  It’s hard to do, but worth it.

Be Prayerful–If you believe in God, praying for a strong, healthy relationship with your spouse should be pretty high on your list.  Even if you don’t, spending time thinking about your relationship and how you can help make it stronger is always a plus.  Dwelling more on the positives than the negatives helps adjust your own attitudes towards your spouse, as well as tempering your reactions when they do something that aggravates you.  Because it’s a guarantee that they’re going to do something that aggravates you.  Just as you will aggravate them.

And if I might follow the alliteration and add one of my own:  

Be Purposeful–None of this stuff happens on its own.  No marriage thrives when no one is putting any effort into it.  And don’t wait for your partner to be the first to start putting effort in.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  You have to be intentional about making things happen, especially when you have first made the decision to put in the extra effort.   As you go along, it will become more and more second nature until you don’t even have to think about it any more.  Trust me, it’ll happen!

Having a strong, healthy marriage is never easy, although it does get easier the more you practice.  But it’s totally worth the effort that it takes.  Think back to the reasons you got married in the first place.  If it takes hitting the reset button in order to get past something negative that has happened between you, so be it.  If recommitting yourselves either in private or in a public ceremony will give you a chance to start over, by all means, do it!  If something seems insurmountable, get some outside help from a pastor or therapist.  You’ll be all the stronger knowing that you fought through it TOGETHER.   Anything that brings you closer means that you both win!

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Random Acts of Kindness

As I wrote in the Keys to Happiness, helping others is a fantastic way to improve your own outlook while making the world a better place.  I am so impressed with this organization, Random Acts, and everything they’re doing and encouraging others to do.  It was founded by actor Misha Collins, who is also one of the more entertaining celebrities to follow on twitter.  But I have always loved seeing celebrities using their fame and fortune to help others and have a positive impact on the world around them.  The best thing about this organization is that it encourages us “regular people” to make an impact as well, even if we don’t have the same resources available to us.  Every little bit helps, right?

Are there any similar organizations that have really impressed you?  Are there celebrities who you admire not only for their work, but for the work they do in their “off” hours?

Do It Anyway

mother-teresa-quote-final3

I saw a version of this Mother Teresa quote on Facebook this morning, and I think it goes along with my last post on the Keys to Happiness.  I think sometimes it is easy for us to forget that our happiness depends far more on our own choices than it does on the choices of others.  We are not REQUIRED to be bitter about something that someone else has done to us; it is a choice.  We are not REQUIRED to be unforgiving, just because someone has not asked for forgiveness or doesn’t “deserve” it; it is a choice.

When we attribute our behavior to someone else, we are granting them control over us by not taking responsibility for our choices.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to hand the reins over to the jerk who cut me off in traffic, or my psycho ex, or anyone else, for that matter.  I don’t want to relinquish control over my life to anyone, least of all someone who has wronged me.

Forgive

We let go of an awful lot of bitterness and leave room for happiness when we choose to forgive even when the other person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. Regardless of how unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered they may be.  Hanging on to it only harms us, not them.

Be Kind

People have a tendency to assume you want something in return when you do something nice for them.  Their response is not what you’re going for.  You will make your tiny corner of the world a better place without their approval.  Just because they’re incapable of doing something kind without ulterior motives doesn’t mean that you are.

Succeed

Fair weather friends are pretty exasperating, and people who are enemies only because you are more successful than they are can be very discouraging.  This shouldn’t stop you from striving to succeed.

Be Honest and Sincere

Yep, people are like that.  They will see that you are honest and sincere and try to take advantage of you.  But that’s not a reason to be more cutthroat.

Create

Anyone who has ever built a sand castle is familiar with the idea of creating something that is going to be destroyed.  In the grand scheme of things, everything we create will come to dust eventually.  Nothing in this world is truly permanent.  But that’s not a reason to not be creative.  Go paint, write, make music, whatever you like to do.  Even if you’re the only one who ever enjoys it, it’s worth it.  But chances are, there is someone in your circle of influence who would properly appreciate it.  Share it with that person.

Be Happy

I’m not sure why people are jealous of other people’s happiness.  I mean, it’s not like their happiness means there’s less available for you to have.  I can see how bragging could be annoying, but that’s not really what we’re talking about here.  Just chalk it up to those rare instances where people just don’t get it, and go right ahead and be happy.

Do Good

Doing good is kind of a nebulous thing, sometimes.  It can be something so simple as holding the door for the person behind you, to donating your vast wealth and all of your free time to a charity you feel passionate about, and everything in between.  A lot of times, it goes hand in hand with the “Be Kind” quote.  You may not ever receive notoriety for the good you do, and even if you do, society is fickle and WILL forget.  But that’s not why you’re doing it.  Get out there and do good anyway.

Give Your Best

It’s true that for some people, your best is never enough.  The thing you have to keep reminding yourself is that it’s YOUR best, not theirs.  And like the Four Agreements, remember that your best changes from day to day.  Strive for that balance between working to the best of your ability, and working so hard that you can’t do anything the next day.

IT WAS NEVER BETWEEN YOU AND THEM ANYWAY

Whether you believe in God or not, this statement is true.  Like I said at the beginning, any attempt to blame your actions on others is relinquishing control over your life to them.  Yes, sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes you can feel the negativity of others bringing you down.  But don’t let it continue.  Keep doing the right thing, regardless of what those other people are doing, and you will have blessed those around you, even if they haven’t been very appreciative.  In turn you’ll find that it’s been a blessing to you.

The Keys to Happiness

I was talking with a good friend the other day about how some people just can’t seem to be happy, regardless of their circumstances, and others seem to generally be happy, regardless of circumstances.  We both agreed that happiness is, at its core, a choice.  As I reflected further on this statement, I found an article on Becoming Minimalist that followed right along with many of the things we discussed.  I will again try the “copy and paste” approach, but you can read the original article here.  As before, my comments are in blue.

12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today

by JOSHUA BECKER

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” —Abraham Lincoln

Happy people realize happiness is a choice. They are not held hostage by their circumstances and they do not seek happiness in people or possessions. They understand that when we stop chasing the world’s definition of happiness, we begin to see the decision to experience happiness has been right in front of us all along. Research in the field of positive psychology continues to reinforce this understanding.

But simply knowing that happiness is a choice is not enough. Fully experiencing it still requires a conscience decision to do so each day.

  • I’ve said it several times, and I will continue to repeat–it is not a one-time deal, choosing to be happy.  Not in your job, in your marriage, or any other task or relationship.  It takes a conscious decision on a regular basis to CHOOSE joy instead of dwelling on the negative.  

How then might each of us begin to experience this joy?

Consider this list of 12 Intentional Actions to Choose Happiness Today. Embrace one new action item… practice all of them… or simply use them as inspiration to discover your own.

1. Count your blessings. Happy people choose to focus on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative. They set their minds on specific reasons to be grateful. They express it when possible. And they quickly discover there is always, always, something to be grateful for.

  • Thankfulness is a fundamental requirement for contentment.  We cannot be content if we are always fretting over what we don’t have instead of being grateful for what we do.

2. Carry a smile. A smile is a wonderful beautifier. But more than that, studies indicate that making an emotion-filled face carries influence over the feelings processed by the brain. Our facial expression can influence our brain in just the same way our brains influence our face. In other words, you can actually program yourself to experience happiness by choosing to smile. Not to mention, all the pretty smiles you’ll receive in return for flashing yours is also guaranteed to increase your happiness level.

  • It’s remarkable how this works.  It’s actually possible to improve your mood merely by this simple action of choosing to smile.  This is not some fake grimace, people.  Even people going through some pretty dark hours should be able to come up with something that can bring a smile to their face, even better if you can offer that smile, no matter how small, to someone else.  Then you also reap the benefits of the high probability that the smile will be returned, even by a complete stranger.

3. Speak daily affirmation into your life. Affirmations are positive thoughts accompanied with affirmative beliefs and personal statements of truth. They are recited in the first person, present tense (“I am…”). Affirmations used daily can release stress, build confidence, and improve outlook. For maximum effectiveness, affirmations should be chosen carefully, be based in truth, and address current needs. Here is a list of 100 daily affirmations to help you get started.

  • While I’m not generally one of those mystical “hug yourself” kind of people, I definitely think it’s a good idea to ponder the things that you do like about yourself.  Everyone has things about themselves that they don’t like.  Most of them are not in your power to change, which makes dwelling on them even more futile.  But you should be able to find some things that you DO like, physically, mentally, emotionally.  It’s a good idea to “accentuate the positive”, and play to your strengths.  If you have trust issues, but find that you are fiercely loyal when you do make a true friend, that’s a GOOD thing.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to be a little more trusting, but in the meantime, affirm what you have.  If you are afraid to try new things, you might want to step out of your comfort zone, but acknowledge that a certain amount of healthy fear keeps you from going off and really wrecking things because you didn’t think before acting.  There’s generally a positive side to every coin, as long as it’s not taken to extremes. (Incidentally, that’s pretty much how I feel about politics.)
  • Everyone has been disappointed or frustrated by not reaching a goal that they had set for themselves.  But here’s the point: you haven’t reached your goal YET.  And sometimes it takes a great deal of maturity and self-understanding to admit that a goal that you’ve set may not be appropriate for you now, even if it was when you first set it.  I’m not saying to give up when the going gets tough, because it will.  Guaranteed.  But when you hit that inevitable wall or rough patch, you need to give yourself the mental boost to say, “No, I haven’t succeeded, but that doesn’t make me a failure, it just means I haven’t succeeded yet.”  And if upon reevaluation you determine that the goal is not for you (often these goals were pressed upon you by someone else, such as a parent or spouse, rather than one you set for yourself), it’s time to either redefine your goal, or let it go and replace it with something that suits you better.

4.Wake up on your terms. Most of us have alarm clocks programmed because of the expectations of others: a workplace, a school, or a waking child. That’s probably not going to change. But that doesn’t mean we have to lose control over our mornings in the process. Wake up just a little bit early and establish an empowering, meaningful, morning routine. Start each day on your terms. The next 23 hours will thank you for it.

  • Ok, this may seem weird to some people, but I have found that my mood for the day can be quite dramatically affected, negatively or positively, by the song that wakes me up in the morning.  And if I do something that I enjoy early on in the day (snuggling baby, enjoying a cup of coffee while appreciating the view from my patio, etc) it tends to make the day generally more positive.

5. Hold back a complaint. The next time you want to lash out in verbal complaint towards a person, a situation, or yourself, don’t. Instead, humbly keep it to yourself. You’ll likely diffuse an unhealthy, unhappy environment. But more than that, you’ll experience joy by choosing peace in a difficult situation.

  • This has to be one of the hardest lessons to learn.  And relearn.  And relearn.  Does anyone else need to keep relearning this one?  While it’s ok to occasionally decompress by venting to a trusted friend, it’s almost NEVER productive to attack someone when it can be avoided, and it’s almost NEVER productive to continually rehash the things that infuriate you about someone else to a third party.  While I usually prefer to avoid conflict when possible (which can be a good thing and a bad thing) I do catch myself ranting about the people who aggravate me to my close family members and friends.  This goes right along with dwelling on the negative instead of the positive.  Try (desperately) to find something about that individual that you like.  Come on, you can do it.  When you catch yourself trashing them, either out loud or internally, try to sidetrack yourself by latching on to that one redeeming quality you found.  You’ll discover that your interactions with that person will be far less negative, solely because your internal attitude has changed.  Give it a shot.

6. Practice one life-improving discipline. There is happiness and fulfillment to be found in personal growth. To know that you have intentionally devoted time and energy to personal improvement is one of the most satisfying feelings you’ll ever experience. Embrace and practice at least one act of self-discipline each day. This could be exercise, budgeting, or guided-learning… whatever your life needs today to continue growing. Find it. Practice it. Celebrate it.

  • I am a perpetual student; I always have been.  I love to read.  I love to learn new things.  I love to meet new people who do something I don’t know anything about, and pick their brains.  In my humble opinion, one should never stop learning.  You can never learn everything there is to be learned, and if you stop trying to learn, you’re only waiting around to die.  Probably with a higher chance of Alzheimer’s, the more sedentary your brain becomes.  Personal growth not only improves your innate awesomeness, it gives you that sense of accomplishment.  🙂

7. Use your strengths. Each of us have natural talents, strengths, and abilities. And when we use them effectively, we feel alive and comfortable in our skin. They help us find joy in our being and happiness in our design. So embrace your strengths and choose to operate within your giftedness each day. If you need to find this outlet outside your employment, by all means, find this outlet.

  • This part is all about knowing yourself, which should be right at the top of your to-do list for your continuing education.  Know what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at and what you’re not.  And I need to shout this from the mountain tops: You WILL change.  Your likes and dislikes change, your abilities change.  This is how two people who seemed to be a good match end up divorcing: because they both change, but they don’t change TOGETHER.  
  • Don’t let the fact that you are working in a job that is not your dream job keep you from happiness.  You have two options here.  One: change your job.  Yes, it might be hard.  You might have to make some sacrifices, maybe go back to school, but it is SHORT TERM and well worth it.  Two: in the event that it is completely and utterly impossible to change your job, or you are unwilling to do what it takes to do so, find something outside your job that brings you joy.  Even if it’s something you do only very rarely, use it as your carrot.  If I am not happy doing what I’m doing in this exact moment, I can look forward to doing something that will make me happy sometime in the foreseeable future.  Set a date, if possible, so you know how long you have to wait.  Although retirement may be a BIG relief, don’t decide you can’t be happy until retirement, and be a jerk to everyone around you in the meantime.  Find something that makes you happy RIGHT NOW, and plan on doing it even more when you retire.

8. Accomplish one important task. Because happy people choose happiness, they take control over their lives. They don’t make decisions based on a need to pursue joy. Instead, they operate out of the satisfaction they have already chosen. They realize there are demands on their time, helpful pursuits to accomplish, and important contributions to make to the world around them. Choose one important task that you can accomplish each day. And find joy in your contribution.

  • This is a great point.  Even on the days when I don’t physically feel up to doing much, if I just get at least one tiny thing accomplished, I keep from feeling like the day was a total wash.  Don’t underestimate the power of small contributions, or ones that affect only one person.  Even if your kid never SAYS how much they appreciate having clean underwear, rest assured that you’re making their world a better place.

9. Eat a healthy meal/snack. We are spiritual, emotional, and mental beings. We are also physical bodies. Our lives cannot be wholly separated into its parts. As a result, one aspect always influences the others. For example, our physical bodies will always have impact over our spiritual and emotional well-being. Therefore, caring for our physical well-being can have significant benefit for our emotional standing. One simple action to choose happiness today is to eat healthy foods. Your physical body will thank you… and so will your emotional well-being.

  • I am not a health food fanatic.  I am definitely not one who says you should never eat junk food.  But should you fall into the habit of making processed foods your mainstay and fresh foods the exception, your body will not run at peak efficiency.  Don’t put sludge in the gas tank of your high performance sports car.  Not all calories are equal.  Is it more work to make your own pizza with fresh ingredients than to pop in a couple of frozen disks?  Absolutely.  And it may not be something you’d want to do at every meal.  But any time you can improve the quality of what you’re feeding your engine, you’re going to notice an improvement.  And as an aside, those processed bits of garbage that pass themselves off as healthy snacks just because they have less than 100 calories per serving don’t cut it.  Go eat an apple, people.  And it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition: ANY improvement in your eating habits is, you know, and improvement.
  • Since I found out I am gluten intolerant several months ago and stopped eating gluten altogether, I have felt so much better in so many ways.  If you want to understand this phenomenon, it doesn’t take much effort to find tons on info on the interwebz about food sensitivity and all of its potential nasty symptoms, very frequently misdiagnosed as other diseases.  I started this post first, and then realized I was writing WAY too much about the gluten thing, so I decided to make a separate gluten-free post.   I try not to proselytize for the paleo lifestyle too much, because I’m not really hard-core paleo anyway.  But seriously, you owe it to yourself to try eliminating some of the common problem foods if you are showing symptoms.  It won’t kill you to go a month without bread (or milk, or other potential allergen).  And it could dramatically change your health and happiness for the better.

10. Treat others well. Everyone wants to be treated kindly. But more than that, deep down, we also want to treat others with the same respect that we would like given to us. Treat everyone you meet with kindness, patience, and grace. The Golden Rule is a powerful standard. It benefits the receiver. But also brings growing satisfaction in yourself as you seek to treat others as you would like to be treated.

  • You’d think this would be one of those “duh” kind of statements, but it seems that we’re all so busy with all of the garbage that we’re overloading our lives with, we can’t take the time to be kind.  We’re too rushed to hold the door for the person behind us, to show patience to our overworked waitress (especially since it’s usually not her fault that your food is not up yet), or just to surprise a stranger with a random act of kindness.  It may be just a tiny thing, but you’re making someone else’s day better, and that makes your day better.

11. Meditate. Find time alone in solitude. As our world increases in speed and noise, the ability to withdraw becomes even more essentialStudies confirm the importance and life-giving benefits of meditation. So take time to make time. And use meditation to search inward, connect spiritually, and improve your happiness today.

  • Meditate, pray, whatever works for you.  The most important thing is that we seem to have lost the ability to be content while alone.  Of course we don’t want to be alone ALL the time, but if we are never taking down time, and our happiness is dependent on someone else being there, we have a problem.  Learn to be comfortable with yourself, and take time to reconnect with God, to engage in some self-reflection, to see where you are and where you’re headed.

12. Search for benefit in your pain. This life can be difficult. Nobody escapes without pain. At some point—in some way—we all encounter it. When you do, remind yourself again that the trials may be difficult, but they will pass. And search deep to find meaning in the pain. Choose to look for the benefits that can be found in your trial. At the very least, perseverance is being built. And most likely, an ability to comfort others in their pain is also being developed.

  • Lots of sucky stuff happens to us through the course of our lives, some things definitely suckier than others.  No parent should ever have to bury their child, for instance.  It’s those really tough times that leave us reeling, wondering if we’ll ever be happy again, and if there’s even any point in carrying on.  It’s OK to feel like that.  Really, it is.  We run into problems when we let it break us permanently.  We can choose to never be happy again, because life has handed us this horrible blow, or we can find other things that make us happy, even though we’re still occasionally sad.  We can choose bitterness or healing.  There is no set time frame, and I’m not one to say what’s appropriate for you, but I think if you’re still stuck in bitterland years later, you need to evaluate why you are still hanging on to that negativity.  Have you let it become part of your definition of who you are?  It’s time to redefine yourself.  Let it be something that happened to you in your past, something that has certainly affected who you are right now, but not something that is exclusively responsible for shaping who you are for all of your remaining years.
  • I especially like the idea of using your pain to learn to comfort others.  It doesn’t even have to be EXACTLY the same pain in order for us to understand and feel for someone else.  We can still empathize, even if we haven’t been in precisely the same situation.

Go today. Choose joy and be happy. That will make two of us.

  • What did you think of this list?  Did you have any ideas to add?  Which one is you favorite?

Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance

Since I’ve talked about it several times now, and I’ve had friends and family test positive, test negative, or determine sensitivity through trial and error, I thought I’d try to break it down for those of you who are wondering what the heck everyone is talking about, and if this stupid “fad” is ever going to go away.

First, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which causes a host of nasty symptoms, and can actually be life threatening.  A true wheat allergy, also can be life-threatening in extreme cases.  But non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) confers a dizzying array of symptoms with a vast range of levels of miserableness.  There is a definitive test for celiac which involves a biopsy of the intestines (and who wants to have one of those?), but the blood tests are extremely unreliable.  If you have a family history of celiac or other autoimmune diseases, it’s worth it to insist on all four of the most common blood tests, rather than just any one test.  But remember, even if you are NOT celiac, even if it is proven definitively by the biopsy, it doesn’t mean you’re not gluten sensitive. There’s a basic overview of celiac, gluten intolerance, and wheat allergy here.  These are not all the same thing, although a lot of the symptoms are the same.

Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is not a black and white issue.  It is a continuum from the person who can’t tolerate the cross-contamination of a single bread crumb, to those who only have mild issues if they eat a lot of bread, and everything in between.  There are a mind-bogglingly large number of symptoms that have been associated with gluten sensitivity.  The fact is, MOST people are probably at least a little sensitive.  Are you willing to suffer through a little bit of discomfort in order to enjoy that yeast roll?  Perhaps.  Are you thrilled about the idea of spending the next several hours in the bathroom because some waiter thought it would be OK to pick the croutons off your salad instead of making a fresh one that has never touched breadcrumbs?  Probably less likely.  So obviously your level of sensitivity is going to have a pretty strong influence on how picky you are.

Now, there are people out there who are avoiding gluten just because it’s the thing right now.  I must say, while this attitude can occasionally be annoying, those of us who MUST avoid gluten are generally grateful for those “jumping on the bandwagon” simply because it makes it easier for us to find gluten-free offerings on the grocery store shelf and in restaurants.  There are so many more options out there than there were even a mere six months ago.  Unfortunately, many stores use the specialty nature of these items to completely swindle you.  I mean seriously, does a cereal made with rice instead of wheat really cost them 2-3 times more to produce???  And some of it just flat out tastes like crap.  A tiny loaf of gluten free bread costs $6, and tastes like a slightly scorched cross between styrofoam and cardboard, with the texture of really dry pound cake.  NOT good eats.

But if you find that you feel tons better when you don’t eat wheat than when you do, you’re willing to make concessions.  Mine is just to skip the bread altogether unless I’ve made it myself.  And remarkably, most of it I don’t miss.  Hamburger buns?  I prefer without anyway.  My palate has changed significantly since cutting out bread, and since I’ve gone mostly “paleo/primal”, some of that other stuff just doesn’t appeal to me any more.  Mark’s Daily Apple is one of my favorite primal sites, just because it’s pretty sensible about eating at least 80/20 primal instead of never eating any special treats.

My biggest symptoms (and the ones that have shown the most dramatic improvement) are hair loss, chronic fatigue, severe achiness/inflammation, and skin issues.  I have had problems with my skin since I was about 12, painful (and horrifyingly embarrassing) cystic acne on my face and shoulders which is now entirely gone (incidentally, I kept thinking I would grow out of it, but as of turning 40 I had not, until eliminating wheat).  In the experimentation phase, every time I reintroduced wheat, I had a significant breakout.  I also had annoying scaly patches on my upper arms which I always thought were just dry skin, but they have disappeared as well.  I’ve since learned that the scaly skin thing is pretty common.

It was probably about 10-12 years ago when I started noticing pretty dramatic hair loss.  I was literally throwing huge handfuls of hair away every time I washed it.  The only reason I wasn’t nearly bald is that I started out with abnormally thick hair, so it was actually quite a while of this drastic hair loss before it was visually noticeable.  My biggest frustration with that as a symptom is that the doctors didn’t want to take it seriously.  Yes, in some ways it’s vain, but if you are losing HUGE amounts of hair for no apparent reason, your body is screaming at you that there is something wrong.  In the case of gluten sensitivity, the damage done to the intestines interferes with nutrient absorption.  So even if you’re obsessively overdosing on B vitamins and biotin, you’re not really going to benefit much from them, because your body just isn’t processing them.

The fatigue.  Ugh.  It started about the same time as the hair loss, and is what made me keep nagging my doctor about thyroid issues in spite of the fact that my TSH kept coming back “normal”.  That’s a whole other story.  I have been told I have chronic fatigue syndrome (which I honestly think is just a lazy doctor’s way of saying you’re tired, but they don’t really care to investigate the CAUSE), I have found that I have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (in which my immune system has decided that my thyroid is foreign and it must systematically obliterate it), and I have Addison’s disease (AD) (that splendid immune system is attacking my adrenal cortex as well, and so I can’t recharge my daily battery).  I’ve also been told that I’m just too busy, which I freely admit has been true at many points in my life.  But slapping the CFS label on it and telling me to get more sleep is just not going to cut it.  And there is a drastic difference between feeling tired because you’re too busy and absolutely not being able to lift your head off the pillow.  Treating the thyroid helped a bit. Treating the adrenal insufficiency helped quite a bit more.  (By the time I was diagnosed with AD, I was almost entirely non-functional, literally bedridden with unexplained weakness.)

But I was still more exhausted than I should have been, most days.  Although I didn’t expect it, my energy level has rebounded phenomenally since I’ve cut out the gluten.  I attribute this mostly to the inability to absorb nutrients stated earlier.  It doesn’t matter how nutrient dense your diet is if your body is simply not incorporating it.  Now, because I still have those other auto-immune diseases, I still have low days.  But they’re nothing like the intensity or frequency I was having before.

Another totally unexpected improvement was my chronic pain.  I was in a car accident several years ago which required PT and daily NAIDS.  I was also told I had been blessed with early onset arthritis, which runs pretty rampant in my family.  So I had pretty much resigned myself to being in constant pain for the rest of my life, which was pretty depressing since I hadn’t yet hit 40.  I didn’t know that the primary cause for my pain was chronic inflammation, almost entirely attributable to my diet.

Because I was constantly popping pain pills just to get through the day, I also had pretty severe reflux, which was also being treated with prescription meds.  When I nixed the gluten, I noticed that I didn’t feel as achy.  I didn’t need as many pills.  I had so much less early morning stiffness.  And it kept getting better.  I went from having 4-5 days a week where it was agony to drag myself out of bed, to having a moderately achy day every couple of months.  And so I decided to try to cut back on the GERD meds.  Then stop them altogether. Because not only was I no longer ripping my stomach up with NSAIDS, I was having almost no digestive issues after the removal of wheat.  That reason alone would make me want to stop.

There have been a number of other positive effects, including losing nearly 40 lbs with virtually no effort, fingernails no longer peeling, migraines disappearing entirely, headaches in general fairly rare, insomnia no longer a multi-night-a-week celebration, generalized intestinal distress now a very rare occurrence.  I’ve fine-tuned it a bit by minimizing, if not completely eliminating other things that can cause issues, such as legumes, most grains, and dairy.  I’m not hyper-sensitive to any of these things, but I’ve noticed that a meal with a fair bit of corn tends to sit in my belly like a lead weight.  I don’t seem to have any trouble with cheese, but I drink almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  Beans never made me tremendously gassy, but now that know what it feels like to NOT be bloated, I’m surprised at how much more obvious it is.  It’s also funny how much overlap there is between the people who eat gluten-free and the ones who end up going full paleo and giving up all grains (so obviously paleo=gluten-free) and legumes.

Going hard-core paleo is not for everyone, and I’m not that, anyway.  But I CAN tell you what a fantastic improvement removing gluten from my diet has made on my entire health, in so many different ways.  If you check out that gluten-sensitivity symptoms list, and you recognize some of them, I would challenge you to just give it a try.  Try it for a month.  If you can’t commit to that, just try it for a couple of weeks.  Or a week.  But you have to commit to having absolutely NO gluten for the trial period, so that you can really see the changes, and there will be no doubt of the reason you’re feeling so much better.  The worst thing that could happen is that you notice no difference and go right back to your pasta and yeast rolls.  But if you do see that change, you might just decide it’s worth it to permanently alter what you feed your body.  That’s definitely a win.

Minimalist Packing

Rob and I will be travelling to Vegas with some friends in November, and we are planning on taking as few items as possible.  Neither of us has ever liked checking bags and then waiting to retrieve them–that’s valuable vacation time wasted!  And of course, some airlines are charging for even one checked bag.  Besides, if your stuff stays with you, you never have to worry about lost baggage.

I have been rolling clothes when packing for quite a while, as I find it’s super easy and quite effective at minimizing wrinkles and condensing things into the smallest space possible.  I haven’t ever tried the bundle method, but maybe that’s just because I already know rolling works well for me.   Also, I’m not much of a fashionista, so I don’t really care if I re-wear an outfit over the course of a longer vacation.  In the case of a short trip, the primary issue with minimizing the number of articles is the weather.  If it’s guaranteed to be hot or cold, you can prepare for that, but if it’s in that in-between time of year, you kind of have to prepare for both, which often ends up doubling your item count.  C’est la vie.

Then the other big question is what you will be doing while you’re there.  If you’re going to spend 90% of your time on the beach in your bathing suit, you obviously don’t need that many other clothes.  If you’ll have multiple black-tie events, you’ll have to plan accordingly.  But if it’s mostly hanging out, chilling, etc, I usually take 5-6 casual outfits, and plan on washing clothes once or twice if it’s a longer stay.  Let’s face it, there are not many places you’ll go that you don’t have access to laundry facilities, and to me it’s worth doing a small load of laundry in order to have less stuff to lug around.

Of course, we’re not traveling with children, which is a whole different beast.  Just remember, yes they need toys, but not ALL of them.  Yes, they need a few extra changes of clothes, but not their entire closet.  And I pretty quickly learned that I prefer to pack enough diapers for the trip and then buy a box when I get to my destination, rather than pack all that I need.  Obviously this is different if you’re using washable diapers.  Just keep in mind that a vacation is SHORT TERM.  There are lots of things that your kids may like, but it’s not going to permanently scar them if they have to do without for a week or two.  Those with pacifier addicts are the exception.  It might permanently scar YOU if they have to do without.  🙂

I’m also one of those people who prefers to unpack everything as soon as I reach my destination, even if I’m only staying for a few days.  Not only does that let the wrinkles work out of your clothes, but it helps you see what you’ve got and when you’re running out.  Besides, it makes me more relaxed to feel “settled in”.

What are your favorite methods for minimalist packing?  Are there certain things you refuse to do without while traveling?  What have you found that you used to pack, but no longer bother with?

Can I Freeze It?

Can I Freeze It?  How to Extend the Life of Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Perishables

This is another great LifeHacker article, about what can and can’t be successfully frozen, and how best to do it.  This is great for when you come across a great sale of something your family likes, but you don’t want to buy more than you can use before it goes bad.