Lesson #80: The Origin of “So A Horse Walks Into a Bar…” Jokes

DSC00468Deep within the jungles of Belize, there is a most unusual place. Whether one would refer to it as an “adventure lodge”, horse stable, a resort or a zoo is all a matter of focus, I guess. But when we arrived and could only access it via boat-on-a-rope, we knew we were in for a treat.

We came upon Banana Bank Lodge as a near afterthought. Staying at the nearby Caves Branch Adventure Lodge, we were offered daily activities as part of our accommodations, and horseback riding was given a casual, “cookie-cutter” description that left us imagining a lazy, laid-back trail ride.

Instead, we were greeted by John Carr — a man who imported himself to Belize from Montana decades ago following his “dream of being a cowboy”. Tall in stature, sauntering around in a peach colored shirt and a white, ten-gallon hat, John introduced himself by first and last name, even when he answered his cell phone. What made him even more enduring, outside of the pride just pouring from him around his lodge, was that he was affectionately followed by a tiny, scraggly dog wherever he went; it even darted its way in and out of the legs of the herds of horses to keep up.

We embarked on our trail ride after spending time with a group of baby horses. Our horses wove in and out of tea trees, wild jungle — up and down steep, muddy, slippery hills, sliding much of the way. We galloped through orange groves, squealing the whole time believing we might go flying at any moment. The ride itself was an absolute blast.

DSC00555We then returned to the main grounds, where we were given a tour of the property’s animal sanctuary. Housed here are all sorts of animals: birds, monkeys and even a jaguar, who have been injured or abandoned as babies by their parents. There’s a toucan on the property who was born with an overbite, rendering him unable to break fruit open on his own and eat. You can see in the picture that the top and bottom of his beak don’t meet.

Nemura Banana BankBy the time all these things were accomplished on what was the typical melting-hot day, we believed our adventure to be over and were very ready to eat. Lunch was planned for the restaurant on the property, and we gathered around at the table with friends we’d made to eat and chat about all we’ve seen.

That’s when our guide and his very tall horse appeared at the doorway. Then in the center of the restaurant, the rider needing to lay down backwards on the horse’s back to scale the doorframe. John Carr reappeared, and invited Blake to sit in the saddle there in the restaurant. Everyone believed that was photo-opportunity enough, people who didn’t even know us jumping to their feet to snap pictures. But then he invited me to ride along with. And next thing I know my new husband was standing behind me on the horse’s rump. I half thought he might be beheaded by a ceiling fan, but the horse was so still, so well behaved, that we were able to stay like this for at least a full minute. We can now return home and take up a circus side-show act. ;)

You’ll hear it again — the old joke “So a horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks him, ‘Why the long face?’ “. I’ve now learned that there’s a place in the world where this actually happens. I highly recommend a visit to Banana Bank Lodge: you’ll walk away with more stories and experiences in a half-day of time than you’ve been able to tell all year.

Lesson #79: There’s No Better Time of Day Than “Music Time!”

Beware. This video’s incredibly addictive.

Lesson #78: Misconceptions About “Food Allergies” and “Food Sensitivities”

food selectionLast year I was diagnosed with 34 food allergies. Removing these food allergies from my system, along with processed foods and sugars, I have been cured of Hashimoto Thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s Disease), gastritis, pancreatitis, significantly reduced the symptoms from and the occurrence of cysts related to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), I have regulated life-long abnormal / heavy periods and have lost 25 pounds. Additionally, after suffering from repeated occurrences of abnormal cervical cells due to the presence of the virus HPV for nearly ten years, I am HPV free.

Given these drastic improvements, I am a strong believer that the convenient, modified, processed foods we’re eating are at the core of most of our health problems. Unfortunately, mainstream medicine isn’t quite there yet, doctor’s looking to prescribe medication for a person’s symptoms, (and often causing other symptoms in the process), rather than treat the cause.

This is confusing people. Knowing what I know now, I can compare it to this: I see you, the patient, complaining of pain and discomfort every time you sit on a tack. The doc gives you painkillers (and maybe even some antidepressants as you get sadder about your butt pain) … but never removes the tack. And this way of handling your pain won’t change anytime soon, because the doctor can’t charge you for their services and the medical companies can’t sell you medicine any longer without the tack on the chair.

The food companies surround us with cheap, affordable, delicious, damaging crap — the medical and pharma companies ignore the effects of terrible “food”, treating only the symptoms — and the world of BIG money making keeps spinning ’round.

Anyways, back to the “food allergy” vs. “food sensitivity” debate. To me, it’s deeply frustrating. You don’t know how many times over the past year I’ve been confronted with the questions, “Yeah, but are these all food allergies or food sensitivies?”. The underlying tone of this question is always, “Can’t you just eat whatever’s put in front of you so that we can go to the restaurant I want to, or just eat in a hurry like I want to?

Food allergies or food sensitivities? It really doesn’t matter. If a person gets sick eating a food and is communicating to you that they don’t want to eat that food, then that is the end of the conversation. Slow down and listen to them. Check your feelings of irritation at the door — yes, it is an inconvenience to you, and you don’t get exactly what you want to eat … but that person with the allergies never gets what they want. They probably don’t ever get to go home after an exhausting day and order up pizza or Chinese. Whether they’re sick, exhausted or craving pizza topped with hot fudge because they’re so desperate for the foods they used to know, they have to cook their food, healthy, no matter what.

And those thoughts of doubting that the food allergies even exist? I have yet to meet a single person who has faked food allergies. Yet I’m confronted and have to prove mine all the time. This weekend I was denied admission to the day-long concert at Naperville’s Ribfest, because I didn’t have a doctor’s note to prove I was sick and needed to bring my own food in. Are you kidding me? As if my life isn’t hard enough with all this, now I have to “urgently” track my doctor down on a Sunday to get permission to eat at an outdoor concert? Are they going to stop the cancer patient with their oxygen tank, and tell them they can’t bring it in, because they already have air in the venue? Of course not. But somehow they think it’s okay to deny those suffering from food-born illnesses the ability to eat, at all.

Mine are actually food allergies. A food allergy is a harmful response within the immune system involving either the body’s T-cells or the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. When these cells come into contact with specific food proteins, such as milk, they react. This reaction can cause pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — symptoms also found with a food sensitivity. Food sensitivities are reactions of the digestive system that aren’t linked to immune reactions. Food allergies can also cause rashes or hives, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, drastic drops in blood pressure, the throat to close and a myriad of other problems within the body. As I said, ridding my body of these allergens has cured me of things that many doctors told me were impossible to cure.

food allergensWhat many people don’t understand is that food allergies don’t often make you puff up and explode as soon as you eat an allergen — often they don’t even show themselves at all as you eat, or within weeks of eating the allergen. But deep down, these allergens are causing reactions within the blood, inflaming internal organs, messing with the balance of the digestive system, etc., often leading to some very serious issues. Food allergies are at the core of issues with digestion, fatigue, hormonal issues, emotional issues, issues of mental clarity, problems with headaches, joint aches, inflammation and so much more, (as are processed foods and sugars, as well). Many links between processed sugar and cancer are also being discussed.

And, suffering from food allergies — knowing how hard it is to stay away from certain foods and work to improve your health… I have one more plea to make. Not only should people stop challenging those of us who are made sick by certain foods, or those who are trying to protect family members who are sick (e.g. the endless debates between parents who want the convenience of packing a peanut butter sandwich vs. parents of children who go into anaphylactic shock around nuts — No, the poor kids with a peanut allergy shouldn’t miss out on life and education and stay home so you can hurry your kid’s lunch). But please stop challenging those who just want to try eliminating foods. Sugar. Gluten. Dairy. Any of the foods they feel are making them feel feel less than optimal. What.do.you.care? Let people make whatever food choices they want to for themselves, and support them in their efforts to try to feel better. There’s really no reason to judge them, get upset with them or worry about anything going on beside your own choices.

When it comes to other people’s food… just let it be.



Lesson #77: How to Cure Hashimoto Thyroiditis

Ten years ago, my allergist discovered an elevation in my anti-thyroglobin antibodies. Known as Hashimoto Thyroiditis, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This often results in hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid), and the suffering of symptoms like swollen / painful joints, irregular menstruation, fatigue, digestive issues and more.

Since that time, I have sought a cure — only to be told time and time again by multiple doctors that there is none. Doctors advised that I let my thyroid die, then take Synthroid to replace thyroid functioning. Synthroid has a myriad of known side effects stated on their site: “… consequences include, among others, effects on growth and development, cardiovascular function, bone metabolism, reproductive function, cognitive function, emotional state, gastrointestinal function, and on glucose and lipid metabolism.”

Last year, in blood work performed to prepare me for surgery to remove a large pelvic cyst, the concerns about my Hashimoto’s disease were voiced again. My thyroglobulin antibodies read at over 900 H, while a normal reading is <20 H. My thyroid peroxidase antibodies were obscenely high, as well.

Desperate for relief from the illnesses and surgical side-effects I’d been enduring, as well as for a reprieve from the clearly overworked, exhausted, irritable and financially-motivated doctors I kept encountering, I decided to take a chance on a physician I found on Google. With a “what can it hurt?” attitude born out of desperation, I made my first appointment with this “natural medicine physician” and went in.

Within 4 months, my anti-thyroglobulin antibodies were down from over 900 H to 350 H. My thyroid peroxidase antibodies were down to 37 H (35 H being within normal). Then, upon retesting another 6 months later, my anti-thyroglobulin is down to 32 H, and my thyroid peroxidase is normal.

This feels to me like a ridiculous miracle. It breeds all sorts of feelings of excitement, gratitude and, admittedly, frustration. Anger. I’m terribly upset with all these so-called thyroid doctors and experts that for years have allowed me to suffer, when a natural solution continues to be ignored by the medical community in favor of selling their services and medications.

Now, let me make clear that I’m not recommending the following treatments to anyone, or saying they’ll work for everyone. My recommendation is for those suffering from this illness to find a doctor who can prescribe the right natural treatment for them.

Used to Treat HashimotoMy Hashimoto’s disease was brought under control by taking the following actions. I had an Immuno Bloodprint done, identifying 34 known food allergies, which I eliminated from my diet. I eliminated gluten and processed sugars from my diet. And yes, this is probably the hardest thing I have ever lived through, the loss of pizza and ice cream — relearning how and what to eat, preparing my own food, etc. But nothing tastes as good as feeling good feels.

I also take two dietary supplements my doctor uses to address Hashimoto’s disease: Myco-immune and Thyroid I tonic. I am due to be off of them within a few months, once my anti-thyroglobulin is also normal.

I just had to share this information with anyone who may be suffering from this condition, as well, and looking for an answer. You don’t have to let your thyroid gland die and suffer all those consequences. You don’t have to be dependent on medication. This has truly worked for me, and I hope some version of this plan can work for you, too.

Lesson #76: Go Confidently In The Direction of Your Dreams…

Hanging With Air Supply

Hanging With Air Supply

It’s that little voice many of us carry inside. Maybe today its message is that you’re not good enough to apply for that job. Perhaps its saying that you’re not attractive or likable enough to go for the girl. Or maybe its shown up to silence you, fill you with fear of what you’re about to say, telling you you’ll offend others, they’ll think you’re stupid or you’ll make a mistake.

I can’t tell you the number of opportunities I’ve missed in life because of that voice. It’s kept me from careers, from confessing the deepest of loves and from a myriad of other opportunities.

But what stands out to me are the times in life when I’ve somehow found the courage to burst through that wall of fear. I once sat wailing on the floor, terrified of a trip I was about to embark on all alone to Ireland and Italy — only to stand up, force myself on to that plane, and end up having the time of my life. The time I sat trembling in class at Second City, terrified of getting up in front of others and trying to be funny, only to end up beating the fear and performing graduation shows with new, life-long friends on the main stage. Getting past that fear has never led to the pain or agony the fear promises. It always leads to positivity.

Last week I awoke to a local radio program advertising an Air Supply concert that was coming to town. Now, Air Supply hasn’t been around for awhile, but I love their music. I grew up on it, still know all the words to all the hits and was excited by the news I could catch a show a mere mile away.

Having recently lost my job, however, I was saddened to see ticket prices were… well, pricey. I quickly decided I shouldn’t go.

Then came the announcement. The radio station was about to hold an on-air contest. Out of five callers, the person with the best story of why they deserve the tickets would win two, plus backstage passes and a nice dinner out. “Why not give it a try?”, I thought. I mean, no one ever gets through to those contests anyways.

I picked up the phone and dialed. Then, before I knew it, the DJ’s voice was at the other end of the line. “Calling about the tickets? You’re caller 3. Please hold, and you’ll be on the air shortly.”

Ho-lee-crap. My anxiety went through the roof. What was I going to say? Was anyone I know going to hear me? Could I even talk right due to the massive stroke I felt like I was about to have? Is it wrong, annoying or shameful to use an illness to win tickets — because that’s about all I could think of as to “why I’d deserve” anything.

On the radio in the other room I could hear the DJ setting up the contest. “So… here we go! My wife, Suzie, has agreed to pick the winner, here. Now, Suzie… are there any requirements you’d like to put on these people — anything you’re looking for in particular with these stories?”

“Well, Scott… I just have to make sure the girl isn’t younger and prettier than me. And I want someone who will party in the aisles with me — get crazy!”

I stared at the phone and prepared to hang up. The fear made me absolutely certain I would. I knew from listening to the show that I was younger than the DJ and his wife… and I’m allergic to alcohol. When people say “party”, that’s typically what they mean and… I can’t drink.

But there it was… that little fire inside that somehow thrusts me forward. Before I knew it, I was listening to myself on the radio in the other room discussing a surgery I had that caused 34 food allergies with the DJ.

I won.

The DJ, his wife, my fiancé and I all had a wonderful dinner that evening. Then we went over to the theater, met Air Supply (who promptly told my fiancé that he looks like Jared Leto… “the Brokeback Mountain version, not the cross-dresser role he won the Oscar for”) and witnessed a fantastic show.

Blue Oyster Cult

Blue Oyster Cult

What’s more — the DJ seemed to so enjoy hanging out with my fiancé, that he gave us a second set of tickets to any show of his choice. We spent the next weekend at a concert I’d say was almost better than Air Supply ;), The Blue Oyster Cult. I didn’t know Blue Oyster was such a jam band — the talent of the guitarists had my jaw on the floor.

So, anyways — I write about this experience to inspire. If you want something, dream of something, love someone — get past that crippling fear you carry — beat out all those doubts and warnings in your head — and go confidently. You just never know what it may get you.

Lesson #75: When Winter Gives You A Lotta’ Snow…

Make cute Save The Dates!

Snowman Save the Date

Yes, I had to Photoshop out my all-too-red nose and weather Chicago’s -30ºF polar vortex in a tank top. But the pain’s just a memory, with the results totally worth it!

More diy wedding ideas coming soon!

Lesson #74: Stop

My dream, last night, was one of those I was sad to wake up from…

We all lived in a world of routine. It was our duty to get up early everyday and take a dimly-lit underground train a single stop. We’d disembark and head off to our various “Groundhog Day”-ish lives: in mine, I was still in high school / college, and a deep anxiety about missing several math classes was eating at me. Being behind in math class and failing is a reoccurring theme in my dreams — one which I blame on a mean, overbearing teacher I once had.

Like everyone else, I was wrought with stress and wondering what I was going to do about my problems. I entered the train on a new day to hear whispers and rumors that some were bucking the system and staying on the train past the one stop we all knew. Some were eager to break away and see what would happen to them. And chatter like this went on for a couple of days, with additional instructions to wear a white shirt if you were going to go.

The talk filled me with both with fear and excitement. I was terrified that I’d be captured, killed or harmed if I passed where I was supposed to. I was scared that past the end of the line there was… nothingness — and that I’d be lost in it. Missing another day of my life would leave me even further behind with everything I had to do. I’d be disappointing people. There were so many reasons not to go. But to have… rest. To break the routine. Just those simple reasons to go seemed enough.

On the third day I ended up seated next to Japanese guy and his friend (appropriate, because it reminded me of the whole calm, spiritual lifestyle I so loved in Japan — a lifestyle forgotten in my current life) who were excited and decided on going past. I was unsure what I would do when I got on the train, but I became convinced as I listened to them. I took off my black winter coat to reveal my white shirt, I watched the doors close on what we all understood was the single stop… and I waited.

The few of us, now bonded together only through our dedication and desire to get out, said nothing — we just looked at each other occasionally — looking to see if we all shared the fear of what we were doing, speeding through blackness.

But it wasn’t long until the train started to ascend, then was surrounded by the greenest of grasses, bluest of skies and with fresh air like we’d rarely been able to breathe underground.

It slowed to a stop, and we exited the doors into a large field of rolling hills, grass as far as our eyes could see. There, thousands were gathered, all in white, sitting in lawn chairs, sharing food. A bearded old man came up to welcome us, congratulate us on our decision, and we were invited to pick and join in to any line-up of chairs. Everyone was overjoyed — people looked each other in the eye, smiled and were eager to get to know each other. Stresses didn’t matter anymore. There was no where to get to, no one to answer and no one to disappoint. There was just this glowing, white place — and the only goal was to know your neighbor and be a good friend.

The founders of this place sat in the center and held a sign which said they’d been doing this for 100 years. I knew I’d come back every year — no matter where life took me. I felt alive for the first time in ages.

As the dream ended, I was in a car with my friends. One asked if any of us had heard the rumors about what’s at the end of the train, and I about jumped through the roof with excitement to take them. Despite my explaining that it’s best reached by train, they insisted on driving there, parked across the street, and just looked at the now dwindling crowd left from afar.

“I don’t get what’s so cool about this,” one said walking away, “and I have stuff to do”. I explained it was best enjoyed by sitting down with them on the hill and getting to know each other. A couple people came with me to do that, but continued to talk about problems and miss the point. The others either mocked us or left us there, finding reasons to get back to their lives.

But this morning… I woke up energized. Finding this community felt real, and I had this desire to tell people about it. The discovery of what happens when you stop: stop giving in to your anxieties, stop your routine and just stop — even if for a moment — to really see each other.