Wednesday, January 31, 2018

This just might take the cake.....


Starting tomorrow, February 1st, I'm planning to eliminate gluten from my diet for the next 6 weeks. I know that gluten-free diets are trendy, but I have a practical reason for trying it: I've begun to suspect I might have dermatitis herpetiformis, the skin manifestation of celiac disease.

I've had terrible itchy rashes since my late teens, and the one dermatologist that I've seen (years ago) dismissed it as eczema with barely a glance. I haven't been comfortable wearing shorts or dresses (without hose or tights) for years now because my knees and ankles look terrible. And the itching is enough to drive you mad. Recently I've started getting patches in some new places (on my thighs and butt) and I'm almost desperate to find a way to stop it! All of the symptoms of DH seem to mesh with my experience, and they say it's very often misdiagnosed as eczema. Apparently very few people have digestive issues along with the skin rashes, so most doctors don't recognize it as celiac disease.

Getting an appointment with a dermatologist around here takes months, and I don't want to wait that long to find out if I do, indeed, have DH. All the sources of information I've found say not to eliminate gluten without having a skin biopsy first, because if you notice improvement you'll have to go back to eating gluten for 6 weeks to get a reliable diagnosis, but I don't care! It would take at least that long (probably longer) to arrange to get a skin biopsy done, and I might be wrong anyway. It could very well be simple eczema, and if so all I will have lost is a few weeks.

Luckily, I'm not a picky eater, and the main thing I'll be giving up will be convenience. I'm a little worried about that, but as long as I plan well and prepare all of my own food, it should be okay. A whole lot of processed simple carbs will be eliminated from my diet, which can only be a good thing, right?

(Guess what I'm having for dinner the night before I begin? Pancakes with maple syrup and sausage!! :) I love carbs and purposely chose the beginning of February so that my experiment will be over by my birthday at the end of March. Of course, if my skin clears up, I may have to go gluten free forever, but that would be a reasonable price to pay for clear, healthy skin!)

Does anyone here have experience with eliminating gluten from your diet? Or undiagnosed celiac disease? I would love to hear any thoughts or advice you might offer on the subject.

And please wish me luck!


Sunday, January 28, 2018

The party

My mother in law's memorial party was last night. We arrived at the house a few hours before to sort through some of her things. Gregg's sister had very kindly helped sort through a lot of childhood papers, pictures, and memorabilia ahead of time and had a big box packed up and ready for us when we got there. It's astounding, the things she had unearthed. Edythe was a very devoted mother and her children (and later, her grandchildren) were her whole world. For his share, Gregg received things ranging from the cub scout badges and cap he had as a small boy to the letter he left for his parents as a young teenager when he and his buddy Henry decided to run away from home. (It's hilarious, by the way). There are report cards, sports trophies, model cars his dad helped him build, even the cast he wore when he broke his arm in the second grade! And lots and lots of pictures.

Little Gregory, way back when. Check out the buzz cut and the bow tie!

Edythe had left written instructions for the party we were to have after she died. When everyone had arrived, her husband, Lou, welcomed everyone and made a short speech explaining that Edythe had wanted a party instead of a funeral. Then he said (to our surprise) that she had left something to be read aloud to the guests.............and then he began to cry. Stoic, dutiful, highly logical and rarely emotional Lou was crying and it broke my heart. Through his tears, with his voice choking up, he said he had asked his grandchildren to read Edythe's words to us in his place, and so the two youngest ones did. The note was very simple, something to the effect of: "Have balloons, and lots of good food, and play music that I liked from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Everyone have fun and no tears.......okay, maybe just one or two tears!! and remember the good times we had. I love you."

Then a few of the older people told a few stories about Edythe, but Lou's sadness had struck a somber tone at that point so they were limited. None of the children or grandchildren wanted to speak, except just before we wrapped up that part of the party Gregg's sister gave a wonderful short speech praising Lou for taking such wonderful care of her these last few years. She told how he had abandoned his own friends and hobbies and spent every day taking care of her. He diligently researched every drug she took, every diagnosis she received, every new treatment that came out for her issues. He waited on her, bathed her, kept her medication sorted and reminded her to take it each day, drove her to all medical appointments, and through it all maintained the patience of a saint and never once complained. It was a beautiful speech and I was proud of her for giving it. I doubt there was a dry eye in the room when she had finished. After that, everyone was invited to eat and mingle, and it felt more like a party again.

Lou did a good job planning everything. He had spent hours on the computer, compiling over 400 photos of Edythe taken over the course of her life and worked it out so that they were scrolling on the big TV in his den. Everyone kept going back to it to watch. There was music from the 50's playing softly in the background. The dining room and kitchen had big platters of finger foods and desserts along with paper plates and napkins so everyone could mill around and talk while eating.And yes, there were balloons. In every room.

We got home very late last night and were both utterly exhausted. I'm still kind of tired today, and my feelings seem very tender at the moment. It feels like Edythe is truly gone now and there's nothing left to do but miss her.

Thursday, January 25, 2018


The flu has been terrible around here this year. There are two strains floating around, both very nasty, and the middle school where I work is getting hit hard. One of the nurses told us that out of 900 students, we have 112 confirmed cases so far! It's gotten so bad that DHEC is monitoring the situation at all the local schools, including ours. We're on the verge of having to close for a day or two so they can come in and do a major disinfection of the building. One elementary school is already doing it. 

The two hospitals in Florence are overwhelmed, too. A nurse (who came to pick up her sick son's assignments from school) told me the one where she works has over a hundred patients admitted with serious complications from flu. A local newspaper reported that there have been 46 deaths from flu in South Carolina this month. A coworker of mine left early today to meet her daughter at one of the Urgent Care clinics, where there was a 2 hour wait and nurses handing out face masks. 

In addition to the flu at our school, strep throat and a stomach virus have been making the rounds. A few unlucky kids got flu and strep at the same time. Industrial size boxes of disinfectant spray and cans of Lysol are everywhere, with teachers and office staff alike compulsively wiping everything down, all day long, including telephones, keyboards, computer mice, and door handles. Earlier this week there were two afternoons where I started to feel achy and tired, and had to come home and lie down. Both times I thought "Here it comes" but so far, I seem to be okay. I never actually started running a fever and today I feel totally normal. I sure hope I've managed to fight it off. I haven't had the flu in almost 20 years, and I'd like to keep it that way.

It did occur to me that if I did get sick, I could get out of attending the memorial party for my mother in law on Saturday. Isn't that awful? Gregg and I are both dreading it for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with our regard for his mother and her memory. But of course, we have to go, not just for the party but also to sort through her things with his siblings and decide what we want to keep and bring back with us. It's going to be a long, trying, emotional day and I almost wish I had such a good excuse to stay at home! Of course, a flu would be a lot more than just one unpleasant day. Everyone that I know of that has gotten sick has endured several days of very high fevers that have been hard to keep down.

Is the flu especially virulent where you live this year? 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Spring fever

We both have a touch of spring fever today. Marco's been acting like a holy terror for a couple of weeks now, as per usual with him when the days start to lengthen (around mid January). It's so warm and sunny outside right now that I'm feeling a bit restless myself. Time to head outdoors to soak it in while it lasts. I can't wait for the change of season!

Anyone else getting tired of winter this year?

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Next Saturday is the memorial party for my mother in law. We got this invitation from her husband via email:

You are invited to a party to celebrate the life of Edythe Smith Yates
at 4:00 pm on Saturday, January 27, 2018 at my house , (street address)
Raleigh, NC 27609.  Edythe requested a family only memorial party rather
than the usual memorial church service.

I am trying to invite all family members who knew Edythe, including
aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, children of cousins, our children and
grandchildren.  Spouses or special friends are also invited. This email
will go to those in my address book. Others will be contacted by phone.

I hope you will be inspired to share your stories and good feelings
about Edythe.  (Consider this an opportunity not a requirement.)  I will
try to get participation started by asking for your earliest memories of
Edythe.  I hope that Gailya (Edythe's sister) will tell about Edythe's early school years
and that Harold (Edythe's brother) will tell about her horsewomanship (or was it

Casual dress will be appropriate.  A finger food, paper plate on the
knees dinner will be provided.

Please reply with a yes, no, or maybe and how many by Saturday, January
20 if possible so that I will order enough food.

Phone or email if you have questions or suggestions.

Looking forward to seeing you all.

Louis Yates

When plans for the party were being discussed Lou suggested we drive up the day before to go through some of Edythe's things that we might want to keep. He's been sending out detailed lists of furniture, jewelry, keepsakes, etc to us and to my brother and sister in law. Gregg can't bear to even discuss going through her things. His sister (who lives in Raleigh) has been helping to sort through the stuff, including family pictures, so I plan to suggest that she puts aside anything she thinks we might want and we'll trust her judgement. Aside from a few small things and pictures, there's nothing in particular we feel very strongly about, certainly not strongly enough about to squabble over with the rest of the family. The very idea is distasteful to us both.

Edythe did give me a lovely keepsake and family heirloom several years ago when Gregg had just finished chemotherapy--the wedding ring his father had given her when they married. (Gregg's dad passed away years and years ago). She said she wanted me to have it after I took such good care of her son while he was sick. She also gave me some tiny rubies that had come from a pin his dad got as a retirement gift from the company he worked for (rubies were his birthstone) and a couple of small diamonds from jewelry he had given her. Gregg has suggested we take it all to a jeweler next summer and have something made for me with it all for our next wedding anniversary. I think that's such a sweet idea! I'm glad Edythe gave me those things long before she died. I wouldn't feel comfortable asking for them now, and honestly, it wouldn't even occur to me to ask. I loved her very much, we were great friends, but I would never presume to demand any special family heirlooms. She was wise to give us the things she particularly wanted us to have before she died. 

So we won't be going up to Raleigh the night before the party to go through her things. Instead, we're going up a couple of hours before and taking whatever things Gregg's sister has put aside for us. Then after the party, we'll either drive straight home or get a hotel room for night. We would be welcome to spend the night at Lou's house, and there's plenty of room, but now that Edythe is gone being there feels weird and sad.  We'll probably just come on home.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Real winter weather

It's frigid again in South Carolina, and for the second time in two weeks there's snow in the forecast. Today has been wet and cold--cold enough to chill you to the bone! And we've had record low temperatures, too. Tonight is supposed to be back down in the teens again, and since ice and snow are expected, we're on a two hour delay for school tomorrow (if we end up going at all).

I like it. It feels like a real winter for a change.

Ice on my car's windshield early yesterday morning.

Hopefully we'll have a good peach crop this year. The past two winters have been too warm for the peach trees to achieve the level of dormancy needed to produce good fruit. Everyone thinks of Georgia as the "peach state" but actually South Carolina produces more than they do! It's a real blow to farmers around here to have major crops ruined year after year by the lack of cold. I think this year will be much better for them.

We've gotten more use out of the fireplace this year than ever before. I love sitting beside a warm fire on these cold nights! I've been cooking and baking a lot, too, which helps warm up the house. A big batch of chili is bubbling away in the crockpot as I type this, and I'm thinking of making a couple of loaves of banana nut bread later on. Our freezer is full of individual servings of homemade soup that I've made since Christmas. Occasionally I'll bake something special, like an iced chocolate loaf cake or rice krispy treats, just for fun. I'm trying to take it easy on the sweets, though, and mostly try to concentrate on healthy, warm, "real" food.

One thing I dislike about the weather this winter is how often we've had to miss our nightly walks. It's bad for us and it's really bad for the dogs. They're so bored when they're cooped up inside, and George especially needs and outlet for some of his energy. He gets wild and eventually annoys the crap out of Ginger, so then she has to put him in his place--which she is really good at. She's definitely the alpha of the two, and has no problem correcting him when he really needs it. It's funny to see him acting like an abashed (88 pound!) puppy! They get along better when they're out walking every day, or can at least go out in the back yard in the afternoon, but all that is impossible when you're getting cold rain, ice, and snow or the wind chill is in single digits.

As much as I appreciate a real winter, I think I'll be extra glad to see Spring arrive this year.  What about you? Do you love the winter, or count the days until it's over?

Saturday, January 13, 2018


It's been wonderful going back to work this week and resuming a normal daily schedule, free from worry and stress. Anyone who has ever faced a life threatening illness, or the illness of someone you love, will understand me when I say that there is no greater gift than that of an ordinary day.

Since our New Year's celebration was haunted by the fear that Gregg's cancer might have returned, now that we know he's okay we've decided to celebrate the start of 2018 this weekend. It's a three day weekend for me (Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. day and a federal holiday, for my international readers) so I have some additional time off to enjoy. Tonight Gregg and I have a date for a special dinner and champagne at midnight. Tomorrow I'm finally going to start writing in a pretty new journal/planner I bought myself for Christmas.

I have a handful of personal goals and dreams for the new year (not "resolutions", which always sounds so joyless and punitive) that I'm ready to start working towards. The whole holiday season was like suspended animation, waiting to see if the future was to be feared or welcomed. I'm so glad it's the latter!

Happy New Year, everyone! Back tomorrow.

Monday, January 8, 2018


Gregg is okay!!!!

There is no cancer recurrence. I broke down and cried from sheer relief when we got the news. It's been a hard month of waiting, first for the PET scan and then for the results. Thank you all so much for your support. It made the terrible waiting easier to bear.

Now I feel like we can finally start the new year. I am so grateful.

Friday, January 5, 2018


It's been quite a week around here. This is possibly the coldest extended period of time that I ever remember in any winter. It's been over a week of temperatures barely hitting the freezing mark during the day, and dipping down into the low teens at night with wind chills near zero. The snow and ice we got on Wednesday is still here and the roads are dangerous. Except for a short day on Tuesday (delayed opening due to dangerous wind chills in the morning) school has been closed all week. Between the death of Gregg's mom, the holidays, and now the weather, I haven't worked more than a week total since the beginning of December. It's a weird time, and quite honestly I'm ready to resume a normal schedule again.

If it wasn't for the fact that we're still in limbo waiting for the results of Gregg's PET scan (we won't know until Monday) maybe all this time would have been more enjoyable. As it is, the stress of fearful waiting has been almost unbearable. Sitting at home confined due to the weather is just making it all worse. Yesterday was particularly bad for us both, but especially Gregg. He's having a really hard time. This morning he insisted on risking the icy roads to go up to the pet store and see about the aquariums and fish. I'm glad he did. The drive is only about 4 miles, on main roads, and he's dressed in plenty of warm layers. It will do him good to get out of the house and stay busy, and at least he can check one item off his worry list (the animals at the store).

For me, this weekend promises to be more days of pacing around the house and worrying. Even walking the dogs, which is usually my best stress reliever, is off the table until next week. I've watched a lot of tv, which is unusual for me, but it's the only distraction that seems to work for me at all right now. I've been watching The Crown on Netflix. I've enjoyed it (never mind the fact that the first half of season 1 deals with Queen Elizabeth's father dying of lung cancer) and have tried to just watch an episode here and there to make it last longer.

As much as I appreciate finally having a real winter here in South Carolina, I'm ready to come out of hibernation and start the new year. Hopefully, the news on Monday will be good (please let it be so!) and the weather forecast is calling for a return to average January temperatures by then. I desperately want life to feel normal again.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Snow day

What a beautiful, rare event snow is in South Carolina. Children were out in the streets well past dark, shouting with joy. Even the dogs ran and played in the snow, like little kids themselves. We ended up with about 2 inches here in Florence. Isn't it gorgeous?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Winter storm warning

We're starting off the new year with record breaking cold here in northeast South Carolina. Every night this week temperatures are dipping into the teens with wind chills in the single digits. It was so cold this morning that our first day back at school started on a 2 hour delay, and the district has already canceled school for tomorrow because of a big winter storm headed this way:


* WHAT...Significant snow and ice are expected. Plan on difficult
travel conditions. Total snow accumulations of 2 to 4 inches
and a light glaze of ice are expected.

* WHERE...Portions of northeast South Carolina and southeast
North Carolina.

* WHEN...From 11 AM Wednesday to 6 AM EST Thursday.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS...Be prepared for significant reductions in
visibility at times in snow.

A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet
and ice are expected. This will make travel very hazardous or

It's strange to go back to work for one short day after over two weeks off, only to get more time off immediately. We're not prepared for this kind of weather so far south, though, and the roads really will be hazardous. I'm glad I get to stay home, safe and cozy, and wait on whatever weather is in store.

More tomorrow!