Tuesday, December 29, 2015

January 2016 Book List

After I wrote the list of books I want to read in 2016 in my Erin Condren planner, I realized I was going to need some kind of strategy to make it even halfway through the list.  My plan is to pick books from each set of lists (yes, I have multiple lists!) and mix them together so I knock out books in each category every month.  Here are my picks for January:

Yes, the oven light is on in the background, but I'm
taking pictures of books.  This is how fires start
in our house.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is one from the list D made for me.  I don't usually read Stephen King, but I did read The Colorado Kid at D's request, and it was good.  I'm going to give this one a shot.

Bread and Wine is one my friend, Alta, recommended.  I just started it and I'm already in love.  Food, Jesus, people, all in one book.  Pretty much perfection in my eyes.

Best Boy is from the BookPage Top 50 picks from 2015.  It's written from the perspective of an adult male with autism, and the few pages I've read are intriguing.

The Twelve is the sequel to The Passage, a post-apocalyptic vampire story.  The first one was an over 700 pound behemoth, but I got sucked in and now can't stop.  The third book is due out in May of 2016, so it's already on my list.

If you happen to read something amazing, please let me know.  I weep at the thought that there are books I may somehow be missing.  Help me.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Results of the Somewhat Definitive Variety

After haggling with insurance companies, finding an insurance-approved lab, and praying for a definitive result, I received an iffy one:  it does not appear I carry the gene combination most dominate in those with Celiac disease.  The conversation went as follows:

Me:  I don’t know how to read these results you emailed me because I’m not a doctor.

My doctor: Even if you were, it wouldn’t help much.  They’re not meant to be easy to read.  It does not appear you have the combination of genes that would make you at high risk for Celiac.  However, with the symptoms you had before you gave up gluten, I would have asked for an endoscopy if you were still on gluten just to check. 

Me:  So this isn’t a no? 

My doctor:  It’s a probably not.  You seem to react very negatively to gluten and I wouldn’t eat it, especially with your thyroid issues.  But if I had to bet, these results mean your husband is probably the only genetic link for your daughter.

Good news, probably.  We went on to discuss the difficulty of diagnosing Celiac and how there should be an easier way, but it’s usually a game of putting puzzle pieces together from a variety of tests to find the closest fit.  For Wren it was an easy diagnosis due to her nearly starving, and for D all the pieces fit and his tests were positive.  It doesn’t look like, despite the range of other auto-immune problems I’ve experienced, that Celiac is likely to be a part of the equation for me. 

What changes?  Nothing.  I have been much better off without gluten and we don’t keep it in the house.  What should have changed for me emotionally was that I should have felt a sense of relief.  Oddly, I stood in my kitchen after putting down my phone and fought back tears.  I recognized it immediately: survivor’s guilt.  My daughter and husband still have this disease.  They still deal with the everyday effects on their lives; they suffer due to lack of knowledge on how to fully treat this disease; if new research is accurate, they are at higher risk of suffering other illnesses or earlier death than previously thought due to this beast that refuses to yield. 

I know their lives are in God’s hands; I know we’ve been blessed as they’ve made progress.  I also know me having Celiac would not have made them have less Celiac.  It wouldn’t have benefitted either of them for me to suffer as well.  But maybe in a sense it would have benefitted me as I’m struggling with the idea of getting off so easily when D has more GI procedures on the horizon and Wren still needs daily help to move stool from her body.  I don’t know.  I sometimes give both D and Wren a hard time for wearing their feelings on their sleeves and for being affected by all the little 
things.  Here’s an example:

Wren: Mom, I found this card I made you a while back.  It says you’re the best mom ever.

Me:  I remember that card.  It was so sweet!

Wren, starting to cry:  It’s just, I just……

Me:  What just happened?

D holds her in his arms and whispers in her ear.  When Wren calms down she goes off to play with Sam, and D looks up at me and I get ready to ask him what he thinks is wrong with Wren.  Does she need more selenium?  I see D’s eyes getting misty.

Me:  What?  You're upset now?

D:  You know how it is.  Things get to you. 

Me:  How does a kind card made for me make you two cry?

D:  It's sweet. She just loves you so much, then she thinks about that love, then it feels overwhelming, then she gets scared you might die.  All the normal stuff.

Me:  That is not a normal reaction.  The fact that you understand it means you are both wired wonky.

But I stood in my kitchen after talking to the doctor and told D apologetically that I did not share his illness. 

D:  That’s good.  We’re happy for that.

Me:  Then why do I somehow feel completely disconnected from you and Wren, like I can’t help you properly anymore. 

D didn’t say because I’m wired wonky.  He just shook his head and said, “You take care of us.” 

This is supposed to be a good news blog post, but apparently I am also wired wonky so it’s more of a mixed feeling deal.  I’m happy for not being afflicted with this disease.  I’m sad because two of my most loved people are and I can't change it.  I'm left to sit still with that reality and figure out what it is I'm supposed to learn.  

For the whole story on why I didn't take the traditional route for testing, click here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Samuel Dylan at 5

Sammy, who's middle name came from the famous Bob, just turned 5.  Here are some important facts about this little man.

Favorite Way to Relax:  hot baths

Favorite Candy: M&Ms

Favorite Subject to Study: Pinball math game(addition)

Favorite Memories: Dates with mom or dad

Favorite Food: okra

Favorite Destination: the bakery

This year Sammy:

attended VBS for the first time;
learned to write letters;
received all his first year AWANAS badges and is working on his second year;
became an expert on The Three Stooges and The Headless Horseman.

Sammy, like every person in our family, has big feelings and is passionate about his interests.  He can quote movies and do spot-on impersonations, as well as name a song by just the first few notes.  He enjoys movie scores just like his dad, and like D he is exceptionally talented in the area of visual arts. Sammy is a foodie and likes to be involved in the kitchen.  He frequently pulls up a chair to sit in front of the oven and watch the food.

What Sammy would really like is for me to get pregnant and give him a brother.  He does not understand that the odds are not in his favor.  He loves his sisters but enjoys time with his male cousin, Kainan, and his guy friends.  

This is the first year that Sammy's birthday has not released the deluge of emotions associated with all that happened after his birth.  The pneumonia memories feel like just that, memories.  Sam's asthma and the twitchy feeling I get every time we drive past Children's are the most prominent scars we carry from that time.  It took half a decade, but I can finally celebrate this kid's life without the haunting flashbacks to his near death.  He made it.  God has a plan for him.  I love watching it unfold.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Wren at 7

After interviewing Wren, I have all the updates on this awesome lady.  Here's what I learned:

Wren's Idea of a Perfect Day:  Long walks with family

Perfect Playdate:  Birthday party

Proudest Accomplishment This Year:  learning to ride her bike without training wheels

Ways She Wants to Grow in the Lord:  Share Him with others and worship him all the time

Favorite Subjects of Study:  Advent activities and bugs

What She's Most Looking Forward to About Being 7:  Telling people she is 7

What She Wants More Than Anything:  Family to be happy and no one to be sick

Favorite Way to Relax: Have someone scratch her back

Favorite Part of AWANAS:  talking with friends

Hardest Challenge of the Year:  enemas

Favorite Memory: birthday parties, but there are lots of good days

One thing she would change if she could: If her family was sick, she'd change it so she could suffer their sickness instead.

Eowyn in the blue, probably.

Wren was wearing my old lady sweater while
working on her embroidery and waiting to poop.
I'm not sure if she just turned 7 or 70.
Seven hit me hard for some reason.  I think it's like one of my friends said, I can remember being seven.  I have memories before that, but seven seems like the time I can go back to and recall tons of information.  As a parent, I want all the memories to be perfect, but as a realist I'll settle for mostly good with the bad ones offering learning experiences.  Here's to another year!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Best Birthday EVER

This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalms 118:24

While I was concerned that a visit to the GI on her birthday would be a dark mark, it actually ended up being icing on the cake.  Today we found out the following about Ms. Wren:

Wren’s colon seems clear.  She is still going to need some assistance for the next couple of months to keep it that way, but she should be able to wean off help in the next two months and be back to normal.

Wren is in remission.  She has been for two years.  Our pediatrician was reading her results incorrectly.

It’s a lot to process in the best possible way.  First, the question I know everyone probably has:  how did this happen?

Well, Wren’s pediatrician referred us to a GI when she was first diagnosed in 2011.  The GI looked at Wren’s blood test results and then said we needed to set up an endoscopy.  However, she wanted Wren, who had been off gluten for three weeks and was still pooping out unprocessed food, to gluten up for the endoscopy.  I asked her if she really doubted Wren’s diagnosis based on her blood test results.  She said no, she knew Wren had Celiac just based on the blood test.  Why then, I asked, do we need to hurt her by giving her gluten?  Protocol.  That was the answer I received.  When I refused to hurt my child due to protocol, this doctor told me the GI community would be unwilling to help my daughter in any way until I agreed to her terms.  They wouldn't even view her as a child with Celiac.  She said this as she wiped up stray carrots that had fallen out of my daughter's diaper.  We walked out.  We didn’t go back.

Our pediatrician, naturopath, and for a while a dietician, helped with our concerns as we transitioned to a gluten-free lifestyle.  When Wren’s body still exhibited problems with her adrenals, her thyroid, her liver, and her vitamin absorption, the naturopath handled it.  We watched her get better and were happy to move forward. 

Wren didn’t have her first remission blood test until 2014.  Her scores were so bad when she was diagnosed in 2011 that no one believed she would be in remission any sooner than that.  Her TTG IGG was high, and came back high again in 2015.  This is where it would have been good to have a GI, but we didn’t know that.  I had no idea our doctor’s interpretations of the scores could even be in question.  I had no idea there was more than one way to read them. 

It was Wren’s colon issues that led us to a new GI, a GI who told me today she would not have asked us to put Wren through an endoscopy four years ago.  She saw those results from 2011 and said there was no question; Celiac ravaged Wren’s tiny body.  Of course she had Celiac.  She then explained the difference between the IGG and IGA scores and assured us she was in remission. 

So, what can you learn from our long journey?

Let the holistic community help you.
That’s right, I don’t begrudge our pediatrician, who is more holistically-minded, for an error.  I hate that it happened, and D and I stood together and cried in the backyard when the stress we'd been carrying due to this mistake finally made its way out of our systems. However, she and her team of holistically-minded helpers ushered us through a hard time.  Without them it is very probable Wren would be on chronic medication for her thyroid and other various issues by now.  They didn’t band-aid fix problems that were thrown our way due to her Celiac; they knocked them out at the roots, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Find the RIGHT GI.
Our first experience hurt, especially during a time where we were so raw and trying to figure out what to do.  We were told that our unwillingness to hurt our child disqualified us from certain types of medical care.  But the GI we have now is completely different.  While she is not as familiar with finding root causes as the holistic community, she knows what she knows and she respects our wishes for Wren. 

Get ready to play the middle man.
We want the best care for our kids, and that means striking the balance between the crunchy granola tribe and the hard core medical peeps.  Generally, these people don’t get along.  Our pediatrician hates Children’s, where our GI is located, and thinks specialists don’t consider the whole body’s connection when treating patients.  The GI gives me the raised eyebrow look when I mention things like chiropractics, flax seed oil, and liver cleanses using homeopathic drugs.  That means D and I play the role of the kids with divorced parents: visiting both places but never talking about either “parent” too much to the other one lest the “parents” start accusing us of loving the other one more.  It sucks.  It’s not the way medicine should be, but it is the reality we live in.  We’ll manage.

Today after Wren’s appointment we took a picture in front of the big Christmas tree outside of Children’s and then Wren cartwheeled down the grass out front.  

She doesn’t fully understand the impact of what happened.  We never told her about the remission fiasco.  She worked too hard, and there was no way we were going to tell her it looked like we’d come up short yet again.  No way.  She just knew her GI was happy and her mommy was happy and she could poo for the first time normally in months.  She didn’t have to get a blood test and ate trail mix for lunch.  It was just a good day for her in general.

I don’t know why this route was the one we had to take to get to where we are.  It’s not a question I plan on asking often.  Where we are is good.  That’s enough. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Joy of a Surprise Season

My kids have been outside every day in shorts and sandals.  We’re having 60 and 70 degree weather in December.  It’s a bit of a shock since two years ago I remember being stuck in our house for days due to ice and snow.  When we finally ventured out, stir crazy from being locked in with four kids, we skidded down Legacy, finally coming to a complete stop as cars in front of us slid off the road.  It was the first time we decided leaving the house might not have been a good idea.

But right now the sky is a clear blue, the temperature comfortable.  As long as the back yard is accessible, everyone is fairly content.  It’s a change.

I’m finding that about these somewhat peaceful seasons; they pop up out of nowhere.  They’re not always free of struggles either.  We still have to wait for the thermometer to get past fifty before everyone spills out the door.  On occasion the wind still feels strong enough to knock us down.  But the sun is bright, and the focus on that is what makes everything feel different.

We’ve been focusing on the Son a lot this month, as we try to do every day.  With Advent here, I committed to moving through this Christmas/birthday season slowly, consciously.  That in itself has helped me reframe some of our struggles.  Wren is heading back to the GI tomorrow, on her birthday.  That’s not the best news, but we have insurance and doctors to help.  Sammy still sometimes struggles with the middle-child-only-boy blues, but it’s happening less and less.  The twins are, well, two.  Some days are good.  Other days, like last Tuesday, D comes home and I escape out the back door after telling him in barely coherent English, “I do not want to talk to or see or hear any of the people in this house.  Can’t do it.  Shutting down.”  I went to the library where quiet is real and beautiful. 

After a four-and-half-year fight with insurance companies, I’m finally getting gene tested for the Celiac genes to see if I also carry the link.  It happens Friday.  That means I spent yesterday making three long phone calls with children underfoot while I worked out the specifics.  Six months ago there is no way that could have happened.  All of my kids need food, or to poop, or to talk out big feelings the minute I pick up the phone.  It felt like a small miracle that these phone calls happened, and it was. 

After over a decade of not being published due to not submitting any work, two pieces I wrote were published this fall.  More than anything, I’m enjoying writing again, making time for it, seeing it as worth my time even with all the other demands.  The novel will be finished in the next six months.  Progress. (Check out published work here and here.)

D and I have also found some community.  We knew with four young kids that being embedded in community was going to be hard.  It has been.  But lately the Lord has just been delivering people to us, wonderful gifts.  For the first time in years we are having friends over for New Year’s Eve.  All our kids will run freely and we’ll attempt to chat with other adults.  D and I are also going on our first date in almost two years this weekend.  I’m thankful.

I know there is a trend about picking a word for the year around January 1st.  I haven’t ever done it, but I like the idea.  Instead of waiting until January 1st, I decided to choose one a couple of weeks ago when we were in what felt like the throes of never ending madness.  Gratitude.  Being grateful.  Even as things were crazy and I was feeling overwhelmed, I knew I should be grateful.  So I slowed down.  I made some intentional changes to our day.  I started trying to give myself grace knowing that is the only way I can give it to others.  And pretty soon, it felt like things changed. 

That’s not to say every day is good and everything is easy. After retrieving Wren’s Celiac blood work for the last three years before her test tomorrow, I then had a mild panic attack trying to make myself look at the pages, so angry am I still about this remission mess.  It’s just that now I’m trying to recognize those times and call them out, still finding ways to be grateful to God. 

I know dark days are inevitable.  The cold will come back and will sometimes feel impossible to bare.  During this season of waiting on the anniversary of the birth of the Christ Child, waiting for the return of Christ, I’m also storing up gratefulness, making it a habit I will carry with me when the seasons change.  And I’m enjoying the now, the crisp days and the sunlight on my back.    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is There Ever Enough Time to Read?

I started this year with a plan to read the top 50 books from last year chosen by BookPage Magazine.  I didn't accomplish that goal.  I have read 50 books so far, but I veered off the list.  It's weird because I loved almost every book on the list and had even already read a couple of them.  The list helped me try new genres and discover new authors.  It's very probable that I will go back to the 2014 list and pick up some more titles from it, as well as attempt to read the majority of the books on the 2015 list when it comes out.  However, I get distracted.  I see books in libraries and I grab them.  I read a book that mentions another book and I go grab it.  I read a book I like, find out there are more in the series and read them all.  Friends recommend books.  D recommends books.  I have trouble being in a monogamous relationship with one book list.

The book list I know I will be working on is one that started from a question I asked D a couple of weeks ago:  If you had to go somewhere and could take three books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be?  We expanded that list to 15 and made each other lists of the books that have influenced our lives or that we love or that we read at a particularly impressionable time in life and will never forget.  I just finished The Forever War, a post-apocalyptic choice from the list he made for me.  Like a boss, he started right off with Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, an over 700 page work of fiction expounding on Rand's theory of objectivism, a book I read in high school and will always remember for a myriad of reasons.  We're working on a movie list for each other which means I'm going to have to watch Ghostbusters and he is going to have the privilege of seeing Beaches and probably every Jimmy Stewart film ever made.

Here's what I've read so far in 2015.  I promise, I really DID expand my horizons, though by the looks of the fiction list it appears I definitely have a type.  

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
The Forgetting Place by John Burley
In Paradise by Peter Matthiessen
The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Child 44 Tom Rob Smith
The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith
Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock
The New Neighbor by Leah Stewart
Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Us by David Nichols
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Christian Non-Fiction
Counter Culture by David Platt
Scary Close by Donald Miller
For the Love Jen Hatmaker
Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

Better Than Before by Gretchin Rubin
Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Design Mom by Gabrielle Stanley Blair
Homemakers by Brit Morin
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
Mama Tried by Emily Flake
Hold Still by Sally Mann

Historical Ficton
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
Girl at War by Sara Novic

Post Apocalyptic
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Passage by Justin Cronin

Young Adult
We Were Liars by E.L Lockhart

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Becoming Tidy

True confession:  I am a messy person.  It’s not intentional and it’s not due to laziness.  I’m not a sloth.  It’s just very hard for me to keep things organized, and it always has been.  In school my locker was the one that spilled its contents whenever it was opened.  My notebooks were the ones with papers sticking out every direction.  My desk, even when I was a teacher, was the one stacked with piles of papers in a system only I could understand, when I could remember what was in each pile.  My room always looked disheveled.  You get the picture.

This has been a HUGE source of shame for me for as long as I can remember.  I felt like nothing I ever did in my entire life would matter to anyone because I was messy, and since that’s such an outward appearance issue, there’s really no hiding it.  People judge by what they can see most of the time, and it takes about 4.2 seconds to be in any environment I’m in charge of to see that I am deficient in the tidiness arena. 

I read a study a year or so back that said people with bad handwriting-also a problem I have-are actually geniuses, and I want to say there was a study that said disorganized people were insanely creative, so that gave me comfort for a while.  But it’s not super hard to figure out I’m not a genius, and though I’m creative, it would be nice if the evidence of that could show in what I create and not what I destroy upon entering a room.

I’ve grown into how I am wired a bit more, but it still bugged me that I couldn’t keep things organized.  Since having children, it’s bothered me less out of shame and more out of practicality:  I don’t have time for messes.  I have four kids.  Tidiness would mean not spending precious time trying to find toys, keys, phones.  It would mean a sort of freedom.

With this in mind, and totally prepared to fail again, I grabbed the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I read it in two hours the day I picked it up from the library.  Then I systematically destroyed our house, but with a purpose this time. 

I’ll tell you this up front:   I don’t thank my shirts when I put them in drawers or ask my house where it wants me to put things as the author suggests.  But almost every other piece of advice in this book made so much sense to me that I almost fell out of my chair over the simplicity of it all.  Don’t have a lot of crap, put it where it belongs (I’m paraphrasing).

I truly believed myself a minimalist until I started getting rid of things(there is an order and a system for doing this that works, so get the book and follow the directions) but two boxes of books, six bags of clothes, an entire storage box of CDs and almost 10 empty storage containers later, I now have my doubts.  And I’m not even finished.  This process will take about six months if done properly, but then it should never need to be done again.

What I’ve learned:  we have four spoons for six people and I don’t own a ladle.  That’s why soup nights have always been disasters in our home.  D has almost no underwear.  Over 80% of our book shelves are full of D’s books, not mine.  I actually don’t like to own books but prefer to borrow because it lends an urgency to reading them that owning them doesn’t (this is a sign of a procrastinator, and I fall into that category as well).  There is so much paper in our house-homeschool work, grad school work, writing assignments, art assignments-that we have probably destroyed an entire forest on our own. 

There were many pieces of this book that made the tidying experience different, but the big one was this:  the focus on what brings joy.  Instead of grudgingly throwing things in a box to get rid of having the whole process be about deprivation, this process is about what you keep and the happiness it brings you.  Most stuff doesn’t bring joy, and we can easily live without most anything we own.  But focusing on the joy part makes the getting rid of part easy. 

Oddly, that’s part of the reason I finally think I was able to tackle this and see real signs of success.  I didn’t do it out of obligation or shame.  D’s view and the kids’ view of me are not tied up in my tidiness skills.  In fact, whenever D sees me picking up toys he always says, “That is futile.  Go write.  Go soak in the bathtub.  Read a great book.  Do something you love.”  He knows what I love and he knows me and he’s never seen me as I’ve seen myself, missing some kind of outward appearance gene that makes me defective.  Because I didn’t fear failing, I finally succeeded.  I went into this looking forward to the change, knowing that even if didn’t work that was okay because I was not defined by this. 

It’s a lesson I need to remember with my kids.  No one has ever nagged me into doing a better job at anything.  By recognizing what I could already do, others have challenged me to step into the unfamiliar because their confidence in me was contagious, and I absorbed a portion of it.  It’s the path of joy and the one of least resistance and I need to practice it every day.

Our pastor has said many times that God is a God of order.  This makes more sense to me now, not because I think Jesus would come in the door and access the tidiness of my pantry but because this order is calming and unhurried, freeing up time for what’s important.  It is as liberating as I hoped.

If you come to my home in the next six months, you may not see the results of this tidiness on full display just yet.  However, it’s a work in progress, and an exciting one.  I’ll never be described as the organized mom, but people might not describe me as the lady who has paper following her around like Pigpen has dirt surrounding him all the time.  Little by little, change comes.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Quirks

Anyone who's been around children can probably tell you they move through phases fairly quickly.  It doesn't feel quick when they aren't sleeping, but it really is just a blink until the next season.
This season is interesting, because all of the kids have their own quirky issues, and I'm putting them here because I'm afraid I'll forget some of this randomness if it's not documented.

Wren needs to ask everyday how many days it is until another day.  How many days until my birthday?  How many days until my birthday party?  How many days until Christmas?  How many days until Thanksgiving?

She likes to ask these questions while we're in the car or at the grocery store, anywhere I don't have a calendar handy.  I'm pretty good with dates, but it's hard to figure out on the spot how many days it is until another day when four kids are usually jumping, crying, or singing the "Batman Theme"(more on that later).  Many times I've found myself giving her an estimate only to be approached the next day and have a conversation like the following take place:

Wren:  So it's 50 days until my birthday.
Me:  More like 53.
Wren:  But yesterday you said 51, so today should be 50.
Me:  Well, that was a guess, but now I know it's 53.

Wren just stands there giving me a look that asks if I was lying before or if I'm just terrible at basic math.

Sammy hates socks.  This may not be a phase.  The kid HATES socks.  He has a nervous breakdown where he throws himself on the floor and goes unresponsive until he decides to start kicking every time he's asked to put on socks.  When we finally get them on him, forget it.  There is something about the seams of all socks that drives him insane.  Every day, even if it's 42 degrees outside, he won't wear socks without a fight that is, quite frankly, not worth my time at this point in life.  So if you see him in his sandals in freezing temperatures, don't feel sorry for him.  It's called natural consequences.

Asher and Eowyn
First up, a quirk they share:  both of them demand to have their own baby playlist on Spotify, and they will screech like crazies until we turn it on.  Current favorites are "Royals" by Lorde, "Batman Theme"(Adam West version), "Peter Gunn Theme" by The Blues Brothers and "Manah Manah" by The Muppets.  Imagine listening to those four songs everyday for an hour at a time.  It's awesome.  Dennis came home one day and I told him I was on the verge of punching myself in the face with a nail gun.  Luckily, I have introduced them to Vance Joy's Dream Your Life Away album and Ryan Adam's cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 album, and they like them! It's added some much needed variety for our ears.  Now if I could just get them to stop busting out with the "Batman Theme" every time we enter a library, that would be awesome.

Asher is petrified of the training potty.  When I say potty she screams in my face "NO POTTY!" and runs to the couch to hide her face in the cushions.  This is a new fear.  Today she finally sat on it with her clothes on, but her look told me I better not attempt to make her bare butt hit that seat.

Eowyn's facial expressions are awesome.  She can raise her eyebrows until they almost disappear into her hair.  She's animated and mischievous.  I'm hoping her face will give her away when she's done something I should know about, like painting the walls with a toilet brush.

The quirks are occasionally difficult but fun.  I spoke to my dad this week and he reminded me of my childhood obsession with not being the last person in the house awake.  If I feared everyone else was sleeping, I'd run into my parents' room and wake one of them up because I didn't like to be awake alone.  As you might have guessed, every night I've stayed up with a cranky child has been deserved.
My quirks and weirdness, it's part of what makes me who I am, and that's true for my kids as well.  So we'll listen to the Muppets, wear sandals, and countdown to Wren's birthday with grateful hearts because next year at this time, everyone will be in a different place with different issues.  Praise God for the time it lasts.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nothing at All

Recently two young people died due to anaphylactic reactions to peanuts.  They ate food they didn’t prepare and did not have EpiPens on them at the time of death.

D and I discussed this wondering after years of knowing there are certain things you have to do to stay safe, why you would shrug them off.  What happens to make someone with a food allergy try a food they don’t know the origin of or leave their EpiPen in the car?

Nothing.  Nothing happens.  Nothing is responsible for a lot.

Over time living with a food allergy that can kill you instantly or over time makes you search for ways to normalize in a world of food.  No one wants to be defined by anaphylaxis or Celiac disease, so you start out following all the rules and that works, but you also look for ways to integrate as much as possible for convenience, physical and emotional.  Over time, you keep following the rules and that keeps you safe, but you might get lenient here or there.  You feel normal.  Following the rules most of the time starts to become second nature which means you don’t think about it that much.  You feel protected.  Nothing bad happens.

Because of that, not following the rules one time doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  You always follow them.  Maybe you really did read that ingredient list with a somewhat discerning eye and little concern; you’ve felt good for a while.  There’s no immediate memory of horrific symptoms that you’ll suffer if you don’t do diligence perfectly.  Nothing bad has happened for so long.  What are the chances it will now?

The late Marina Keegan wrote an essay about this in her book The Opposite of Loneliness.  She was diagnosed with Celiac at 18 months old, and her mom helped ensure she was safe.  When Marina got to college, she writes of not being mindful of cross-contamination, not taking all the precautions she’d been taught were necessary.  Why?  Because the vague threat of an increased cancer risk seemed distant.  Her body had healed enough that nothing acute had really happened recently enough for the concern to seem real or tangible. It wasn’t until she ran across a research study on what the littlest bit of cross-contamination could do to any child she became pregnant with that the gravity of the situation hit her anew.  (Ms. Keegan did not die from Celiac-related issues.  She was killed in a car wreck five days after she graduated from Yale.)

We haven’t stopped following the rules; I still consider gluten a devil spawn.  But things were so somewhat normal, so nothing for a while that we forgot something:  Celiac is a horrible house guest.  Even when you stop feeding it, it doesn’t leave or it leaves behind horrible “gifts” to be found later.  You follow all the rules and Celiac doesn’t give you a gold star; it shoots you the finger.

That’s why I spent Wednesday night at Children’s watching my six-year-old get an enema.  Why would her colon back up?  Because Celiac.  Why even though she’s not eating gluten?  Well, Celiac.  The ER doctor wasn’t surprised at all, though I was confused because poop not coming out is usually not one of our problems. 

Anyway, it’s was a hard few days.  When I was at wits end trying to open the medicine Wren had been prescribed, I was huffing under my breath, “freaking lid, come off freaking lid.”  I looked up to find Wren standing right next to me and she asked, “Is my medicine called freaking lid?”  Oops.

We have to start the crazy stuff again, the writing down every bite that goes in her mouth, looking at everything she drops in the toilet.  This wasn’t necessary for so long, and it gave her some much needed space.  It also allowed for gluten-free treat items to move in and out of our house without constant monitoring of sugar content.  No more.  Nothing at all, then everything all at once.

And I think that’s how almost all deaths happen.  The death of a season of life.  Spiritual deaths and martial deaths.  The death of unrealized dreams. 

Nothing at all, then everything all at once.

The precautions are worth it.  The diligence and the little things that seem so little, in the end those are usually the big just viewed from a different perspective.  It’s worth guarding the small habits and practices to protect what matters, and we will.  We’ll do whatever it takes.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Art, Parenting, and Donkeys

I was given the task of trying to find a picture that would serve as an author's photo a few weeks back.  I dug through our photo archives and could not find one picture of just me where I did not look like a hot mess.  Tons of pictures where I was breastfeeding, carrying a child, or taking silly selfies with a child appeared.  However, none that fit what I needed was available, so D and I started on the journey of trying to take a picture of me that would work.

The task of trying to get an author’s pic was harder than anything I’ve maybe ever done as an adult. That's only a slight exaggeration.

My dear husband tried to help, but he seems to believe that all pictures should be taken in abundantly bright light two inches from a person’s face.  God love him, but he just does not understand that not all of us still look like we’re 18, our face as smooth as a baby’s butt on the day it was born.  He tried for a couple of days to be my photographer, but all we ended up with were pictures where my wrinkles looked like they had multiplied, my teeth looked larger than normal, and my body was contorted into unnatural poses while I tried to look natural.

So my author pic ended up being a selfie taken at the Heritage Farmstead Museum the day before I needed to submit an article.  In the picture I’m trying to come off easy breezy.  I was also trying to come off less toothy, but I don’t think that’s possible.  I just smile with my whole mouth; it’s the only way I know how. 

The sun was low in the east so I shot towards the west hiding from the sun but using just enough of its rays to make sure the picture wasn’t just a picture of dark.  That’s the kind of lighting a woman of a certain age who spent her youth in the sun needs. 

The picture turned out okay.  I almost dislocated my shoulder trying to make it not look like a selfie because the other option was asking D to take it which I knew would end with, “let’s face you more in the sun”, “pull your hair out of your face so I can see all of you”, “I need to be a foot closer so this picture can be used to examine your pores.”  No.

I got this:

It’s been said that a picture’s worth a thousand words. It’s also been said we put all our good stuff out there in pictures all across the internet and leave the real junk hidden.  Here’s the real junk behind this picture:

To my left, Wren was trying to walk on old time stilts that were too big for her tiny body.  The picture was taken right about the time she bit it in the dirt.  Through the side of my mouth I said, “You’re tough.  Way to shake it off,” as she was still attempting to make it back on her feet.  

Past Wren, Asher was conducting a one person potato sack race and was devastated to find out the bottom had blown out of the sack, so when she jumped, it was just jumping up and down like normal, no potato sack goodness.  She was beyond pissed and tangled up in a potato sack, adding insult to injury.

D was chasing Eowyn who decided it would be a good idea to run back over to the huge hogs and taunt them from outside their fence squeaking, “oink, oink” while blowing bacon breath all over them.  She’s honestly just lucky to be alive.  The girl has guts and not a lot of fear of anything she should actually be scared of, which is not the most awesome combination at the age of two. 

Sammy was screaming for D to come back and help him walk on the stilts so he could tell Wren, “look, I walked” rubbing it in that she ate dirt.  Wren tends to make everything a competition, so any chance Sammy gets to one up, he totally takes.  Can’t honestly say I blame him.

And directly to my front, Remus and Romulus, the supposed country’s largest donkeys (read: well hung) were gearing up for what I can only assume was going to be really aggressive donkey sex.  The foreplay stage we were seeing and hearing at the moment the picture was taken was horrifying.  I’m smiling through it, easy breezy.  No donkey sex here!

This is the intersection of art and life if taking a selfie for a writing project is art and trying to usher your children away from viewing donkey porn is life. 

Check out the essay that inspired this picture in the first place on Mommikin here.  

P.S.  Dear my photographer sister Amy, 

Please come see me.  Bring your camera.  It is obvious I need help.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Seek and Find

This morning I started a super covert game of hide and seek with the kids.  I hid, didn’t tell them, and managed to rest unnoticed for almost 20 full minutes.  Princes Sofia and Jake and the Neverland Pirates babysat. 

I’m burnt out on all the needing right now, but I’m mom so there’s really no way around it.  This week the needs have felt super big and my inability to fulfill them all left me facing today with dread.  I love the rain and imagined today being a make-a-fort-and-read day, but even that couldn’t satisfy the masses all at once.  And getting everyone out of the house would ensure wet socks, and heaven forbid any child in my house should ever have to stand around in wet socks for 2.6 seconds.  Oh the humanity!

In the past I would have felt like my little hiding game was a parent fail, but I’m past that.  My kids are seeing the non-Pinterest life, the messy, the adults who don’t actually have super powers and are living in the moment they find themselves, conjuring up every ounce of strength to just not lose their crap when someone asks for cheese 14 times in a row.  They are living through relationships where conflict and big feelings are a real thing, as is everyone wanting to handle their feelings differently (Wren cries when happy, sad, awake, asleep.  I cry when I’m bleeding profusely.  This has been an issue for us as I think she is a drama queen and she is convinced I am a droid.). 

Early on in parenting, I thought no conflict was the goal.  Now I realize that would equal zero real life prep.  Handling conflict correctly, walking through the crazy together?  Apologizing when we don’t handle conflict correctly and we’re all a little fed up with the crazy?  Those are real life skills, and we’re doing them every day in this house. 

So I only hide from those responsibilities on occasion, and I got busted when Asher walked into the room and started searching.  I unintentionally made eye contact and then she laid on top of me like my side job is being a mattress.  I crawled out from under the covers and marched back into the needing, some run-of-the-mill and some that seems over my head.

The rain is still falling but I anticipate we will have to venture out this weekend, extra socks packed just in case.  Tonight the plan is to have a mani/pedi plus reading night with the big kids crashing in our bed past bed time hours.  I’m looking forward to it, and I’m also selfishly coming to terms with the idea that part of my alone time will be usurped by overly tired children stealing my pillow.  It’s a mix. 

Until things let up, we’ll just be together waiting out the storm.

Friday, October 16, 2015

How to Help a Celiac Sister Out

It’s baby season.  I have many pregnant friends, friends who are trying to get pregnant, friends who are ready to adopt.  It’s the season where I need to stay away from small ones because I held an infant at a birthday party a few weeks ago and I literally felt my ovaries lock and load.  I passed that baby off like a hot potato because we have enough crazy rolling through this joint right now. 

I remember when Wren and Sam were born and we were put on the Care Calendar.  It’s this awesome tool that allows people to sign up to bring you food while you are recovering from having a person exit your body.  I have much love for the Care Calendar. 

Sidenote: For all of you who have ever wondered if you are helping to fulfill your God-given duty by signing up to bring someone a casserole, you are.  My Nanny was up here when Sam was hospitalized for pneumonia, which happened 10 days after he was born, and she couldn’t drive in the city.  She had a few groceries at the house but was busy burning every possible germ to its death, so when people just kept showing up on our porch every other day with food, she felt like manna was falling from the sky, though it was actually being delivered by angels on earth who kept her fed while she scrubbed baseboards with bleach.  So, thank you.  I probably never sent thank you cards because one of my kids almost died and the other had a nervous breakdown that led to Celiac.  Plus, I forget to do stuff on a good day. 

Anyway, people with food allergies usually don’t end up on the Care Calendar because they ask not to be placed there.  That was true for us after Wren and D were diagnosed with Celiac.  The idea of having people cook us food that was cross-contaminated, to have them spend all that time and money and then us not be able to eat it, that just seemed awful.  We did have people ask what they could do for us when the twins were born, but I suck at asking for help even when people directly say, “We’d like to help you.  How can we?”  It’s a gift.

Baby season got me thinking, and two years later I came up with a few ways to help out someone with food allergies if they are in a Care Calendar season of life, whether it’s a new baby or surgery.  We are not in that phase of life because I put that baby at the birthday party down fast enough, but I finally had some ideas and decided to share.

Gift Cards to places with food like Whole Foods or Sprouts
They are not impersonal.  They are versatile.  They buy food.  One of my fellow twin mamas showed up at our house when the twins were just born with a gift card and onesies.  It was a win. 

Be a part of the prep team
Before Asher and Eowyn were born, I waddled around the kitchen cooking and freezing meals so we’d be good to go when they arrived.  If you know someone who has food allergies, you might recommend this and then offer to come help them cook.  They can tell you safe ingredients to bring and you can help them shove everything in the freezer when it’s over.

Packaged Food
Know your allergy person very well on this one, or ask a load of questions.  Most Celiacs have multiple food allergies, but there are brands like Enjoy Life that make yummy treats that don’t contain any of the top eight allergens.  A box of Enjoy Life snickerdoodles still in the package and not touched by anyone else would be a safe treat for most Celiacs.  

Hit up the Bakery
Unrefined Bakery carries gluten-free baked goods and 98% of their food is dairy free.  A gift card or a dozen cupcakes from there would make a person with Celiac fat and happy.  Make sure not to open them in a place where flour or other forms of gluten could get to them.  Unrefined is a dedicated gluten-free facility, and the owners both have Celiac.  They take the allergy thing pretty seriously. 

Here’s a tip for Halloween: see about getting involved in the Teal Pumpkin Project.  We are always out and about on Halloween so we haven’t been able to do this yet, but it looks great.  My kids have requested this year that they trade in all their candy for apple pie.  Easy enough, except I've never made an apple pie.  Could be an interesting year.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pro NaNo

I read an article recently from someone who said all that was to be accomplished by participating in National Novel Writing Month(NaNo) was writing a crappy novel.  I totally agree, but not in the way that the author meant for me to.  If you write a novel in 30 days with NaNo WriMo you will have a sucky novel that you would be humiliated for people to read. 

It’s called a first draft. 

Jacques Barzun says to “let the first sentence be as stupid as it wishes.”  I’d go further and say let it all be stupid because the first draft is not the end of it.  That’s exactly what NaNo lets you do.  One horrible sentence at a time you put words to page and at the end you have something that either is a first draft of a novel or could someday be a complete first draft of a novel. 

What you do next is revise it. 

NaNo helped me immensely in the getting-down-to-business department after years of not writing in a disciplined, consistent way.  During the month of NaNo last November and the NaNo camp I did in July, I completed more of my novel than I have during all the days in between.  I am going to participate in NaNo again this November in the hope that by December 1st I will have one big, messy story ready to be revised. 

Here’s what I recommend: participate in NaNo and have a plan for when it’s over.  If you are like me, this will be when the rubber refuses to hit the road any longer and the short break you’re taking from your novel after so much focused attention will end up being months.  Here’s my post-NaNo plan:

Figure out why NaNo works for me and keep doing it after November 30th.

D did not love NaNo when he participated, probably because he didn’t really need it.  He works on projects until they are complete, daily trudging along whether he is in the mood or not.  He’s a real live grown person. 

NaNo works for me, but I can easily fall off the wagon when it’s over.  I want to figure out the magic this time around.  Am I just a sprinter and not a marathoner?  Do I need to set a word count for myself every single day?  Is watching that little arrow on the website go up each day really the carrot I’m chasing?  When I figure it out, I will trap myself into recreating the magic.

Think past the last word.

One of the things I’m most excited about when I think of finishing the novel is revising.  I know, revising is hard and exhausting, but the book is written.  I can make it better instead of create it from scratch.  Right now, that seems like less work.  I may disagree when I get started.  I’m also ready to have friends help me revise.  I am blessed enough to have people in my life who truly cheer each other on and get excited for milestones in the lives of those they love.  Having those individuals help me make this book better sounds great!  When it gets tough, I focus on what happens when it’s finished (and maybe on having revision parties that involve finger food desserts, coffee and Scrabble.  Maybe I’m just looking for a way to make revising a novel a slumber party.  Hard to tell.)

 Keep reading awesome books.

All the time.  Never stop reading.  If you want to know about the current books I can’t get off my mind they would be:

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

If these authors hadn’t finished these books, that would have been a tragedy.  That alone keeps me writing, not because I expect to pop out a masterpiece but because I think finishing is a victory in itself, especially in a world that rewards instant everything and has an attention span of 2.4 seconds.
If you decide to NaNo, friend me and we can offer encouragement (and sometimes maybe yell at me if you suspect I’m eating chocolate in lieu of writing).

Regardless of what anyone says, I think NaNo is a great tool for hesitant project finishers like me.  I am a procrastinator for life, friends.  I’ll write all about that tomorrow. J

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Party Time Multiplied

My world for a short time revolved around a bottle of Coca Cola, back in the days when high fructose corn syrup could still be given as a reward to young children in public schools.  That glass bottle, dripping with condensation, cold to the touch, is my first memory of multiplication.

I’m pretty sure there were flashcards and I must have taken the time to learn all of the answers through 12 times 12.  But none of those pictures flash into my mind when thinking about 3rd grade.  All I see is a clock made from construction paper hanging over a wooden desk, my desk.  I see the numbers disappearing under stickers, and when the sticker finds its way over the 12, I see the Coke. 

It’s not as if I lived in a restrictive household where sodas were banned.  I drank them every day.  But this Coke was special, given only after accomplishing the task of memorizing the multiplication tables and consumed in front of the rest of the class to both encourage and shame them.  I was the first to drink the Coke in my class, a teacher’s kid, early over achiever.  It was the peak of my mathematics career and I do not remember anything we learned in math after that until I almost failed 10th grade geometry. 

But I do remember that Coke vividly, earning it and savoring it, sure I must have done something right and taking a moment just to sit back and enjoy it. 

That’s why the multiplication party came to be.  The same woman who can still reminisce and remember almost everything revolving around her one person math celebration when she was eight became a mom who doesn’t over do the frill.  This mom also gave birth to a daughter who can live on frill, inhale it 24/7 and never get enough.  So when this daughter started working on her multiplication facts, well, the mom knew the teacher should probably do something nice for that daughter when she finished. 

The problem is, I’m the teacher.  And the no-frills mom.  And Wren somehow emerged from my womb expecting to be bathed daily in glitter and rhinestones. 

As far as homeschool, my kids have a very chill life full of free time and random experiments that one time involved my entire kitchen table being covered in mud from the back yard.  But they also work hard; they accomplish a lot.  The no-frills side of me recognizes this, comments on it, but in a very low key way. 

So my memories of the Coke experience seemed extra important, flashing into my mind as I handed over flashcards to Wren.  That effective bribe started looking like what it really was: a prize for hard work, something to look forward to when the task was done.  We had to learn to multiply anyway.  My teacher paved the path to make the learning an uphill battle to something.  Yes, of course, there’s the knowledge-on-the-other-side reward.  But the Coke help sweetened the deal, so to speak. 

High fructose corn syrup is not actually a reward in our house due to food allergies, so I started thinking of a way to celebrate the milestone once accomplished, to break out of my mode of always being low key and really take a minute to recognize an accomplishment thoroughly.  Since Wren has been planning for her birthday party since February (her birthday is in December), I thought a party might work.

It did.  Wren would have learned her multiplication anyway but she loved planning for the party.  My favorite exchange associated with the party planning was the following:

Wren:  Mom, Sammy has really been helping me with my flashcards and he is so good with food, so I’m going to let him be the menu planner for the party.
Me:  Great!  What are we having, Sam?
Sammy:  Hot dogs.
Wren, screaming hysterically:  See what I mean!  He’s a genius!

So there were hot dogs and a pumpkin roll, two different kinds of chips and hummus.  Grandma and Aunt Sherry came over.  Balloons entertained the masses for hours.  It was a hit. 

And it was a reminder to praise the accomplishments of my kids.  I’m not talking about giving them a prize every time they turn around.  I don’t go for that.  But to remember there are things in their lives that are big to them, just like the Coke was big to me.  Don’t skip those.  Take the time to enjoy.  Capture the memories.  As the mom, frills or not, that’s part of the job, and part of the pleasure.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Let’s Talk About Fall Reading

Last fall I went through a reread period.  I spent the months of September through November rereading the following:

All seven Harry Potters
Nell Freudenberger’s Lucky Girls, The Dissident, and The Newlyweds
Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro
William Trevor’s work, specifically the short stories
Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian

There was a very specific deliberation connected to when the books were read.  Harry Potter books came first because of the school year starting in September and the arrival of Harry at Hogwarts.  For The Historian, I pined for that book, though I had already read it twice before, but didn’t let myself touch it until November when it was cold enough, dark enough, to emerge into a land of vampires written so well that they seem to haunt the reader throughout the day.

Up until fall I tend to swallow books in single gulps, sometimes consuming six a month.  It’s a process I enjoy because there are just so many amazing books I want and need to read!  However, in fall I start to relax into the reading.  I’m still never without a book in my hand and five more waiting on the book shelf with 20 or 30 on my library holds list, but I’m not quite as frenetic about it.  For example, I picked up October’s Book Page at the library today, a magazine that is best described as free porn for book for nerds.  As opposed to coming home and marking it up, circling my book desires, adding to the holds list, I left it in my bag and let it wait while I moved through the delicious book I’m currently into. 

There are tons of books.  I’ll never read them all.  In fall, I’m a bit more into the process than just the finishing, and that’s beautiful in its own way. 

This year I'm not rereading anything as of yet, just simply reading some new books in a slow, deliberate manner, appreciating the language and the stories.  I just finished The Opposite of Loneliness by the late Marina Keegan.  I can’t describe it, the excitement of finding a new writer with such a valid and beautiful voice, then the sadness of realizing this is her first and last book since her life ended early at 22.  Reading the book caused my emotions to run the spectrum.  I went around hugging it to my chest for half a day after I finished it.

On the docket for this month, or this fall, or however long it takes me to finish these lovelies are:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt 
I read The Goldfinch by her last month.  To stick to an almost  800 page book, it has to be a good story, but I felt a bit unsettled about the ending, so I’m trying The Secret History to see what I think.

Girl at War by Sara Novic
The Age of Ice by J.M. Sodorova
The Kept by James Scott

I'm still reading Anna Karenina and loving it.  Karenina is a book to fall into and not rush.  I'm reading little bits of it daily but not rushing to finish.  Russian literature has always managed to make me slow down a bit.

Reading and cooking, the slow down activities of fall.  Now all I need is for it not to be 88 degrees.  I guess it's unfair to ask for everything at once.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the Next Cool Day

So, did anybody else know Celiac Awareness Day was Sunday, September 13th?  I was shocked.  We get the whole month of May and now a day in September?  Gluten-free haters, look out.  We may be taking over the world!

By pure coincidence, I made an awesome gluten-free pumpkin roll that day, and I recommend when there is a chill in the air again, you do the same thing.  Actually, I made one Saturday and Sunday.  The weather was nice, I like to bake.  Okay, enough excuses, it was delicious and we ate the first one way too fast.

I used this recipe, but I made some modifications.  I needed this roll to be 100% gluten AND dairy-free, plus I didn't feel like purchasing three different kinds of flours, so I substituted one reliable GF baking flour.

Reference the delicious directions at Meaningful Eats for this recipe.  For my personal modifications, see below.

Instead of all those flours, I used 3/4 cups of this:

I used coconut sugar because it is a lower glycemic sugar.  I still used powdered sugar in the icing, so it's not like this one change makes me a saint.  However, the coconut sugar didn't give it a too sweet taste, something people in our house can all be sensitive to from time to time.  Also, remember to add the sugar.  That important step is skipped in the directions.

I used the GF/DF cream cheese brand the blogger recommended.  It tasted fine, but I would probably make the trek to Whole Foods to find the Daiya brand next time.  The Tofutti brand was chocked full of soy, which we don't usually eat.

Instead of butter, just use coconut oil.

I took pictures of the process.  You know how people cook food and make it look so appetizing in pictures?  Well, I can't do that, but I had never made a pumpkin roll, and I would have benefited from how-to pictures.  So here you go, in case it helps.  This was my best attempt.  I promise it was amazing.

  I don't have a special roll pan.
I just used a cookie sheet and it was fine.
Other than that, follow the directions
exactly for preparing

the pan.

Rolling out the batter onto parchment

Cooked and on the towel, ready to be rolled up
and left to cool.

Don't tell anyone you are
making the icing.  That way,
you can lick the bowl without

Spreading icing. Obviously, cover
the whole thing.  This was a
half-way done picture.

Final product
A blurry side view

If anyone attempts this with an egg substitute, let me know how that turns out.  I'd like to know in case we have to eliminate eggs in January after blood work.

Happy Eating!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Not Quite Newbies Anymore

We began our official homeschool journey on September 8th of last year.  It's taken about a year for me to fall into this role, to be comfortable without feeling like that means I'm being lazy.  Here are some things that I've learned on the way, information I wish I could have given myself a year ago.  By the way, my kids are all under the age of 7, so there's a good chance I don't know what I'm talking about.  Homeschool moms of olders, I will be reaching out for your hands in the future.  Be prepared to hold me!

Don't interrupt playtime.
Playing is learning, for kids or adults.  Don't mess with it too much.  There are times during the day where I tell them to finish an assignment, but if they are in the middle of creative play, I usually just let that happen.  So much learning comes from that.

Let Dad help.
There are days when D gets home and we have not finished our homeschool work for the day, usually because of playdates or because the twins cried foul on everything we attempted by peeing in the floor or demanding roasted chick peas by making incoherent grunting sounds.  If it's been one of those day, then D takes Ash and Eo and I spend 15-20 minute with the older two wrapping up.  D also takes on some of the teaching when he is off, and the kids love it.  We school on weekends sometimes, and D jumps in and takes them on learning adventures I would never even think to explore.

Use the Bible. 
During our reading of Genesis 2, we discussed the creation of humans, where babies live in a woman's body (Wren: since the baby is in your stomach, does it just float around with all your food?  Me:  you have a uterus.  Let's discuss.) and how ladies get pregnant, why men can't.  I believe that covered the science of reproduction and the digestive system, as well as a birds and bees talk that ended with us telling Sammy, "Don't worry.  You don't have a uterus so you can't carry a baby, but you can get your wife pregnant someday."  Sam was like, "Solid."

Don't assume it's all about the curriculum.
The first question most fellow homeschoolers ask when they find out you're a kindred spirit is, "What curriculum are you using?"  Don't be intimidated by this question.  Know that at this point in the game there are more curricula on the market than you could ever fully research.  Do some homework then choose.  Or wing it for a while, like us.  We don't use a curriculum at all right now, at least not one we pay for.  I base what we study loosely off of this.  There are also free resources like Khan's Academy and Easy Peasy Homeschool.  We might actually purchase the Mystery of History curriculum this semester, but it's all I'm planning on investing in right now besides flashcards and some Spectrum math guides from the book store.  We've also been gifted with tons of workbooks by the teachers in my family.  Basically, we read, we write, we study math, we live at the library, and that's what I tell people when they ask.  Kids are natural learners; there's no need to interfere with that much, especially when they're little.

Build community.
I have found the homeschool community in this area insanely supportive and transparent, just like good community should be.  We aren't going to a co-op at this point, but we are a part of some homeschool groups, and the friendships and advice I've received are priceless.  After agonizing about trying to get all four kids to co-op while the twins were still young and having issues with separation, one of the moms from our group gave me some great advice:  Forget it.  She wisely reasoned that until my little ones are at least in preschool, what I would have to deal with trying to get all four of them out the door and acclimated so one can learn at co-op while the other three are basically baby sat is ridiculous.  This same thought had run through my head many times, but being given permission to feel this way by another person helped me drop the guilt about the situation and move on.  That's good community.

Let your kids see you do hard stuff, and fail.
This is true whether you are homeschooling or not.  For years we teach our kids to challenge themselves, set goals, practice what's hard until it's mastered.  As adults, we don't always model this.  We either get in a rut where we are afraid to try something new or we embark on a journey without including our kids in the process.  And it's all about the process.  Once I saw Wren have her 6000th breakdown over not doing something perfectly, I started talking to her about my attempts to learn Spanish.  I let her know it was hard, I got frustrated, but I also let her see me talk my way through it, grab other resources for help, keep going.  When she was having trouble memorizing multiplication facts, she said, "But I'll keep trying like you keep trying Spanish, because it's hard, but we're both working our brain muscles, so that's good."  Showing is better than telling.

Make your kids the teachers.
Asher and Eowyn have served as students since Wren and Sam started homeschool.  Wren reads books to them; Sammy shows them how to color and organize numbers.  We have built a "tent" out of chairs with a comforter hanging over it and had story times led by the older two that can last forever before finally devolving into pillow fights.  This keeps the twins involved in a process that could make them feel left out.  It helps Sam and Wren solidify what they've learned by teaching it to others.  Win-win.

We're still winging it, but I'm comfortable with that.  Each of us is learning more about how we learn and how we teach every day.  It's a blessed little adventure.