Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Great Lip Struggle

After recovering for quite a few months and feeling like I have a fairly clear understanding of the issue at hand, I feel like I really should put this out there and let people know that if they have this problem, they are not alone. I usually reserve my blog for personal recipes/crafts/crochet stuff and not so much personal information, but this is important to me so I will stray from the usual just this once. I also feel like I need to document what happened so that I will have the information in the future.

This is going to be a pretty pic heavy post, because this can truly only be described in photos. Warning: these pictures are so embarrassing to me and I look AWFUL in them, but they are necessary to illustrate what we're dealing with here. My face looks normal now, and looked normal between these outbreaks. See? This is me a few months ago, on July 26. Normal face. Everything under control.

It all started with a fever blister in August of last year. I distinctly remember it. It isn't unusual for me to get a fever blister, but I hadn't had one in a long, long time. James's cousin was visiting us in Fayetteville and I spent most of the morning on the front porch holding ice on my blister. It seemed to have never erupted, but stayed there under the skin for about a month after that initial day.

By September, the awful-horrible-bad thing began. Exhibit A:
September 17, 2013. I woke up with a large portion of my top lip covered. Little did I know, this was just the beginning. At this time, I just coped with it and went on with my day. I upped my Lysine dosage and kept on keepin' on. By three days later, the blisters were gone.
This continued happening for quite some time.... blisters over a portion of my lip or just in one spot. I just assumed that my immune system was weak and started eating foods that would strengthen it- I even went as far as brewing my own kombucha and attempting to drink garlic tea. Ew. Ew. Ew. Do not try garlic tea. Just trust me on that. I also ate an entire garlic clove one morning and spent the rest of the day dry heaving.
So what you can take from that is that these blisters started to become emotionally and physically trying, but they were not that bad yet. Of course I didn't know that at the time.

Though I had been to my clinic about the blisters I already had and had been given low dosage Valtrex prescriptions, November 1 is the first day that I remember them being all-consuming bad. I woke up with them spread around my entire bottom lip. I immediately called and got a same day appointment with my clinic. My PA drew blood and confirmed HSV 1 (fever blisters) and that my blood/immune system was in good shape, so that was not the issue. He prescribed me a crap load of the highest strength Valtrex (common HSV med) that he could prescribe. He also referred me to a specialist, which turned out to be an epidemiologist. He did that accidentally. I was still pissed. I went to the epidemiologist without knowing it was the wrong type of doctor (an epidemiologist is someone who helps treat and prevent STDs. Apparently my stupid clinic PA was too dumb to know the difference between fever blisters and sexually transmitted herpes). While there, the doctor confirmed that it was HSV 1 (thanks) and drew eight vials of blood for testing before telling me that he really couldn't help me much and sending me on my merry way. I never heard from him again.

I was eventually referred to a dermatologist, who repeatedly swabbed sections of my lips and gave me a cream called Xerese. The Xerese was great at keeping the fever blisters away, but there was still an awful rash going on around my lips. Fever blisters were never the problem; they were a side effect of the problem. Fever blisters pop up when you're sick, stressed, or a cut or- in my case- a rash appears around your lips. My clinic and my dermatologist at Fort Bragg could not seem to understand this and continued to assert that fever blisters were the problem. I quickly learned that the Xerese would also cause pretty bad chemical burns. SO now the fever blister issue was solved, but a chemical burn problem was added and the lip rash was still ongoing. I had been trying out a few different products on my blisters/rash to see what would help. These products were witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, Vaseline, Eos lip balm, coconut oil, Carmex.... nothing seemed to work; some made things much, much worse. Things continued on this way for a while.

Nov 2
Nov 4
I began to notice a pattern when I received an Eco Emi box with some natural beeswax lip balm in it. My husband and I went out one night and I grabbed the lip balm to use, thinking that since it was natural it would be best for my lips. Later in the night, the itching and burning began. The next morning, the awful rash had come, and it was the worst it had ever been.
The night of beeswax application, Nov 23. Normal lips.
Morning of Nov 24, the beginning of rash
Nov 30, at the tail end of the horrible rash

It was so bad that I walked around with a handkerchief pressed on my mouth. If I did not sleep with the handkerchief on my mouth, I would wake up from the oozing. I know, super gross. It was unbearable. I could barely open my mouth. I didn't want to be seen in public. Everyone stared. I was horrified.

I began to suspect that ingredients of certain products I was applying on my lips was causing these outbreaks, but if you look on the ingredient labels of your everyday chapstick or lip balm products, there is a huge list of ingredients. How do you isolate those and find the one you're allergic to? You get a patch test done at a dermatology office. My dermatologist continued to think it was fever blisters and, subsequently, staph infections (the rash was infected with staph every single time I had it, but the staph was not causing the rash itself). She continued to refuse to patch test me, and gave me a gel to clear up the staph. I started to search for only natural products to apply to my lips, hoping that the harsh chemicals in other products was causing the rashes. Waxeline, more coconut oil, organic lip balms....

As the rash healed, it would become so dry that I could not move my mouth at all. Desperate for some type of credible medical help, I went to the Rite Aid up the road and asked the pharmacist's advice on what to put on it to soften it while aiding in the healing process. She suggested A&D Ointment. Cue the miracle ointment that I still use today. If I use A&D, my lips are fine. The rash is absent. I am not allergic to what is in A&D, so I stick with it (despite the awful smell). It has to be actual A&D ointment, not knock of brands- those contain a slew of ingredients that could potentially harm the skin and cause a breakout. Lots of chemicals.
My love of A&D was confirmed when my husband and I stayed at a friend's house in late January of this year. I forgot my A&D, but had an Eos with me. At bedtime, I slathered the Eos on. I woke up with huge swollen lips. Never again. I needed my A&D.

The outbreaks slowed, but would occasionally flare up- and still do- for various reasons: my husband puts on chap stick that I'm allergic to and then kisses me, I go too long without applying A&D, etc. We PCSed to Harrisonburg in July, and I got a referral to an actual doctor dermatologist (my derm in Fayetteville was a PA). During my first consultation, she took one look at one of the above photos and confirmed that it is indeed contact dermatitis and that the fever blisters are a side effect of the contact dermatitis. She is patch testing me next month and we will finally get to the bottom of exactly what is causing these lip outbreaks. Hallelujah.

Black Friday 2013, using my lovely scarf trick to hide my lower face

So, what I want you to take away from this:

  • If you're struggling with something similar, go see a good dermatologist and get patch tested ASAP. Stop putting stuff on your lips. Stop eating food that could irritate your lips. Stop washing your face with harsh chemicals. Go to the doctor. 
  • Reduce the amount of chemicals in the things that you use. Go back to basics. Read the labels of the stuff you're putting on your skin. You never know when your skin could randomly decide that it has had enough.
If you found this post because you are going through the same thing, you can email me if you'd like. I will try to help you.


**UPDATE 6/5/2015** Patch testing was completed back in March and I am indeed allergic to propolis, a substance in beeswax. I must avoid all products with beeswax (you'd be shocked at how many things contain it). If you suspect a similar allergy, see THIS site for important info, including substances that you may also be allergic to (cross-reactions). There is not a lot of information out there about propolis allergy, so I hope you find this link helpful.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Keeping a Clean House

I don't like to consider myself a housewife but, unfortunately, that is what I am right now. Our big move to Harrisonburg, VA left me displaced. I'll start back to school next semester, but for now I'm left doin' housewife stuff. I guess it isn't SO bad, and it certainly isn't the first time.

Last time I was stuck being a housewife, I didn't have any kind of direction. I was a newlywed in a new city. I found myself cleaning everything in our tiny apartment all in one day and then having nothing left to do for the rest of the week. It was depressing.

This time around, I wanted to do things differently. After browsing pinterest a little bit, I came up with a daily cleaning schedule. Here it is:

And it has made everything so nice. Seriously. I spend anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour a day cleaning and my entire house stays so clean all the time. It is so nice. The tasks listed for each day are the bare minimum. Doing just that I spend about 20 minutes. A lot of times I'll do  extra things that need to be done. For example, today, Monday, I did the ceiling fan in the bedroom. I still only spent a few extra minutes and my room and office are spotless.
This is all in addition to, of course, the everyday stuff that gets done-dishes washed, bed made, cleaning up after myself.... not living like a complete snob.

I want to keep a record of the stuff  that I use to clean each room so that 1) I don't forget and 2) if James ever wants to do anything, he can just come and look here.

For the furniture polish, I use a homemade mixture:

Made out of 3/4 cup olive oil,  1/4 cup vinegar. Shake well, spray on furniture, buff and polish with a microfiber cloth. Works like a charm.
For the mirror/windows, I use this homemade mixture, which I found on this website, and a microfiber cloth:

Made out of 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 1 T cornstarch, and 2 cups of water.

When we first moved in, my floors were driving me nuts. No matter how much I used my Pledge floor polish and squirt mop, our feet were always black by the end of the day. Eventually I caved and went out and bought a Shark "Professional" Steam Mop. WONDERFUL decision. Mopping takes all of five minutes a day, my floors are cleaned and sanitized, and no more black feet. 

For vacuuming, I got tired of pulling out my giant Bissell for quick daily vacuuming, so I spent $20 on a Bissell stick vacuum at Walmart. It comes apart and switches into a hand-vac too, and has a nice attachment on it that I use to clean the baseboards. Made cleaning even easier.

For the kitchen, I have been using this glorious smelling all-natural lavender all purpose cleaner that I got in my Eco-Emi box months ago. It is made by Natural Flower Power and is inexpensive, great stuff. HOWEVER, I want to make my own, so when I run out I'm gonna try this recipe. The stuff from Flower Power cleans my appliances well and leaves my sink so shiny and the smell... oh, the smell!

For the bathroom, I started out trying to use all natural and homemade cleaners. Unfortunately, the bottom of our tub is the textured material that gets SO dirty and would not scrub clean, even with the help of the magic eraser. So I enlisted the help of this stuff:
And, mixed with this really cool long-armed scrubber that I found at Dollar General, my tub stays effortlessly clean. And my sink. And all of the hardware. It is kind of amazing. For the toilet, I use Clorox toilet bowl cleaner and Lysol Wipes. Not environmentally or wallet friendly, but it works for me... for now. If you have alternatives to these, let me know what they are.

That's pretty much it! Easy peasy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Whipped Body Butter (no melt method)

I got some organic unrefined shea butter in my Eco Emi box months ago and have been trying to figure out the best way to use it since. I finally decided on something today, after buying some lavender essential oil yesterday: whipped body butter!

Most recipes out there require that you melt down the shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils, cool them, and then whip them. While researching the best recipe, I found evidence that melting the shea butter takes away a lot of its healing properties. This website offers a great no-melt recipe for body butter.


 -1/2 cup organic unrefined raw shea butter (this is the kind that I used)
-2 tablespoons coconut oil, in its hardened state
-20 drops lavender oil (use whatever essential oil you want- lavender doesn't cover the smell of the shea butter, choose something stronger if you want to mask that smell)

Add the shea butter to a mixing bowl and mash with a fork until it is no longer lumpy. Add coconut oil and continue to mash. Add lavender oil. With a hand mixer on low speed (or in a stand mixer), mix until body butter is whipped and forms stiff peaks (only took a couple of minutes). Store in one 8 oz jar or two 4 oz jars.

So easy and has COUNTLESS wonderful natural properties! It looks delicious too. I don't suggest eating it, though.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Low Cal Chicken Salad Recipe

In a pinch and already over my usual calorie amount for the morning (thanks Bojangles, you irresistible beast), I came up with this low calorie chicken salad recipe. Served over about 1/2 cup of fresh spinach, this was delicious and filling.

-3 T Miracle Whip (gross, I know, but low calorie mayo)
-3 T Pickle Juice
-1 can Kroger all natural canned chicken breast, drained and rinsed
-1 stalk celery, chopped
-3 or 4 Mt. Olive Kosher Petite Dill Pickles, chopped

In small bowl, use fingers (or fork) to separate chicken into strands. It should separate very easily. Combine all other ingridients in bowl with chicken and mix well. Chill before eating if desired. Serve over spinach. One 1/4 cup serving of this recipe is only 95 calories (according to My Fitness Pal's handy recipe calculator). I only had one serving because I had a late breakfast and this was a late lunch, but on a normal day I would eat two servings over 1 cup of spinach.

On another note, I LOVE THIS CANNED CHICKEN. It is all natural. No weird ingredients. I'm really hating that we don't have a Kroger nearby right now. I NEED MORE CANNED CHICKEN.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Kitchen Tablet Holder

Hi you guys.

So I've been seeing a lot of tablet holders around the internet lately. The kind you buy and the kind you make. But the kind you buy cost a lot, and the kind you make require weird things that I don't have (like a child's block and a scrabble tile holder... I don't just have these things at my disposal). I use my tablet a lot in the kitchen because I have cook books downloaded onto it and I enjoy having Pinterest recipes right at my fingertips as I cook... so, today, my husband and I improvised. And this was the lovely result:

Hey look, you can see me. Oops. Hi!

-Small plastic cutting board ($2.69 at Christmas Tree Shops)
-Yardstick ($0.50 at Walmart)
-Plate stand ($0.89 at Christmas Tree Shops)
-Paint, glue

Cut one five inch piece of yardstick and one four inch piece of yardstick. Glue the four inch piece to the bottom of the cutting board. Glue the five inch piece on top of the four inch piece, slightly higher so that it creates a notch for the bottom of your tablet to rest in. Paint the ruler pieces. Set the cutting board in the plate stand. Done. Another cool thing is that you can take out the cutting board and use the plate stand for your recipe books when you aren't using your tablet.



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Plans: Slow Cooker Spiced Apple Juice

Ready for your house to smell amazing? Ready for some affordable and easy fall goodness? This stuff is soooo gooooood warm, and good cold too. I can't wait to make it for my family this Thanksgiving (it will be my first time cooking the big holiday meal)!

Slow Cooker Spiced Apple Juice
Serves 4

-4 cups apple juice
-1 cup water
-1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
-1 lemon, thinly sliced, divided
-1 orange, thinly sliced, divided
-6 cloves
-2 sticks cinnamon
-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine apple juice, water, brown sugar, half of the sliced lemon, half of the orange, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg in slow cooker. Give it all a good stir. Simmer on low for about four hours or on high for about two. Turn to warm to serve. Strain (or use a ladle and take care not to get cloves into mugs) and serve garnished with lemon and orange slices. Cinnamon stick stirrers for each mug would be a nice touch. Or perhaps peppermint stirrers for the Christmas holiday.

Store leftovers in a jug in the refrigerator. I kept everything in the jug so the flavors would continue to mesh.... and it looks festive!



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Braided Scarf: Improvised "Pattern"

Not really a pattern, but rather a set of instructions. I have been seeing many of these in stores so I decided to make one with some wool/soy blend yarn I had laying around. I want to make sure I write down the instructions so I can duplicate it!

(2) 110 yd skeins of worsted weight yarn- you will use about a skein and a fourth. I used Patons SWS in natural pink.
K hook (I crochet kind of tight, so you might want to go down a hook size... but if you use a big hook, you get a nice chunky look)

Chain 85. DC in 2nd ch from hook and in each ch across. Chain 2, turn, repeat until you have three rows. Finish off. Make three of these long strips. When finished, loosely braid them together. Sew the ends of the strips together. Weave in all ends. Tah daaaaaah!