A Long Story About Some of My Favorite Things and WIN A FREE MATTRESS

Last night, I started to write a quick post about how you should all go to this cool blog and enter the giveaway to win my favorite pillow and my favorite mattress protector (which are both made by my favorite older brother, Sam.)

But then I realized I am way too passionate about these items and ought to share the whole story. . . which I think actually begins clear back in the fall of 2002. This was back in the days when DownEast was just a clothing store. But every once in a while, they would host a "warehouse sale" in a vacant building where you could score some sweet deals on clothes and all sorts of other random items. Like fancy oil and vinegar sets.

The sale was being held in the dimly lit floor beneath the old Tony Roma's on Main Street. Sam talked it up with one of the workers and found out that they were going to be getting in a shipment of high-end mattresses. More specifically, Stearns & Foster mattresses that retailed for thousands of dollars. Sam skipped class and pretty much everything else while he camped out at the sale until the mattresses finally arrived. He quickly got one for himself, one for a friend, and somehow Kacie's roommate snagged the queen mattress we were waiting for. (Yes, Kacie, I was bothered!) Another king mattress came in and Sam told us we couldn't possibly pass up this deal for only $75, even though that also meant we would have to shell out more money for a new set of larger sheets.

We were poor college students, preparing for the arrival of our first baby. But Sam is pretty good at convincing people to do things, so Steve and I went home with a king-sized Stearns & Foster double pillow-top mattress, that retailed for two or three thousand dollars. I spent twenty minutes scrubbing a 12-inch black streak on the side, and it was as good as new. We happily passed on our channeled waterbed. . . yes, we had a waterbed! And I went to Kmart and bought a new set of Martha Stewart king-sized sheets for $40.

I'd like to think it was those Stearns & Foster mattresses that sparked Sam and Kacie's interest in bedding, but I don't really know. Mostly because they kept their business a secret for such a long time. They were newlyweds and kept to themselves for a little while, but then it got ridiculous. Sam was always "busy". We knew what it was like to be busy; Steve was taking 18 credits, teaching seminary, working two jobs, and had a brand new baby. But Sam was turning down invitations left and right because he was "too busy".

Little did we know that Sam and Kacie were running a fairly large-scale business out of their apartment. They lined their walls with huge metal shelves from Sam's Club and learned the ins and outs of shipping. As sheets took over their life, they moved their bed from the large bedroom into the small bedroom in the back. Meanwhile, we had no idea what they were up to. Or why Kacie refused to let us use the computer in their bedroom and insisted on printing things out for us.

They finally let us in on their secret, and a year or two later, they came out with their own line of Malouf sheets. Ever since then, we have been spoiled in the bedding department. Steve and I talk about it almost every night as we climb into our nice bed with our soft egyptian cotton sheets and lay our heads down on our amazing pillows. We are lucky!

They added mattress protectors to their product line just as we were adding more kids to our family. If you have kids (or even if you don't) mattress protectors are a NECESSITY! Spilled a drink? No big deal. Had a little accident? No worries. I seriously can't imagine what we would do without mattress protectors. Actually, it's kind of gross to think about it. A couple of years ago during a photo shoot, they had Lucy jump on a bed with a cup of water. By the time the photographer took all of his pictures, there were probably 2 quarts of water on that bed, and of course, the mattress stayed perfectly dry.

I've never been one to care too much about pillows, but last year, when they came out with Malouf pillows, seen here, here, here, and here, I fell in love. (And so did my kids. . . they kept stealing our Malouf pillows, so we finally obliged and got them each their own.) When I went to the hospital for my pre-op appointment the other day, the nurse told me to bring as few belongings as possible. But I will be bringing my pillow.

This year, Sam & Kacie introduced bed frames that happen to be tall enough to actually store things underneath your bed. . . absolutely brilliant! And I think back to all of the times I have bought bed frames from the store. It's always been such a big production. . . pushing them around in the cart with the kids, lugging them to the car, and then trying to fit them in with all of the kids. It's pretty convenient to order them on amazon and have them shipped right to your house!

Their mattresses just came out last month. Lucy's new mattress arrived last week and she is pretty much in love with it. She took a nap (at 5:00 pm) immediately after it came in the mail "just to try it out". And last night, she went to bed at 7:00 pm. Now, I'm not saying Sam's mattresses will make all of your kids sleep better, but apparently, it's working for Lucy. (With that in mind, I ought to hurry and order one for Adam!)

So there's the scoop. Enter the giveaway. Order some mattress protectors. Get a new pillow. And get some good sleep!

BONUS, BONUS, BONUS: My brother, Sam, just told me that they would like to sponsor a contest to come up with a new name for their line of mattresses. The name needs to fit in with their other brands: Malouf Fine Linens, Sleep Tite, Z by Malouf, and Structure. Leave a comment with your idea here. Winning submission gets a FREE MATTRESS!


A Few Things of My Own

I enjoy reading Design Mom's Friday posts of A Few Things (and I love that she's incorporating a little bit of France in there too.) I don't write for Babble or have lots of cool links, but today I'd like to share a few things of my own.

I am really excited for the three-day weekend. President's Day Weekend overlapped with Valentine's Day last year, and I felt like we got gypped out of a holiday. With all of the sicknesses going around at school, I hope the extra day off gives everyone a chance to get better. (Too bad we can't all take a holiday from church too.)

Speaking of sicknesses. . . it's cool when you receive notification that you have already met your Out of Pocket Maximum through your insurance for the year. . . and it's only February.

Our friend, Jed, gave my kids little doll figurines that resemble each of them for Valentine's Day. Kaleigh's is the best and makes me smile every time I see it:

The way Adam positions his cowboy in his cowboy boots on top of his dresser makes me smile too:

I can't wait to go to the Midway Ice Castles tomorrow night. Hoping Mother Nature will be kind and provide us a little break from the snow that has been forecasted.

If you're looking for something else fun to do this weekend, the Hutchings Museum of Natural History in Lehi is hosting a Night at the Museum through February 19. Animals, historical characters, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex come alive and roam free around the museum.

Six days later, and my iPhone is still unresponsive. If you call or text me, please identify yourself because I am using Steve's old cracked phone and haven't transferred all of my contacts over yet. (Still hopeful that the rice trick will work.) Amazed that this poor, battered phone still works:

It's been just over a year since I discovered this neat flowchart on my friend's blog. It recently became available to purchase again. I just got mine and can't wait to frame it and hang it up in my office. (Please note that I did not call it the office/laundry room/junk room because I am determined to clean it up this weekend. Volunteers are welcome to come help.)

And that's all. (Sorry folks, no kisses from me.)


I Lost

But at least I didn't quit.

I am pretty good at quitting things. I quit the high school basketball team when I got tired of my coach yelling at my friend. I quit working at Callaway's on Halloween night so I could go cover for Paul at his job at Le Nonne. I quit Organic Chemistry (and changed my major) because I didn't want to have to think so hard. And apparently, I quit cleaning my house a few months ago.

I just finished participating in a six-week healthy eating/exercise competition called Fit in Six. I wanted to quit dozens of times. (Yes, dozens. . . which translates to just about every day.) But Lucy was playing along with me and I didn't want to set a bad example for her. And I decided it's time to quit being such a quitter.

Aspects of the program were very good and beneficial to me with my current stomach problems. But there were other parts that didn't work out too well with my nightly stomach aches, getting an angiogram, etc. Two bad colds and three birthdays in our family didn't help either. Exercising/eating according to the program wasn't always my top priority. . . but I still felt guilty.

Fit in Six was too strict of a program for me to adopt as a permanent lifestyle. (Mostly because of my addiction to/overexposure to candy, chips and salsa from Sonora Grill, and all of the treats people keep bringing us.) But we made major changes in our family within the first week of the program.

We threw out leftover Halloween candy and replaced food in our pantry with healthier, sugar-free versions (syrup, pudding, jam, Crystal Light, etc.) We finally quit buying white bread. We switched to whole grain pasta, one percent milk, and fat free salad dressing. We experimented with vegan hotdogs, bacon, and ground round. We pureed fruits and vegetables and added them to other foods. We sprouted beans and made hard, crunchy "fruit chips" to replace potato chips. I went to the gym more in January than I did in all of 2010. And we bought a bicycle trainer, hand weights, and some resistance bands to exercise at home.

Lucy and I set goals and achieved them together. So even though I lost the prize money, I think we won.

(I'm going to go reward myself. With chocolate peanut butter bars for breakfast.)


Do It For Your Valentine

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I am an avid tongue scraper. Many of you have asked for more information.

My first introduction to tongue scrapers was about ten years ago when I was up in Rexburg for the summer, selling Living Scriptures. I had just made a couple hundred dollars in commission selling five sets of DVDs to a man, when he asked me to listen to his USANA presentation. I felt obligated to listen (and purchase) so I ordered the cheapest thing they sold, a tongue scraper.

My life has never been the same. (I have been a tongue brusher as long as I can remember, but tongue scraping takes cleaning your tongue to a whole new level.)

A year or so ago, I saw tongue scrapers for sale at Wal-mart in a variety of bright colors. Each of my kids received one in their stocking for Christmas. Within a week, Derrick's girlfriend was asking for one too.

Wikipedia describes tongue scrapers nicely:

A tongue cleaner (also called a tongue scraper or a tongue brush) is an oral hygiene device designed to clean the bacterial build-up, food debris, fungi, and dead cells from the surface of the tongue. The bacteria and fungi that grow on the tongue are related to many common oral care and general health problems. In addition, decaying bacteria produce volatile sulphur compounds on the rear of the tongue; these molecules account for 80 to 95 percent of all cases of halitosis (bad breath).

Tongue cleaning has been used since ancient times in India and China. Ayurveda, the practice of traditional Indian medicine, recommends tongue cleaning as part of one's daily hygiene regimen to remove the toxic debris, known as Ama.

Scientific studies have shown that tongue bacteria produce malodorous compounds and fatty acids, that may account for 80 to 95 percent of all cases of bad breath. The remaining 5-20 percent of cases originate in the stomach, from the tonsils, from decaying food stuck between the teeth, gum disease, tooth decay, or plaque accumulated on the teeth.

In addition, physicians have reevaluated the link between oral health and pathologies of the rest of the body. Many clinical studies concluded that oral bacteria are associated with a number of very serious systemic diseases: cardiovascular problems, pneumonia due to inhaling bacteria present in the mouth, premature birth, diabetes, osteoporosis of the jaw, and infertility in men.

Tongue cleaning improves the sense of taste (because of cleaning the taste buds) and also stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes.

Orabrush, a Provo-based company recently launched a large YouTube campaign about getting rid of bad breath (and also features David Ackerman dressed up as a giant tongue.) They claim that their product is better than tongue scrapers (any they offer their first Orabrush free!)

After learning about the bacteria and fungus growing on your tongue, how can you not want to clean it?

Bonus: If you are an aggressive tooth-brusher, like me, properly cleaning your tongue will save your gums by helping you reduce the amount of time you spend brushing your teeth.

Double Bonus: My Valentine says I've never had bad breath. Ever.


Lucky Girl

My favorite sister, Rebecca, took Rachel to the Jazz game on Friday night. (Best birthday present ever). They watched the game from a fancy box suite. Rachel took pictures of everything, including the toilet in the bathroom.

Apparently, she spent most of the night filming the game on her ipod. (Thirty-six separate videos.) Rebecca told me Rachel was determined to tape the game, in its entirety, for Steve. We cut our cable a week or two ago and Rachel wanted to make sure he didn't miss another game.

Not having cable/DVR is actually a funny story. It's been pretty humorous listening to our kids learn to adjust to live television. "Why can't I pause the show?" "These commercials take forever!" "Where did all my shows go?"

But back to the Jazz game. . . President Monson was spotted two boxes over and when he got up to leave, Rebecca grabbed Rachel and hurried to walk out of their suite too. They opened the door just as he and his bodyguards were walking by. (Three feet away from them!!!) He turned and gave the two of them a big smile and a wave.


A New Diagnosis and Upcoming Surgery

I have recently been diagnosed with a disorder called MALS: Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome or Celiac Artery Compression Syndrome. (Apparently, they can't decide on a name?) But before I get into that, I'll back up a bit.

I've had stomach problems for a LONG time. When I played sports in high school, I would get sick on the way home from every single road trip. We made all sorts of speculations. I avoided suspicious restaurants and I even quit eating ice for a while, since my dad said that food safety rules for ice machines were frequently broken.

Things got worse my freshman year of college. I canceled dates and spent nights curled up in a ball on my bed (or the backseat of a car. . . wherever I was when it hit) while my friends and roommates were out playing. I was tested for ulcers and other stomach disorders.

I was diagnosed with IBS.

After years of passing out (and a bad fall that involved an ambulance and some stitches) I was referred to take at tilt table test and diagnosed with vasovagal syncope. I was put on a number of different drugs to control the fainting, so then some of the increased stomach problems were attributed to reactions to the different medications. (My favorite was phentermine, which is a form of speed.)

When I was up in Rexburg for a summer, I had an attack so bad that my roommates took me to the emergency room. The doctor X-rayed my GI tract, checked me for gallstones, kept me overnight, and then sent me home. I had another attack later that summer while I was alone in Victor, Idaho that was so bad that I really thought I was going to die.

After Steve and I got married, we were determined to figure out what was wrong and spent a lot of money with a gastroenterologist who x-rayed and ultrasounded everything, but came up with nothing. We gave up and decided it must just be IBS.

I spent quite a few years being pregnant, and stomach problems during that time were attributed to the growing fetuses squashing my innards.

Steve opened this fabulous restaurant called Sonora Grill, and I had a hard time enjoying the food. After talking to a number of people, I self-diagnosed myself with a faulty gallbladder. Even though I had been checked for gallstones three times, I was very confident that my gallbladder was the source of my problems.

I frequently endured attacks that should have landed me in the emergency room, but the timing was never right. (Something about that restaurant and my husband, who spent most of his life there.) So I did what any person would do. We looked at our calendars, scheduled a convenient time to deal with the problem, dropped the kids off at my parents for the weekend, and induced an attack.

The eating part was fun. We went to Sonora Grill and I ate everything I knew I shouldn't: Beef taquitos, tacos al pastor, carne asada, and a banana split. The stomach pain came, so we packed a bag and went to the emergency room. I did not have to pretend or exaggerate anything. I was in so much pain, I was near tears. Unfortunately, a stomach has to be empty to do a proper scan on the gallbladder, so I was given some morphine and sent home for the night. A HIDA scan the next day confirmed that my stoneless gallbladder was not functioning. At all.

I was diagnosed with a dysfunctional gallbladder.

Surgery was performed, and for a little while, I thought my stomach issues were over. But soon the pain was back. . . different, and many of the problems were getting worse. But every time I was finally ready to do something about it, I would start feeling a little better. (Or get distracted with something else in this crazy life we live.)

In November, I had a colonoscopy. While they were at it, they checked me for celiac disease and performed an upper GI endoscopy.

I was diagnosed with "a tortuous redundant tract," adhesions, and biliary diskinesia.

They gave me some medicine and told me to come back when it quit working. I got sick over the holidays and went in to see the doctor again. He sent me to get an abdominal ultrasound and CT scan and referred me to a surgeon to talk about getting rid of the adhesions.

After reviewing the results, the surgeon told me he did not think adhesions were my problem. He wanted me to take a gastric emptying test and there was something "interesting" that had shown up on my CT scan. The radiologist had seen a stenosis in one of the blood vessels coming from my heart. He was pretty sure the image was just a fluke, but said it was worth getting checked out anyway.

I went in for a mesenteric Doppler duplex test one day and back to the hospital for a gastric emptying study the next day. I waited for the results, but didn't hear back from the surgeon who had ordered the tests. (He'd been called away with the Reserves.) I talked to his nurse who looked up my report.

I was diagnosed with a moderately severe case of gastroparesis.

I was prescribed some new medicine and counseled on how to make lifestyle changes that would lessen my symptoms. The surgeon returned after two weeks and finally called to talk to me about the results from the Doppler duplex test.

I was diagnosed with Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome.

He told me that my "complicated and interesting" case could be corrected by surgery, but it was out of his area of expertise and referred me to a vascular surgeon. I met with Dr. Steppacher for the first time about two weeks ago. I left his office overwhelmed, but relieved to finally have a diagnosis and explanation for my problems. He spent over an hour talking to me and drawing pictures of ligaments, aortas, celiac arteries, and stomach organs on the exam table paper. He told me he probably wasn't going to be able to perform the surgery himself and that I would need to go to the Mayo Clinic to have it done by a specialist there.

I had an angiogram last week. Steve and I met with Dr. Steppacher the next morning to discuss the results. Over ninety-five percent of the blood from my aorta to my stomach is being blocked by the ligament when I exhale, causing my digestive issues. Because the artery has been compromised for so long, the aorta and celiac arteries have been damaged and need to be reconstructed. I am no longer a candidate for laparoscopic surgery (which Dr. Steppacher was not qualified to perform. . . he only has experience with open surgery). Another surgeon from Salt Lake with appropriate expertise to assist was located, and I will now be able to stay here for the operation

Surgery is scheduled for March 3. They will be operating on my aorta, not my heart. First they will cut away the ligament and surrounding tissue that is causing the blood flow problem. Then a graft (tube) will be inserted into the aorta above the damaged area and be connected down to the celiac artery, creating a bypass of the stenosis.

We are very thankful for the skilled surgeon that was able to recognize my problem. (Apparently, it is very rare and not normally looked for.) It is an answer to years and years of earnest prayers. We are hopeful that this will relieve my problems and improve my quality of life. We are also very thankful for the relatively good timing. (Two years ago, we did not have adequate health insurance to cover a procedure like this. And Steve's mom's recent retirement will be a lifesaver.)

I hope these images and my LONG post answer most of your questions.

P.S. Add a follow up visit with the GI doctor who performed the colonoscopy, a five-day study that needs to be completed before surgery to provide more baseline data, another appointment with another GI doc, and I am



Baptism Day and Finishing the Part that Made Me Cry

Saturday was baptism day for Rachel. She looked so beautiful in her white baptism dress and couldn't stop smiling. Thanks so much to the family and friends who came and made her day extra special.

After Rachel's confirmation, I was asked to say a few things about her. I started out by remembering the blessing Rachel was given as a baby. Steve blessed her that she would bring joy to the lives of those around her. She certainly has. I looked around the room at everyone who was there and thought how each of them have brought so much joy to Rachel's life (and mine too).

I started going through and naming people specifically, but had to stop because it was making me too emotional. I thought I would continue here.

Jed, thanks for being such a great neighbor. Rachel loved visiting with you and helping you pull weeds and rake leaves. She loved playing in your house and still loves to tell people that you can see Antelope Island from the top window. I love that my kids have friends like you.

Grandma Jean & Grandpa Ron, thanks for everything. Rachel loves sleepovers at your house Nothing beats cooking steak and s'mores and having a sleepover in the dome.

Brother & Sister Olsen, thanks for being the best missionaries ever. The countless treats, the handwritten letters, and sticking out your tongue at the kids make us all feel so loved. How lucky we are to know you.

Sam, thanks for being such a great uncle. If I would have thought of it at the baptism, I would have told the story of Rachel calling you when you lived in Portland to talk to "her" dog. And how you would carry on a whole conversation with her, regardless of where you were, barking like Molly. (Talking about that probably would have kept me from crying.)

Grandma Gloria & Grandpa Richard, thanks for making us all feel so special. Rachel loves birthday shopping with Grandma, Ballard Family Sundays, and all of your other fun traditions.

Evelyn, thanks for being the best piano teacher ever. Rachel loves going to piano. . . a whole lot more than she actually likes playing the piano. . . because she loves you so much. (And thanks for not making me feel bad when we miss a whole week of practicing.)

Rebecca, thanks for being such a generous aunt. I wish so badly that I would have caught Rachel opening your birthday gift on video. As soon as she finally figured out what it was, "I'm so happy, I could cry!" She is going to have so much fun at the Jazz game with you!

Paul, you will always hold a special place in Rachel's heart. She sure loves you. I was looking through old photos a while back and realized I have more pictures of you holding Rachel as a baby than I do of me.

David, we sure lucked out when you moved down the street. Rachel treasures her memories of Pam and is so happy to have you as a friend. She absolutely loves visiting you and can't wait to go on bike rides again this summer.

Mike Ballard Family, each of you are such a big part of Rachel's life. I don't think she would have survived our move to Ogden without you. And Angie, thanks for teaching me to me a better mom.

Brother & Sister Bakker, thanks for being the best Primary teachers ever. Rachel yelled and cheered and danced around the house all night long after learning that she got to be in your class.

Loosli Family, we are so excited to have you as neighbors. I really wish I could have captured the look on Rachel's face the first day she came back over to your house to play with Eliza. Rachel loves having a friend so close!

Karen, thanks for being such a great aunt. Rachel still talks about all of the "Special Days with Karen" you used to take her on. And, in case you are wondering, she has kept every single trinket you've ever given her. We sure are going to miss you.

Debra, thanks for always being such a great friend. You are always the first to call and ask how we are doing, the first to offer to help with kids, and the first to offer to bring dinner. You really are a true friend. And Steve says to add that you still hold the title of best chocolate chip cookie baker.

Rachael Bennett, thanks for being the best babysitter ever. Rachel misses you so much. . . and I miss you even more!

P. S. Since some of you have baptisms coming up in your families, a few things worth mentioning:
1. I remembered the white underwear, the towel, the hairdryer, and even a slip. The one thing I hadn't even thought of bringing was a plastic bag to put all of the wet clothes in.
2. Also, if you will be involved in a stake baptism, don't leave anything in the font bathroom area. After the baptism, they will probably move your group to another room for the confirmation. We finished with her confirmation, but then I was stuck waiting for the last ward, still in the baptismal rom, to get our things out.
3. Be prepared to say something about your child! I wish I would have had more time to think about what I was going to say.

P. S. S. Thanks, Steve, for being the best husband ever and hosting such a wonderful dinner at Rickenbacker's.



Another Birthday

In honor of Steve's birthday today, I thought I would post a picture of his favorite quote. He actually gave the framed quote to me as a gift when we first got married, but it sits on his nightstand. (He's better at following it anyway.)

We went and bought him his favorite treat: Peanut M&Ms. And maybe I'll show him a picture of the waterproof iphone case I ordered for him two months ago that's still on backorder.

Oh well, it doesn't really matter. It's impossible to compete with the almost-brand-new, fancy-schmancy skis he got for his birthday from the chef. Now he just needs to hurry and get over his pneumonia so he can go use them.

And good news, everyone, that officially concludes birthday season in the Ballard House.