Monday, February 25, 2013


Spring is starting to creep in. The cold and the rain tend to add to the gloom of late February, but the little buds are starting to bloom. They do well for my heart to fight back the dreariness. In fact, this time of year always makes me excited. The tiny emerging flowers speak of a season of renewal and relief from the dark cold months of winter.

When browsing the grocery store, I came upon these beauties. Tulips, grown in Virginia. They make the room so cheery and fresh. This time last year was filled with so much uncertainty and frustration. This year brings some of the same to a lesser degree, but I am more hopeful this time around. We've just about made it past the Winter. So thankful for the Spring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Refreshing Weekend

Oh hooray for long weekends!  Such a blessing to have that extra day to relax and take a step back. Ok so today is a little rough and my Tuesday morning has had the punch of a rough Monday, but I am still thankful for the time I had this weekend. 

Here are 5 reasons why this weekend was amazing:

1) Dinner date with a dear friend here at my new favorite local stop: Trolly Stop Market. Delicious food with local farmers market goodies. Win!

2) I got this gorgeous $200 dress from Anthropologie for $9! Super sale + damage discount (broken button loop, easily fixed) + gift card = $9 out of my pocket. Success! 

3) Went to a girl's group last night and met some amazing women. Total blessing. It's been a while since I've felt so at home!

4) Jon and I had a coffee date at a local coffee shop and really got to sit down, assess where we are, both as a couple and in general. It was a good time to flirt and catch up. SO crucial to have that kind of time in marriage. I love that man so much.

5) The biggest news by far this weekend is that we BOUGHT OUR PLANE TICKETS TO EUROPE! So very excited that it's really happening and we will finally be able to travel together. We will be going for 3 weeks in June. Most of our time will be spent in Italy, Germany, and France. Any tips for where to visit or places to see are greatly encouraged. Woo!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine Shmalentine

Valentine's Day has never been a huge deal for us. I enjoy doing something as long as it's together, but by no means do I need a fuss to be made. Things as of late have been extra crazytown around here. There just wasn't much of an option for grandeur or creativity yesterday. I am totally fine with that. We Tobins just laid low, and I used it as an excuse to bake sweet things and snuggle up to the man I love.

It was a beautiful contrast to the night before Valentine's Day, since we had just had a fight. One of those loud ones with voices raised and flustered pacing. We both took swings with our words and felt terrible about it. I was offended and hurt, I didn't want to be nice or reconcile. I just wanted to be mad. Listening to reason seemed... unreasonable.

When I finally had a moment to take pause, my heart quickly remembered that this is the man that I love so dearly. This is the man I am committed to spending the rest of my life with. I love him. In that moment, while he may have seemed to me undeserving, I decided to let my guard down and love him anyway. I have learned that we will both make mistakes and hurt one another, but how you respond makes all the difference in a fight.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant, it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4
Whenever I compare my heart to this verse, I am always reminded how short I fall, and how incredible God's love for us is every day, even when we fail. When Jon stepped away to cool down and pray, I surrendered my heart and decided to bless him. The act of blessing your spouse during the times you would prefer to shake them and say nasty things is not easy. However, it does humble you and increase your love for them. It is easy to be angry. It is difficult to forgive and love. But my heart needed it as much as his. Instead of letting bitterness take root, I went into the kitchen and made him heart-shaped strawberry cream cheese hand-pies. Plus, rolling out dough is a good way to calm down. Since I didn't actually take a picture, I found one online to give you the idea of what they looked like.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Hand Pies
Now I'm not saying that making desserts instead of talking things out is the way to go. We did talk and come to reconcile. But I did this as a way of showing him love when he felt unloved and dishonored, and it allowed me to cool down and remember why I love him. Being the day before Valentine's Day, I wanted even more desperately for him to know that I love him every day, and not just on holidays or when things are easy and going well. I love him even on our worst days, even when we fight dirty.

Fighting is never fun, but I am glad that we were able to learn from it and still love one another more deeply afterwards. It made me realize that Valentine's Day, while usually a cheesy holiday, can be great for reflecting on your love and recommitting your heart, mind, and emotions to each other.

On Valentine's day, we had our usual busycrazyhectic day. Yet I still made time to make some chocolate chip cookies for husband to come home to after school. Then to end the day, we snuggled up with blankets on couch cushions on the floor to watch my favorite movie, AmeliƩ.

Honestly, it was my favorite Valentine's Day so far. It was so good to remember why I love him in the context of seeing how precious love really is. It made the day that much sweeter. C'est parfait!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Late Lunch

Sometimes, I get so busy at work that I forget to eat lunch. It's not that I am not hungry, but more just that I really get into the zone and all other things fade into the background. Someone could be standing next to me saying my name and I could tune it out if I'm really focused.

Today is one of those days. I have been so busy, that I forgot to eat until 2pm.  It was unseasonably warm today. There was a faint smell of warm earth mixed with the fresh growing things that Spring induces wafting in the air. Blanket and plate of bounty in hand, Mac and I went forth into the sunshine that has been coyly hiding from us these past few months.

We took a solid 45 minutes to bask in it. Mac even took time to roll in the grass, which made made him snort with delight. I, however, was most displeased since he JUST got a bath this morning. Still, with a good meal and the warm sun, I couldn't be upset for long. How very refreshing that little break was. A late lunch is better than no lunch, right?

Homemade dill pickles, fresh-baked sourdough bread sandwich, grapes, kettle chips, and a healthy dose of Vitamin D.

Monday, February 4, 2013

E. Coli Part 2

If you missed the first part of this story, you can read it here.

During the time I was in the hospital and after involved a lot of research and a tough learning curve. I didn't even really know what e. coli was until I was diagnosed with it. Even more troubling, I didn't know how I had contracted the bacteria. My husband and I had shared all the same food and we only buy organic meats and veggies. We learned that it only takes roughly 10 colony forming unit (CFU) cells to infect you, compared to over 1 million CFU for other strains of e. coli.  This means that you could have an entire head of lettuce for salad for 8 people, and only one minuscule spot on one leaf can get one person sick and the rest could be fine. 

Another thing that we learned is that this particular strain of e. coli is a relatively new strain, and exists only because we now feed cattle corn. Cows are naturally fed on grass, but feeding them corn gets them fatter faster. It also changes the pH in their stomachs. Because of the changes in their stomachs, this bacteria is able to transform and change, as well as become immune to human stomach acid. This video excerpt from the documentary Food, Inc. explains it pretty well:

So now that I know roughly that it came from a cow somewhere and I was sick and now home from the hospital, my thought process was just to try to eat only grass-fed beef, cook and wash everything very, very well, and I would be fine. Oh if only it were actually that easy.

The problem with just resuming my previous diet was that my stomach was now completely different that it was before. 80% of your immune system is in your gut, and there are both good and bad bacteria. The good bacteria helps you to digest your food properly, as well as attack any foreign bacteria and fight it off. When the doctors put me on antibiotics before they knew I had e. coli, that wiped out any good bacteria in my gut as well that may have had a chance of fighting off the e. coli, as well as helping me digest food. So with my stomach flourishing in e. coli then dying off, I pretty much had a clean slate in there. This means that whatever I consume afterwards has a fairly free reign to take over.

I soon found that I couldn't eat pasta, pizza, drink wine or coffee, bread, even something as simple as chicken soup was too much. I was sick all the time, and just assumed that I was still recovering and it would take a while. A year passed and I was still sick all of the time. My GI doctor then diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). To make matters worse, almost every time I got sick, I would have a severe panic attack. I learned that 60% of people with a serious infections illness, such as e. coli, develop IBS and anxiety disorders. I could be sitting on the couch happy and in a great mood, when all of a sudden my body would start to respond as if I were fighting a bear and would kick into full adrenaline.

They mostly happened at night, so I would be shaking, hyperventilating, heart beating out of my chest,  and unable to slow my brain until 4am some nights. Those have been some of my lowest points. Jon had no idea how to calm me down and the only thing that seemed to work was taking Xanax, which I wasn't entirely comfortable with. My doctors have determined that this is a form of post-traumatic stress since my gut faced a severe incident. When my body is unable to process a food, it views it as foreign. Regardless of what it is, attacks it the food and forces it out. It begins ringing all the alarm bells and telling my brain that this is a serious issue and I need to panic and fight. Silly stomach, that was just a banana... is this really worth all the fuss?

I tried cutting out gluten, dairy, alcohol, coffee, pasta sauce, orange juice, or anything else I thought might make me sick. After a year of this and finally realizing that I was not, in fact, getting better, I decided to try a new approach.  Rather than going bonkers trying to figure out which foods to cut out and which are safe, (which didn't prove to be consistently successful,) I am addressing the main issue and not the symptom. My gut no longer has the things it needs to process the food I eat.  I need to refresh the ecosystem in my gut so I can effectively digest food and nutrients again.

I have started taking probiotics, as well as incorporating probiotics into my diet. Probiotics are the good bacteria that you should have in your stomach to keep you healthy and help digest food. So far, I've actually seen some improvement. I'm not getting sick as frequently, my panic attacks are more manageable, and I'm not getting every sickness that someone passes by with. It's a slow process that I'm still learning. I've had to incorporate foods I've never heard of into my diet like kombucha, whey, keifer, homemade bone broths, and fermented foods. I've had to realize that just because they are new and not just bought off a shelf doesn't mean they are "weird" or too "out there" to try. In fact, they taste way better than most things I've had before. I plan on writing more about these food items as I try them and documenting any results.

This whole process overall has been really difficult. It blessed me immensely to see how many people were supporting and praying for me along the way. It's easy to feel alone and overwhelmed when dealing with poor health.  It's easy to be afraid of ever eating for fear of getting sick again. It's especially confusing when doctors don't know what you have, or tell you there's no cure, or only have pills to prescribe you. Don't give up. It will not be easy, but there is hope and healing. I'm slowly getting there, by the grace of God, and am not going to let this define me for the rest of my days. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

E. Coli Part 1

2 years ago this February, I got really sick. Up until now, I haven't really taken the time to detail everything that happened, and what I'm doing about the residual effects. This is my (abbreviated version of the) story. I wanted to share it both for information, as well as to hopefully be an encouragement for anyone who has had to live through a serious stomach illness. I've broken it up into 2 parts for the sake of length.

The beginning of February 2011 brought many troubles for our new little family. My husband I had only been married for a few months when I was hospitalized with E. Coli 0157:h7.  Initially, I thought I only had the stomach flu.  I had been sick with it in December and the initial symptoms seemed the same. When I started noticing blood in my diarrhea and started experiencing severe stomach cramping, I knew that something was different. To say that this scared me is a major understatement.  I was starting to run the possibilities of worst case scenarios through my mind. Jon insisted that we go to the doctor to check things out, but since it was already getting late, we went to a Patient First. The doctor told me it was "just a nasty stomach bug" and to take some antacid and I would be fine. A few hours later of vomiting, lots more blood, and the worst pain I've felt in my life, we made our way to the hospital.  I've never experienced the pains of childbirth, but I hear that e. coli cramping is worse.

They admitted me into St. Mary's Hospital, put me on an IV, a ton of antibiotics, and a really strong pain medicine called Dilauded every half hour. As soon as the pain medicine wore off, I would be writhing in pain again and miserable. This went on for 3 days, with my condition getting worse, before they finally figured out what was ailing me. That time of waiting was miserable! I had 8 different doctors coming in and out, analyzing me, asking me questions in my delirium, and leaving shaking their heads. I was told I might have Crohn's Disease and many other ailments, but they were not sure. One doctor even said "We have no idea what you are sick with... it's kind of interesting, we feel like we're on an episode of Dr. House!" Not what someone in a hospital bed EVER wants to hear...

My amazing husband slept in a chair/bed that was far from comfortable every night and stuck it out with me. He feed me apple sauce when I could manage it. He prayed over me, tried to make me laugh, helped me to the bathroom every few minutes, and overall was my intercessor for the doctors. During the day he still tried to attend classes and get some down time, but was otherwise by my side. I was in a lot of pain and utterly exhausted, so it was really hard for him to see his new bride going through some unknown illness. Many friends and family members came to visit, and Jon even greeted them with donuts and coffee. Once the doctors discovered it was e. coli, everyone that came in the room was required to wear purple gloves and special yellow hazmat gowns as a precaution. People still came to visit me despite this.  That's love.

Jon's "bed", me in my misery, and Jon in his hazmat gown.

When the hospital finally realized it was E. Coli 0157:h7, they immediately stopped any antacids and antibiotics, as these are known to actually make things worse. Oops. I slowly started to improve and all the numbers on all my charts started to stabilize.  I was victoriously released a few days later to go home. Hooray!  Yet something still didn't feel quite right yet. I had a feeling this wasn't over. Turns out, I was right.

I began to feel insatiably thirsty, and very weak. After 3 days, I wasn't getting better. I started vomiting again, so Jon took me back to the hospital. We figured I was just dehydrated and would need an IV for a bit then go home. They ran some tests and everyone was surprised to learn that my kidneys were failing. I had developed Hemolytic-Uremic Syndrome (HUS) as a side effect of the e. coli.  HUS causes rapid red blood cell and platelet depletion, as well as kidney failure. Normally this only happens in 15% of cases of e. coli, and mostly in children or the elderly.

They ordered a blood transfusion and I was 2 points away from needing dialysis. Miserable! I then had my first ever panic attack during the blood transfusion. My body was trembling, heart racing, I felt dizzy and out of breath, tingly all over, and couldn't focus my eyes or thoughts. I had no idea what was happening and was sure that I must be dying. After that, the doctors had a miscommunication and took me off all food for 3 days, which caused me to crash. I couldn't even stand on my own I was so weak.  When the hemotologist found out, he put me back on solid food and put potassium and sugar in my IV. I was more excited for that terrible hospital meal than I ever have been for any other meal in my life.

Rice Crunchins and soggy bacon in all its glory

Jon and I celebrated our first Valentine's Day as a married couple in the hospital, too. He was even
sweet enough to come dressed up with roses for me. Our "date" was interrupted when the nurse instructed him to help with giving me a sponge-bath.  How's that for steamy? I assure you, it was not. Still, he was my hero husband and took care of me every day and night.

Finally, towards the end of February, my numbers had yet again stabilized and I was able to go home... this time, for good. It was a great joy to be out of the hospital, and while I was still weak, I was at least able to walk again. I even thought I was good to go back to my normal diet, but quickly discovered I was wrong. More on that in part 2...
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