Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: EPIC PRETZELS!

  I'm a snack food lover. Especially crispy, crunchy things. But since I'm on a renal diet, I'm fairly limited in what I can eat. So I have to look for kidney-friendly alternatives, like the snack mix I featured in my kidney diet post on sodium (you can read it here: ).
  But recently I made what could quite possibly be the best snack ever. Really. Best. Snack. EVER. I call this culinary wonder EPIC PRETZELS! Just like that. All caps with an exclamation mark. They are seriously that good. And super addictive. And best of all, really easy to make. Just 5 ingredients and 15 minutes and you too can have EPIC PRETZELS!
  You start by mixing some sugar and cinnamon together in a small dish.

  Next, put your unsalted pretzels into a baking pan.  Add in a few more for good measure (and for munching on while you make the glaze).

  Cut a square of margarine in half, put it in something microwave-proof and pop it in the microwave until it's nice and melty.

  Now add some honey and half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Mix it all up and pour the liquid yumminess over the pretzels.
    Stir up the pretzels until they're all nice and coated.  Go ahead and lick the spatula.
    Pop them in the oven and bake them for about 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the glaze is absorbed.  While the pretzels are getting all yummy in the over, line a large cookie sheet with waxed paper (or parchment paper, or a silicone baking mat...anything that will keep the pretzels from sticking to the pan).
  This next step needs to be done fairly quickly, because these babies will cool FAST.  Spread the pretzels on your prepared cookie sheet, spreading them out as thin as you can.  Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over them.  Now let them cool.  Try to resist eating them, if you can.

And there you have it...supper yummy, super addictive EPIC PRETZELS! Keep them in an airtught container.  I can't tell you how long they'll keep for, because they only last for about 2 days in my house! The full recipe is below.
  Until next time,

  - 5 cups unsalted pretzels
  - 1/4 cup margarine, melted
  - 1/4 cup honey
  - 1/4 cup sugar
  - 1 tsp. cinnamon

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2.  Mix sugar and cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish; set aside.
  3.  Measure the pretzels into a 9"x13" baking pan.
  4.  Measure the margarine into a glass measuring cup and melt it in the microwave.  Add in the honey and half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture and mix thoroughly.  Pour the glaze over the pretzels and stir them until they're well coated.
  5.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until the glaze is absorbed.
  6.  While the pretzels, are baking, line a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with waxed paper, parchment paper, silicone baking sheet, etc.
  7.  Remove the pretzels from the oven and spread them in a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over the pretezels and allow them to cool.  Store in an air-tight container.

Monday, October 26, 2015

No More Wounded Bird

  What do you think of when you hear the word "dialysis"? Is it positive or negative? Do you see dialysis treatments as some horrible ordeal, and dialysis patients as people to be pitied? I've had several people tell me how sorry they are when they hear that I have end-stage renal failure and am on dialysis. It would almost be funny if it wasn't for the fact that they clearly don't understand what dialysis is or what it can do for someone like me. While there are probably a lot of dialysis patients who would say that dialysis IS a horrible ordeal, and that it's not worth the pain and the hassle, I have a different take.
  Let me start by painting you a picture of where I was just three months ago. Think about the things you do on a daily basis. All those small little things you do that you don't really think about. Getting dressed. Making a meal. Doing household chores. Looking after children or pets. Going out to do a few errands or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend. They probably seem pretty trivial. But imagine taking 20 minutes to get dressed; not because you can't decide what to wear, but because it takes so much effort to just put on your clothes. That's why most days I would stay in my pajamas; it was just easier that way. If you have stairs in your house, you probably go up and down them many times a day without thinking twice. But imagine not being able to do two short flights of stairs because the effort leaves you huffing and puffing, and you need to stop halfway going both directions because your body is so overloaded with excess fluid that you can't breathe. Have you ever had a really bad, itchy rash or a huge mosquito bite that itches incessantly and you just can't find relief? Take that feeling and multiply it by 50, and then imagine feeling that all over your body. That's what it was like for me because of the high levels of phosphorous in my blood. Have you ever had days when you're so tired you can hardly keep your eyes open, or had a night when, no matter what you did, you just couldn't get to sleep? Imagine dealing with both of those conditions at the same time for days on end. Kidney failure causes both extreme fatigue and insomnia. So even on days when I was so tired I could drop in my tracks, I couldn't get the sleep I needed at night to help me feel better. Think of the time when you were so sick you wanted to die. And then imagine feeling like that every day, with no end in sight...
  Kidney failure is brutal, and it sucks big time. But luckily for me and thousands of other people like me, there are treatments available that can help ease our suffering. Dialysis is one of those treatments. From a purely technical standpoint, dialysis takes the place of the non-functioning kidneys and filters the  waste materials and excess minerals and fluid from our bodies. The method in which this is done varies depending on whether you opt for peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis.  But the end result is the same.
  But the feeling! There almost aren't words to describe how good I feel. I've spent a good portion of the last few years feeling like absolute crap. I've had some really dark days when I could totally understand why alcoholics drink or addicts do drugs to forget their pain. I would have done almost anything to forget, even if it was only for a little while, how terrible I felt. I battled with depression and anxiety but I was afraid to tell anyone beause of the labels that are associated with mental health issues. I struggled every day to just get through it. I was like a wonded bird, huddled in a cage, kept there by circumstances beyond my control.
  And now? This bird is healed and ready to fly! I feel like I've been set free to soar with the wind beneath my wings. A whole new world brimming with possibility has opened up before me, and I want to experience everything it has to offer. It's as if a new side of me has emerged, and kicked that other sick, miserable chick's butt to the curb. I feel strong, and confident, and I'm just so damn HAPPY! I've been doing so many things again that I couldn't before: cooking and creating and writitng and walking with the dogs and going out... I have more energy now than I've had in a really long time, and it feels amazing. I FEEL AMAZING! I want to laugh and dance and sing and shout and high-five everyone I see. Everything suddenly looks so much brighter, and I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel again. Life just feels so amazingly GOOD right now.
  So don't feel sorry for me because I'm on dialysis. Dialysis has given me my life back. I'm ready to take on the world and kick its ass! I've spent so long feeling like crap that I've forgotten how it feels to feel good, but now I'm being reminded. And that is truly a wonderful feeling.

  Until next time,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thankful Thursday

  It's a beautiful fall day here today.  The sky is blue, the leaves on the trees (what's left of them, anyway) are a brilliant gold and the air is crisp.  Man, I love fall!  I love sweaters and boots and flannel sheets and pajamas and pumpkin everything (except that I can't pumpkin because it' high in potassium)... And fall is also when one of my favourite holidays takes place...Thanksgiving.  In addition to all the yummy food, I also like to take stock of the many blessings in my life.
  I'm thankful that today, kidney disease isn't the death sentence it was fifty years ago, and that there are treatments such as transplantation and dialysis that can help renal patients like me live a relatively normal life.  I'm thankful for the many doctors and nurses that take such good care of me, especially my dialysis nurse Lana.
  I'm thankful for the love and support of my family and friends.  There's no way that I could get through all of what I have without them.  I know I don't say it nearly often enough, but I love and appreciate each and every one of you more than I could ever express.
  I'm thankful for all of the wonderful, supportive people that I've met through the various Facebook support groups I'm part of.  I can't tell you what it means to have found communities of people like you who really "get" me and who give me such great advice and encouragement when I need it.
  I'm thankful for the renal diet.  That might sound really strange, given how limited it is, but it's help me not only unleash my creativity, but also realize how much fun it is to cook.  I'm thankful for all of the online diet resources I've come across, and for the people who have taken time to share their recipes with the kidney community.
  I'm thankful for the roof over my head, the clothes on my back and the food in my belly.  I'm thankful that, even though we have had tough times, we've never had to wonder where our next meal is going to come from.  I'm thankful that I have somewhere to come home to, and people to come home to.
  I'm thankful for my pets, both the ones I have now and the ones that have crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  I'm especially thankful for my Molly.  When I'm having a bad day or I'm not feeling well, there's absolutely nothing like puppy kisses and snuggles to make everything better.  Look at this face; doesn't she just make you want to smile?
  I'm thankful for my hobbies, especially since I've been home on disability.  I've had a lot of time on my hands, and my crafts have really helped to fill some of it.  I'm thankful for the craft groups on Facebook that I've joined and the members who share their creations and patterns and inspiration.
  I'm thankful for this blog, and the people who read it and give me feedback.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to share my story and my thoughts.  And I'm thankful for the Internet, and Facebook and Pinterest and all of the other (too numerous to mention) websites that I visit on a daily basis.
  Most of all, I'm thankful that God calls me His child.  I'm thankful that, no matter how many times I screw up, He always forgives me.  I'm thankful that He comes looking for me when I lose my way.  I'm thankful that He's always there, when things are sunny and when things are stormy.
  In the season of thankfulness, what are you thankful for? Take some time to think about it, and be sure to let the important people in your life know how much you appreciate them.
  Until next time,


The Kidney Kitchen: Protein and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to the final chapter of my renal diet series! I've enjoyed sharing my information, story and recipes with you, and I hope you've been able to learn something in return.  This post looks at protein.
  We all know that eating enough protein is an important part of staying healthy.  Protein helps our bodies to grow, repair tissues, and heal wounds and infections.  The average adult should eat between 40 to 65 grams of protein every day.
  But protein can be tricky to manage if you have kidney disease.  Many renal patients have to limit their protein intake.  I was first put on a low protein diet when I was still seeing the pediatric nephrologist.  Unfortunately I started losing a lot of weight.  Those who know me know that I am not a large person, so the weight loss was definitely a problem.  The dietitian at the time then wanted me to increase my calories.  Most of the foods that you associate with calories also have protein, so it was interesting trying to balance my reduced protein diet and my increased calorie diet.
  When we eat foods that contain protein, protein waste products are created. Healthy kidneys have millions of nephrons that filter this waste. It’s then removed from the body in the urine.  However, for someone who has kidney disease, their kidneys have lost the ability to remove protein waste and it starts to build up in the blood. Dietary protein intake for patients with CKD is based on the stage of kidney disease, nutrition status and body size.  For patients who are in stage 5 and have kidneys that work at less than 10 percent, dialysis is needed to take over for the failed kidneys or until a kidney transplant is possible.  Dialysis removes protein waste from the blood and a low protein diet is no longer needed. Unfortunately, some amino acids are removed during dialysis. A higher protein intake is needed to replace lost protein.  This is where I am right now.  I need to consume between 4 to 4 1/2 ounces of protein every day.  To get an idea of how much that it, look at a deck of cards; a piece of meat that size would be about 4 to 4 1/2 ounces.
  What do you think of when you think of protein foods? Probably animal products such as meat and eggs.  But dairy products, dried peas/beans/lentils, and nuts and nut butters also contain protein.  However some of these foods also contain potassium and/or phosphorous, so depending on your diet you may need to limit them.  In addition to low protein, I am also on a low potassium, low phosphorous diet, so I have to limit things like dairy and peanut butter (in my pre-renal diet life peanut butter was its own food group, so that one has been really hard for me!).
  One thing that I used to really enjoy before I started the renal diet was fruit smoothies: yogurt, juice and fresh fruit.  Yum! But yogurt is high in protein, potassium and phosphorous.  I did some looking online, and while there are lots of recipes for HIGH protein smoothies, but there are no recipes for LOW protein smoothies.  Fortunately, I had a list of recipes from the dietitian that I saw when I was a child to help me.  I went looking for ingredients, and I came up with this recipe.

  Low-Protein Berry Smoothie
  - 1/2 cup Chapmans Triple Berry Sorbet
  - 1/4 cup unfortified Rice Dream
  - 1/2 cup fresh or 1/4 cup frozen berries, whatever kind you like

  Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Then pour into a glass and enjoy!  You can also try this with different flavours of sorbet or sherbet and fruit and come up with your own flavour combinations.

  Thanks for checking out my renal diet series! And stay tuned for more posts...I'm already planning a Thanksgiving-themed post about how I modify some of our favourite dishes to be kidney-friendly.

  Until next time,

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: Sodium and the Renal Diet

  Thank you for sticking with me, and welcome to part 4 of my renal diet series.  Today we're going to look at sodium.
  We all know the dangers of consuming too much salt...high blood pressure, a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, a higher risk of congestive heart failure.  People with kidney disease can also experience swelling (called edema), puffiness in the face and difficulty breathing.  I had no idea that the shortness of breath I was suffering with before I started dialysis was due to all the excess fluid my body was hanging onto.  Consuming too much salt can make you feel very thirsty and want to drink more, which can lead to fluid weight gain and the above-mentioned symptoms.
  Sodium is found in almost all pre-packaged and processed foods.  Some examples of high sodium foods are:
  - canned soups (the so-called "healthy" soups have even more sodium in them than their regular full-fat counterparts)
  - breakfast and deli meats
  - frozen dinners
  - pre-made sauces
  - fast food
  - some canned vegetables
  - snack foods such as chips and pretzels
  - packaged side dishes
  - low-fat products such as cream cheese, salad dressings and
The easiest way to limit sodium intake is to simply avoid pre-packaged and processed foods.  I make almost all of my meals using fresh ingredients.  That includes snack foods too.  I have found a few low-sodium packaged snacks that I can enjoy without consuming sodium (unsalted pretzels and unsalted corn nuts that I get from Bulk Barn are two of my favourites).  I also modified the following recipe to make it kidney-friendly and low sodium.  I'm posting both the original version and my kidney-friendly version.  As they say in the Twix commercials: try both and pick a side!

Honey-Glazed Snack Mix
  - 5 cups Crispix cereal (you can also use Rice Chex, Corn Chex or a mixture of both)
  - 3 cups mini pretzels
  - 2 cups peanuts
  - 2 cups Cheerios
  - 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  - 1/2 cup honey

  1.  Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2.  In a jelly roll pan or large roaster, combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts; set aside.
  3.  In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey.  Pour over cereal mixture and stir until everything is well coated.
  4.  Bake for 10 minutes, and then stir.  Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until cereal is glazed and all of the honey mixture has been absorbed.  Immediately pour snack mix out onto waxed paper and cool completely.  Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Kidney-Friendly Honey-Glazed Snack Mix
  - 5 cups Crispix cereal
  - 3 cups unsalted mini pretzel twists
  - 2 cups unsalted corn nuts
  - 1/2 cup melted margarine
  - 1/2 cup honey

  1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
   2. In a jelly roll pan or large roaster, combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts; set aside.
   3. In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter and honey. Pour over cereal mixture and stir until everything is well coated.
   4. Bake for 10 minutes, and then stir. Continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, or until cereal is glazed and all of the honey mixture has been absorbed. Immediately pour snack mix out onto waxed paper and cool completely. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Note: Mix up your snack mix by adding unsalted popcorn, tiny crackers or other kinds of kidney-friendly cereal.

Until next time,

The Kidney Kitchen: Phosphorous and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to part 3 of my kidney diet series.  This post takes a look at phosphorus.
  Phosphorous is another mineral that we get from eating certain foods.  It helps to build strong bones and teeth and muscles and nerves to work properly, convert food into energy and helps with metabolism.  If your phosphorous level is too high, it can cause your blood calcium level to drop, which can lead to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures or breaks.  It can also cause itching all over your body, red eyes, bone pain and calcium deposits in the blood vessels and organs.  Examples of foods that are high in phosphorous include:
  - milk and dairy products
  - cola drinks and some bottled iced teas and lemonades
  - coffee
  - chocolate
  - bran
  - whole grain breads, rices and pastas
  - wild rice
  - nuts and seeds, and butters made from them
  - dried peas, beans and lentils
  - beer
  - quick breads, biscuits, cornbread, pancakes or waffles made from mixes
  - pizza, lasagna, tacos and other "fast foods"
  In addition to limiting phosphorous-containing foods, another way to help control phosphorous levels is by using phosphorous binders.  Phosphorous binders generally contain calcium.  Your body breaks down the binder and releases the calcium into the bloodstream, where it binds with the phosphorous in your blood.  It is then excreted when you have a bowel movement.  I take Ultra Tums as my phosphorous binder.
  Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE chocolate.  So you can imagine my reaction when I found out that I would have to seriously limit my chocolate consumption.  But then I found this awesome recipe from DaVita for low phosphorous fudge! Hooray!

Low Phosphorous Fudge
  - 2/3 cup half & half creamer
  - 1-2/3 cups granulated sugar
  - 1 cup marshmallow crème
  - 1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1.  Grease a 9" square pan with nonstick spray or butter.
  2.  Combine half & half and sugar in a large heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Stir constantly and continue a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
  3.  Remove pan from heat and add marshmallow crème, chocolate chips and vanilla. Stir until marshmallow crème is melted.
  4.  Quickly pour into a greased pan. Cool; cut into 3" x 1-1/2" pieces, making 18 pieces.

Until next time,

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Kidney Kitchen: Potassium and the Renal Diet

  Welcome to part 2 of my 5-part series on my kidney diet.  This post will look at potassium and why I have to limit my potassium intake.
  Potassium is a mineral which helps your nerves and muscles to work properly. It also keeps electrolytes and the acid/base content of your blood in balance, promotes muscle growth and sustains healthy brain function. You need some potassium for good health, but too much or too little can affect your heartbeat. When your kidneys don't work properly, they can't regulate the potassium levels in your blood, and it can build up. A potassium level that gets too high (or hyperkalemia) can lead to a heart attack. A potassium level that is too low (also called hypokalemia) can cause muscle weakness or cramps, or even muscle paralysis.  By controlling my intake of potassium, I can help prevent these problems. Examples of foods that are high in potassium include:
- potatoes: red, white, sweet...they're all high in potassium
- dried peas, beans, nuts and seeds
- dairy products such as milk, pudding, ice cream and cheese
- dried fruit such as apricots, dates, figs and raisins
- fresh fruit like bananas, cantaloupe, oranges and kiwi
- tomatoes and tomato products like ketchup, tomato sauce and tomato juice
- All-Bran and other bran cereal
- whole grain breads and cereals
- salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride
- sodium-free baking powder
- sweets like black licorice, chocolate and molasses
- vegetables such as artichokes, spinach, pumpkin and large amounts of mushrooms
You may be thinking that the list of what I can't eat is longer than what I can eat. Well, you'd be right. But there are ways that I can still eat my favourite foods. Take, for example, the humble potato. There are ways that I can cook potatoes to reduce the amount of potassium. One method is to cut the potatoes into small pieces and double cook them. To double cook potatoes, you bring them to a boil and then drain and rinse them and continue cooking them in fresh water. Another option is to leach them in water for 3-4 hours (leaching is a fancy term for soaking). Leaching is what I do when I prepare the scalloped potatoes below.
  Potassium can be hard to control, because it's found in most fruits and vegetables.  But there are still lots of options that I choose from: peaches, sweet peppers, cabbage, apples, celery, turnip...and this is just a few.
  And when I feel like treating myself a little< I make these scalloped potatoes.  In place of milk, I use unfortified Rice Dream rice beverage as the "cream" component.

Jen's Kidney-Friendly Scalloped Potatoes
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (add more or less onion, depending on your tastes)
4 tbsp. margarine
4 tbsp. flour
2 tsp. no-salt seasoning of your choice (I like either Epicure Fine Herbes blend or Clubhouse No Salt Added Original blend)
2 cups unfortified rice milk
4 tbsp. herb and garlic cream cheese, optional

1. Slice the potatoes and put them to soak in a bowl of cold water for at least 3 to 4 hours, draining and rinsing the potatoes after 2 hours and putting them in fresh water.
2. When you're ready to make the potatoes, drain and rinse them and let them dry for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6"x9" baking dish and layer the potatoes and onions in it; set aside.
3. Melt the margarine in a medium-sized pot. Whisk in the flour and seasoning until smooth, then whisk in the rice milk. If desired, add in some herb and garlic cream cheese. Heat the sauce until it boils and thickens, stirring often to keep the sauce from sticking and/or burning.
4.  Pour the sauce over the pan of potatoes and onions.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until potatoes are softened.  Then enjoy!

Until next time,

The Kidney Kitchen: You Want Me To Follow What Kind of Diet?

 Welcome to the first part of my five-part series on the renal diet that I follow.  I wanted to share some insight on one of the biggest ways that kidney disease affects my everyday life, and how I still manage to eat like a king on a renal diet.  **Please note that these posts are based on information I was given for my particular situation.  This information may not be appropriate for you, and you should always consult your own doctor about your particular situation.
 So... what the heck is a renal diet, anyway? In the simplest sense, it's a diet designed to help reduce the workload on failing kidneys while still allowing the person to maintain proper nutrition. You've all taken health class, and know about Canada's Food Guide and the four food groups and how proper nutrition is essential for helping us to stay healthy.  But what you may not know is that there are a lot of foods that, while they are considered healthy by Canada's Food Guide standards, may not be that good for kidney patients. As an example, consider that milk you poured on your breakfast cereal this morning.  Milk is considered to be very good for you.  It's full of calcium, potassium, phosphorous and protein and lots of vitamins.  Many Canadians (if not, most Canadians) do not consume enough milk products.  However, all of those good things that milk has in it may not be so good for someone whose kidneys don't work properly.  Milk and diary products are something that is commonly limited on a renal diet (more about this below).
  To really understand what the renal diet is trying to accomplish, you have to first understand what it is that your kidneys do.  Your kidneys perform 3 essential tasks:
  - they regulate the amount of water in your body
  - they remove wastes and excess minerals from the body
  - they produce hormones
When kidney function decreases, the kidneys are unable to perform these tasks as efficiently as they could before.  That's where the renal diet can help.  Following a renal diet can also help alleviate some of the symptoms of kidney failure. However following a renal diet can be very complicated, particularly if you have other health concerns that require a special diet, such as diabetes or food allergies.
  So that brings us back to the renal diet. Let me start by saying that there is no one renal diet. This is not a "one size fits all" type of deal. The dietary restrictions vary based on the individual and factors such as what stage of kidney failure they're in and what their lab results show. In my case, I have to control my intake of sodium, potassium, phosphorous and protein. I call it my "Low S3P diet".  Now that I am on dialysis, I also need to reduce the amount of fluid I consume, but that's a topic for another post.
  Let's look again at that milk.  Milk contains potassium, phosphorous and and protein - the 3 P's.  I can still have milk and dairy products, but I need to really limit how much I eat or drink.  (In case you're wondering, I'm allowed two 1/2 cup servings of things like milk and yogurt, or 1 oz. of hard cheese every day.)  As a result, I've been looking for products that I can have in place of milk and dairy.  Instead of white milk, I use unfortified rice milk.  Instead of ice cream, I've just discovered the most awesome triple berry sorbet (made by Chapman's - a Canadian company!).  And there is a dairy and soy-free cheese product that I want to try.  You can see five of my favourite kidney-friendly foods to cook with in this post here.
  After reading all this, you might be wondering how on earth I manage to figure out what I can and can't eat.  The most valuable resource I have is the renal dietitians at the hospital.  They can best help me figure out what I should and should not eat.  There are also lots of great resources online; I've created a list in the left sidebar of some of my favourites.  Feel free to check them out for some great kidney-friendly recipes, and don't be afraid to try some of them yourself!  Finally, I use the nutrition facts table and ingredient lists on packaged foods.  I know what I can and can't eat, and this information helps me figure out whether the item is something falls within my diet.  It's important to use both because manufacturers are not required to list potassium and phosphorous content in the nutrition facts table.  By looking at the ingredient list, you can easily see if the food contains potassium or phosphorous additives.
  If you're still reading this, thank you! I realize this is a lot of information to get through.  But I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about my diet.  In the next part of the series, I will be taking a detailed look at potassium and sharing a recipe I created.

  Until next time,


Friday, May 8, 2015

The Friday Five: Buh-Bye Dry!

  One of the biggest side effects/symptoms of kidney failure that I deal with is dryness...dry hair, dry skin, dry nails, and so on.  The dryness is caused as a result of my phosphorous levels being too high, which causes the moisture to leach out of my hair, skin and nails.  The dry skin is the worst; I get SO itchy!! I've tried a whole variety of different products to relieve the dryness and the itching, and I've found some that I really like!  Instead of five products, this list is going to be a little different: I'm sharing my favourite products for five different problem areas.

  For dry lips:
  1.  Burt's Bees lip balms
  I absolutely love my Bees! I've tried a few of the different varieties, but the best ones (IMHO) are the Nourishing lip balm with mango butter, and the Ultra Conditioning lip balm with kokum butter.

  2.  Avon Moisture Therapy Lip Balm Stick
  This is my other go-to lip balm stick.  It goes on so smoothly and the moisture lasts for quite a while.  Avon frequently has them on sale for $0.99, so I stock up.

  3.  C.O. Bigelow My Favourite Lip Balm
  This one is a liquid balm and it's amazing! It's got shea butter, sweet almond oil and wheat germ, and it starts moisturizing right away.  There's also a nighttime balm too.

  For dry skin:
  1.  Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash
  Have you ever had a bad rash that itched and itched and made you feel like you'd never find relief? Imagine feeling like that all over your body, even on your scalp.  That's what happens to me when my phosphorous gets too high and causes my skin to dry out.  When that happens, I turn to my Aveeno body wash.  It's got oatmeal and emollients in it, and when I use it with my exfoliating wash cloth it helps my skin feel so much better!

  2.  Avon Moisture Therapy Calming Relief Body Wash and Lotion
  These two products also contain oatmeal, which is GREAT for itchy skin! I usually have a tube of the body wash in the shower next to my Aveeno.  For extra itch-relief, I slather myself with the lotion when I get out.

  3.  Avon Skin So Soft Supreme Nourishment Body Wash and Lotion
  This is a fairly new product from Avon, and it's wonderful! And it has macadamia oil in it, so it smells good too!

  4.  Curel Itch Defense Lotion
  I found this just the other day when I was out looking for something new to help my itchy skin.  OH. MY.  GOODNESS.  This stuff is amazing! It soaks in really quickly and it doesn't leave you feel all yechy and greasy! Winning!

  For dry hair:
  1.  Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Collection
  Even my hair seems to be getting dried out, so a good moisturizing shampoo is a MUST! This collection is shampoo and conditioner as well as a 2-in-1 shampoo conditioner.  There's also a styling mousse.  It's got coconut and orchid flower extracts, so it's a treat for your nose too!
  2.  Pantene Moisture Mist Detangling Spray
  I started buying this when I had longer hair and I needed a good detangling spray to use after shampooing.  Along with detangling, it also helps moisturize dry hair.  I spritz a little bit in my hair when I get out of the shower, work it through and then blow-dry it for a few minutes...and voila! Softer hair!
  3.  Biolage ExquisiteOil Hair Treatment
  At $26, this stuff is a bit spendy, but it works really well! My mom bought some when she got her hair cut last week and she let me try it.  Just a couple of drops on the ends of your fingers is all you need.  Work it into your hair as an overnight treatment.  You'll actually be able to feel the difference right away!

  For a dry face:
  1.  St. Ives Fresh Apricot Scrub
  The only thing I use to wash my face! I love how soft this makes my skin feel after I use it.  It's got natural exfoliants in it, so it gets rid of all the built-up nastiness on my skin and gets it really clean.

  2.  Aveeno Positively Radiant Toner
  I had one toner where, after I put it on, I could actually feel my skin tightening.  Not so with this one from Aveeno.  It's got soy in it, and it's incredibly gentle.  Which is really good when my skin is dry and irritated.
  3.  Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer
  After cleansing and toning, it's time to moisturize! Along with my Aveeno toner, I use this moisturizer.  It's also gentle and on my dry irritated skin, and it makes it feel really soft and smooth.

  For dry hands and nails:
  1.  The Body Shop Almond Hand & Nail Cream
  I've been using this stuff for years! Working with paper on a daily basis makes your hands really dry.  I tried a sample of this at The Body Shop one day, and I've been using it ever since.
  2.  Rose Cuticle Oil
  I don't have a brand for this, but rose oil is a miracle worker for dry cuticles.  Just rip a tiny dab into each of your cuticles to instantly soften them.  And it smells nice too!

Well, that's my list of anti-dry products! Hopefully there's something here that you use already, or something that sounds interesting that you want to try.  If you have a favourite product that's not on the list, share it in the comments below.

Until next time,

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Saturday Six: Mother's Day Gifts That Give Back

  Okay, so I'm a day late with this post.  But in my defense, I was out all day yesterday, and by the time I got home, I was wiped out.  And I actually have six items for this week's list, so it just seemed to lend itself more to being written today.
  Since Mother's Day is almost upon us, I thought that this was a perfect time to share some unique gift ideas I've come across.  Not only are these gifts that Mom or that other special lady in your life sure to appreciate, but they all give back in some way.  And since our Moms spent most of their lives giving to us, what better way to say thank you than by giving something back in her name!
  1.  Make a donation to Mom's favourite charity in her name.
  The options here are endless! Animal organizations, church organizations, local community groups... the list is only limited by your imagination! If you're not sure what her favourite charity is, make a donation of food and/or cash to the local food bank.  Even the youngest members of the family can get involved with picking out food items to donate.
  2.  Help a new mom and baby.
  I came across this idea just the other day when I went to World Vision's website ( to make a donation to the earthquake relief in Nepal.  One of the new gifts that they have is a "Healthy Mom and Baby" package.  For $100, you can help provide an expectant or new mom with things like prenatal vitamins, delivery kits, workshops on mothering skills and more.  And thanks to the Canadian government's matching program, your $100 becomes $300!
  3.  Help protect baby elephants.
  When researching gift ideas for this post, I came across an organization called World Animal Protection (  From their website: "World Animal Protection is a global charity and our mission is to move the world to protect animals. We inspire people to take action for animals and work responsibly and sustainably, collaborating with non-government organizations (NGO), governments, businesses and local communities to put animal welfare on the global agenda. A baby elephant's bond with its mother is among the closest of any animal, so a gift to help keep baby elephants with their mothers and out of the ivory trade is a perfect way to celebrate your bond with your own mom.
  4.  Buy a basket.
  This is another one that I found when I started researching this post. ( brings together women artisans from Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi who hand-weave beautiful baskets and trivets using fair-trade and ethically-sourced natural materials.  Make this gift even more special by filling a basket with other fair-trade items such as coffee, stationery, jewellery or bath products.
  5.  Support the mom shop.
  The mom shop is an initiative by Plan Canada ( that provides vocational training, financial literacy courses and Village Savings and Loans programs to help women work together to create small businesses to support themselves and their families.
  6.  Help make the world a better place.
  This one is probably my favourite.  Changing the Present ( provides a whole list of organizations that you can support, from helping to protect endangered wolves to helping the ASPCA microchip pets.  There are so many things to choose from, you can give gifts to each member of your family all year long!

And if you need even more ideas, google "charity gifts" and browse through the endless options online.

Until next time,

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Facing My Fears ... Again

  This past Saturday, I celebrated 15 years since I received a new kidney from my mom.  Sometimes it seems so long ago, and other times it seems like it was only yesterday.  It's been quite a ride.  It hasn't always been smooth.  I had two rejection episodes that require IV meds to treat, which require going to the hospital 2 days a week for 3 months in a row.  The second round of meds caused really bad migraines.  During the second round of treatment I also received an IV infusion of a really strong immunosuppressant to wipe out my immune system, which made me really sick.  And because of the immunosuppressants, I get sick at the drop of a hat.  But in spite of all that, I wouldn't change a minute of it.  After all, anything worth having is worth fighting for!
  As much as this is a happy occasion, it's also somewhat bittersweet.  As you may know, my kidney is failing and I'm about to embark on a new phase of my journey with kidney disease: dialysis.  My nephrologist is in the process of having the paperwork to refer me to the dialysis team filled out, and sometime soon I will be undergoing surgery to have a catheter implanted in my abdomen to facilitate this.  (I'll do another post on the catheterization and the dialysis process another time.)  I've been really scared about this part of my journey; much the same way I was scared before the transplant.  But, as my cousin Kristi said in a recent Facebook post, "God is at work. I have no idea of the outcome, and I am totally okay with that. The shifting is unsettling, but we are finding our core strength through the process."  Her words really struck me, and once again I had the feeling that God was smacking me upside the head to get my attention (I have to admit that I don't always learn his lessons the easy way).  I am okay with the outcome, because I've seen what he can take what seems like the very worst circumstances and turn them into wonderful things.  I've seen that by going through these trials, I'm being made stronger.  And most surprisingly, somehow, somewhere along the way, I realized...I'm not afraid anymore.
  Back in 2013, I wrote a post about my trip to Mexico for my friend Shannon's wedding, and the epiphany I had about facing my fear of heights the day we went rappelling.  (You can read about it here.)  In retrospect, I firmly believe that God helped me to face that fear so that I would be able to deal with a bigger fear when I was hit just a couple of months later: the fear of my transplanted kidney failing.  Since I found about the kidney failure and that I would require dialysis (something I didn't have to do before I had the transplant because I had a compatible living donor), I've been scared: scared of the catheter surgery, scared of what they were going to be putting inside me, scared of the dialysis process, scared of what my life might look like once I started dialysis... I think you get the idea.  I can't put my finger on just when it happened, but somewhere along the way the notion got into my head that if I learned about what I was facing, that it wouldn't be so scary.  So I did just that.  I've joined a number of groups on Facebook and read about other people's experiences with peritoneal dialysis (aka PD).  And  I got out the handbook that I was given at the hospital about living with kidney disease and read all about PD in it.  Turns out that little voice that was yapping in my ear was right: learning about PD really has made it less scary.  Today I realized WHY that little voice was yapping in my ear...
  A few weeks ago, I discovered a wonderful blog called The Artist and The Architect (there's a link to it in my blog list at right).  I love this lady's writing; after reading her posts I often feel as if she's speaking directly to me.  Today I read a post that she had written called "Bravery for The Anxiety-Ridden {Five Ways to Be Brave}".  One of the ways that she writes about is this:
"Understand that the very thing you fear will be the thing that conquers your fear."  Hello! When I read that, I suddenly realized that this was exactly the reason I had been moved to learn about my upcoming dialysis.  God used the very thing that I feared to help me overcome my fear of it.  It's easy to be afraid of that thing which you know nothing about; it's much harder to be afraid if you make that thing your friend and learn about it.
  Sometimes when we're going through difficult times, it can seem like nothing good could ever come of the situation.  But oftentimes, when we look back on those times, we realize that it was then that we learned some of the best lessons life can teach us.  And now, if you'll excuse me, I have an anniversary to celebrate!

Until next time,

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Friday Five: Cooking For My Kidneys

  Happy Friday, my friends!
  Most weeknights, our local news is followed by eTalk, a Canadian-based entertainment show.  On Fridays, they have a segment called ... wait for it ... The Friday Five.  It's made up of their favourite clips and stories from the past week.  I have lots of favourite things, so I thought, "Why not do my own Friday Five and share my favourite things?".
  This week's theme is "Cooking for my Kidneys", and I'm using it to introduce my upcoming series of posts "In The Kidney Kitchen".  I love to eat, but my kidney failure has necessitated some changes to my diet.  However, as you will learn, I have found many ways to follow my kidney diet and still eat really well.  And one of my strategies involves the use of the following products.

5.  Campbell's No-Salt Added Broths
Available in beef, chicken and vegetable, these ready-to-use broths have only a fraction of sodium of the original versions.  For example, the NSA chicken broth has only 40mg of sodium per 150 mL serviing, compared to 380mg in the 30% Less Sodium and Organic versions, and 570 mg in the Original version.  That's a HUGE difference!
4. Rice Dream Unfortified Rice Beverage
I LOVE this stuff! I've been looking for a low potassium, low phosphorous, low protein dairy substitute since I found out I had to start following a renal diet, and this is it! I use this anytime I make a recipe that calls for milk or cream, and I haven't found that there isn't any difference to the taste. Some of my favourite uses are French toast, scrambled eggs and my new favourite alfredo sauce.

3. Unsalted Corn Nuts
One of the things that is tricky to find when you're on a renal diet is a good, munchy snack. But if you look around, there are things you can find that are suitable. One of my new favourites is unsalted corn nuts. I buy them in bulk at Bulk Barn. They're great on their own straight from the bag, but I'm working on adapting my favourite honey-glazed snack mix recipe to make honey-glazed corn nuts. You could probably also use them in places of nuts in homemade Poppycock. (Note: they don't work so well as a nut substitute in butter tarts though, unless you eat all the tarts as soon as you bake them - after sitting for a few days the corn nuts get really tough.)

1. Clubhouse No-Salt Original Seasoning Blend & Epicure Fine Herbes Seasoning Blend
I couldn't decide which of these products I liked best, so I'm giving them a tie for first place. Seasoning with salt on a renal diet is not an option, but I don't care for the Mrs. Dash seasonings (one of the first ingredients in all of the blends is black pepper, which I not only don't like but which also gives me heartburn). I'm also not good at creating my own blends. So I've been looking for other options. The first one I found was the Epicure Fine Herbes blend. It's SO good! I haven't found anything that it doesn't taste good in. This morning I used it to add flavour to a creamy omelet filling with crab and mushrooms - YUM! Then I found the Clubhouse No-Salt blend. It's got pretty much the same herbs and spices as the Mrs. Dash table blend without the black pepper. Perfect! There's also a garlic and herb and an herb and pepper blend.

I hope you've enjoyed this first look at some of my favourite things.  I'm looking forward to being able to share more in the coming weeks!

Until next time,

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

God Is Bigger Than The Bogeyman

  Fear can be an overwhelming thing.  Especially at 3 o'clock in the morning when you can't sleep, and it's dark and lonely, and fear sneaks up on you and grabs you in its tentacles.  I don't know what it is about that time, but things always seem the worst at 3 o'clock in the morning.  Especially fear.
  One of the best lessons I learned about handling fear came from Veggie Tales.  For those who are unfamiliar with VT, it's a collection of animated videos aimed at teaching kids (and adults too!) about the Bible and starring a cast of vegetables.  Some of the stories are veggie versions of Bible stories (Dave and the Giant Pickle, Josh and the Big Wall), some are imaginative re-tellings of classic stories (Sweetpea Beauty, Robin Good and His No-So-Merry Men) and some are more abstract lessons in Christian values (Madame Blueberry, which is about thankfulness, King George and the Ducky, which is about not being selfish).  Each movie teaches something using relatable stories and some really fun songs.  Those who are fans of the series also know about the Silly Songs With Larry (the part of the show where Larry comes out and sings a silly song) but that's a story for another day.
  Back to the lesson about fear.  In Tales From The Crisper, Junior Asparagus gets scared after staying up and watching a scary Frankencelery movie.  With the help of Bob the tomato, Junior learns that there's no reason to be scared because God is bigger than any monster (and that Frankencelery is really just a guy named Phil from Cleveland).  The "theme song" of the movie is called "God is Bigger Than The Boogie Man":
  God is bigger than the boogie man!
  He's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV.
  Yes, God is bigger than the boogie man,
  And He's watching out for you and me!
  (This song is available for download on iTunes.)
  The lesson that Junior learned is just as important for us to remember.  There's no reason to be afraid of the "monsters" in our lives when we have God on our side.  Even the scariest Frankencelery is no match for our God! And when daylight comes, we might even realize that what kept us awake all night is really not that frightening at all...just a guy named Phil from Cleveland.
  So the next time you're awake and scared at 3 o'clock in the morning because of a monster, try this: sing this song a few times and see if that doesn't just chase that nasty ol' monster away!

  Until next time,

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Book Review

  Shortly after I found out that my kidney was failing in 2013, I was in my favourite Christian bookstore and my eye caught a new book by Max Lucado.  The title was "You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help For Your Turbulent Times".  I immediately felt like God was trying to get my attention.  There may as well have been a giant neon sign hanging above it saying "This is what you need! Right here!"  A few weeks ago, I finally got around to reading it.
  Let me start by saying that I have read many of Max's books, and I've loved all of them.  There's just something about the way he writes.  I feel like I'm sitting in a sunny cafe drinking coffee and talking with my best friend.  There are always so many moments in the books where I see myself.
  This is by far my favourite book of his that I've read.  In this book, Max uses the Biblical story of Joseph to illustrate how God uses the worst circumstances in our lives for good.
It may take time, and it won't be easy.  But God will use the bad in our lives to do good.
  Some quotes from the book:
  "You'll get through this.  It won't be painless.  It won't be quick.  But God will use this mess for good.  Don't be foolish or naive.  But don't despair either.  With God's help, you'll get through this."
  "Joseph would be the first to tell you that life in the pit stinks.  Yet for all its rottenness, doesn't the pit do this much? It forces you to look upward.  Someone from up there must come down here to give you a hand.  God did for Joseph.  And at the right time, in the right way, he will do the same for you."
  "In God's hands, intended evil becomes eventual good."

  If you or you someone you know is going through a storm in their life, then you need this book.  It won't solve all your problems, but it will give you the encouragement you need to keep going in spite of them.  You can find it online ar or, or it may be available at your local bookstore.
 Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Life Re-Imagined

  When we're little we dream about what we're going to be when we grow up.  We dream about the person we'll marry and the homes that we'll live in and the families we'll have and the places we'll go on vacation.  As we get older and our interests change, so do our dreams.   Sometimes dreams come true.  Sometimes one dream gets put on the back burner in order to pursue a new or different dream.  And sometimes life throws a brick at you and shatters your dreams, and you're left standing in the wreckage wondering what the hell just happened.  So what do you do you do? How do you carry on when everything that you've built is lying pieces at your feet? Do you sit in the smoking ruins and wallow in your misery, or do you try to find your way out of the chaos? Do you dream again?
  Being told that my kidneys were failing and I needed a transplant was my first brick.  Finding out some 13 years later that the transplant was failing was the second one.  I felt like the universe had played a giant cosmic trick on me, but I wasn't laughing.  Since I've begun this journey with kidney failure and transplantation and back to kidney failure, I've experienced just about every emotion in the book.  I wish I could say that I've dealt well with my situation, but I'd be lying.  I'm only human, after all, and I'm going to screw up along the way.  All I can do is try my best and share what I've learned, and maybe in the process I can help someone else.  So here's some of what I've discovered.
  Facing a challenge like chronic illness tends to change how you look at a lot of things.  You gain a whole new perspective on life when you realize that your hourglass suddenly has a lot less sand in it.  The things that you once thought were so important are, in the grand scheme of things, really not that important at all.  Things that once would have sent you into a tailspin now seem like petty inconveniences.  And the little things that you never really paid attention to become much more meaningful.  And with time, eventually you dare to start dreaming again, like I did.  But my dreams are different now.  They're more focused and short term.  I'm trying to avoid making plans based on "someday", because there may not be a "someday" for me.  I try to enjoy life the best that I can, and I try not to take anything for granted.
  The biggest challenge is adjusting to a new reality.  Building a new life using a new set of plans, which look muddled and confused and not at all like the picture on the box.  It can be a really scary process, and there are bound to be setbacks along the way.  Do you give up and quit, or do you keep muddling along and try to get through the roadblock?  I've had people ask me how I can stay so positive in the face of what I'm going through.   I tell them it's about making a conscious choice.  Every day I'm constantly deciding how I'm going to deal with my disease.  Sometimes I take things day by day, other times I take things hour by hour.  And then there are the really tough days when I have to take it minute by minute.  Chronic disease is a mental battle as much as a physical one.  Will I beat it, or will I let it beat me? It's not a battle I always win.  In all honesty, it beats me more often than I care to admit.  But I can either choose to wallow in my defeat, or I can choose to pick myself up, dust myself off and vow to fight again tomorrow.  It's not always easy.  In fact, some days it's really damn hard.  It can be difficult to carry on when you're surrounded by darkness and you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But the important thing to remember is that there is always something worth fighting for.  There's a reason to keep going, in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  There's a new dream waiting for you.  This is your life, just re-imagined, and it's up to you to decide what you're going to do with it.
  "When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: there will be something solid to stand on, or you will learn to fly." (Unknown)

Until next time,