Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Banes, Pains and Praying for Rain

On my mission in Costa Rica, I noticed rather quickly the interesting "style" women, the Ticas, had when it came to dress.  I soon understood that the reason women would pair, say, a checkered top, wherein the checkers were cheetah print, and a floral print skirt with a striped ruffle -cough, urp...oh, I threw up into my mouth a little there- was that they weren't choosing an "outfit", they were choosing their favorite clothing items; best skirt, most loved top, and just happening to wear them all on the same day.  They actually had nothing to do with each other, and only had in common that they were special to the wearer.

Keep that in mind as you embark with me on the following ramblefest.

#1. I love baby clothes.
#2.  I also hate baby clothes.
#3.  Organization is my motivation.
#4. Organization is my downfall.

Okay, let us begin with #'s 1 and 2.  Baby clothes are the adorable bane of my existence.  There are so many, the sizes are ambiguous at best (yeah, right, those two items are both 3-6 month sizes, only one is twice as big as the other).  The things that look like they won't fit for two more months are what she should be wearing now, but it doesn't occur to me to try them on her until the last possible day they might fit her.  I have too many things that fit her this week, and next week there is almost nothing and we are putting her in the same thing over and over.  I can't part with any of them; baby clothes are like an extension of my actual baby.  It utterly breaks my heart to give them away.
Hence, #'s 1 and 2.

Okay, on to #'s 3 and 4...
I must get organized, yet I struggle.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  

Oh, there's a #5:
My big girls are like two fashion-challenged, color blind drunkards when it comes to clothing choices.
They put together the nastiest and most NOT matching outfits this side of Central America.

So here is my little solution for the moment.  
We'll see how much I like the "new system" a month or two from now.

Here's the BEFORE:

This is what Natalie's drawers look like most of the time.  I always wanted little girls to dress in cute clothes,
 but I am seldom the person who actually does the dressing.  The big girls fight over who dresses Natalie each morning, rummaging through the clothes, leaving a drawer of destruction in their wake.

And the AFTER:

I made little bundles, each a complete matching outfit, all rubber banded together.
The girls are not allowed to mix-n'-not-match.

So for a whole week the baby has NOT looked like a tiny Tica.
Now to attack the big girls closet.  How big do rubber bands come?

Please pray for rain for California.  The nearby lake/local water source is down to 18% full, or empty, rather, and looking more like a muddy flatland.   We have only had 3-5 inches of rain since June (the usual total for December or January is about 3-4 inches).  It is the worst drought in recorded history here.  We are being rationed on water and Sacramento residents are being asked to cut our usage by 20% and not water out of doors.  We need divine intervention here.


Monday, January 20, 2014

A Day for Carrot Pudding

I was channeling my mother on New Year's Eve.  I made 2 cheesecakes with sweet sour cream topping, 2 pumpkin pies, a large carrot pudding, and pumpkin bread with chocolate chips.  That wasn't enough, though, because if you knew my mom, you loved her cinnamon rolls.  I made dough from scratch, and because I was a little tired, I made it into a pull-apart, known around here as Monkey Bread (or if you are the boys, Monkey Balls.  I know.  Sheesh), and put it into the fridge so that I could bake it fresh the next morning. There are some times when I really miss/feel/ponder my mom.  Never so much as when I am baking her recipes. My brother, Zack, and his cutie wife, Julean, came that evening and we shared some chuckles before they headed back to their motel, exhausted from their long drive from Utah.  

That night, for the first time ever, we celebrated the New Year as just our family (and not even that, because Addy was at his first dance!).  We watched the ball drop, and at the stroke of midnight my sweetie and I kissed.  My eyes filled with tears as I thought of the difficulty of this past year, and Guy's eyes filled the minute he looked into mine.  We didn't need to say a word; we both knew what the other was thinking.  What. a. year. 

Undaunted by our low numbers, we rang in the New Year with our usual dented-pot percussion section, and the girls brought mama the broom to boot 2013 out the door (Good riddance! And don't come back, ya hear?!).  Ethan rolled his eyes, but my fervor was sincere.  With gratitude and a pinch of disdain I bowed deeply as, with an eyebrow cocked in warning, I welcomed the New Year through my threshold like you would a neighborhood child; "Come on in, but behave yourself!"

The next day brought all the joy that New Year's always did in my childhood.  Family came in waves, and the house swallowed up children by the dozen.  Voices and laughter rang ever louder as the humble walls of our smallish rooms tried to stretch themselves a little wider in welcome.  Mismatched chairs collected in semi-circles, filling and vacating as plates and punch glasses emptied and were filled again, like a game of musical chairs without the music.

My kitchen table and counters spilled over with savories and sweets.  Sneaky fingers snatched cookies that sat too temptingly-close to the edges of their trays.  Whole tables of paper plates with barely-touched potato salad (but emptied of chips, of course) sat abandoned in the studio, the only clue as to their owners scrawled in childish, sharpie-marker-script on plastic cups.

I let myself let go.  I didn't try to entertain.  I didn't fret the spills.  I listened to stories and told a few, and thought of the ones who couldn't make it this time, consoling myself in the same moment with the thought: We will try again this summer!

And heard in my head another thought,
 whispered with peaceful resolve: 
Mom would have loved this.

(So sad this one is blurry.
  Aunt Marilyn, we will try again this summer!)

The teenagers hid out in corners and dodged the camera, but it was easy to remember being their age, being at a family reunion so many years ago, hanging out with my cousins and eating pie, and feeling sorry when it was time to say goodbye again.  I felt then, as I did on this day, that glow of family affection rekindled.  That desire to know these people better, to be with them more often, to forge stronger bonds and to be more grateful for each one.  There is a story for each soul, and those stories are braided together, with threads that end while others begin, without ever breaking the length of rope they form.

I am so grateful for family.  
Thank you all for making this the best New Year's Day I can remember.

Mom's Cheesecake Recipe

Mix the crumbs from 16 graham crackers with 5 Tbsp sugar and 5 Tbsp melted butter, press into a pie tin and bake at 350 for 5-10 minutes.

Next, blend 8 oz. ROOM TEMP cream cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and poor into crust.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until center is set.  Do not allow top to brown.

In a bowl, mix 1 pint sour cream with 5 tsp. sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Pour over cheesecake and bake 5-10 minutes.  Cool, and serve cold with lots of happy people.  If you are really smart, you will double the recipe so that you can eat a slice for breakfast (oh, like you've never done that).  Julean says to double the sour cream topping on each pie, because it's the best part.

Carrot Pudding
 (This is "Christmas Pudding" from fairy tales.  
Tiny Tim was a big fan of the stuff.  This one was my grandma's)

Okay, so here is the easy part.  Dump all this stuff together:

1 cup ULTRA finely grated carrots
1 cup grated potato (yes, ubber-fine, again)
1 cup raisins (I know, that's a lot, huh?  Crazy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey or Karo syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup flour
1 tsp soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: nuts, ginger, nutmeg

Now, here's where it gets a little tricky.  You will need to create a double boiler if you don't have one (mine is too small).  Get your BIGGEST soup pot.  Put a canning jar ring (or several) in the bottom.  Now find a metal or glass bowl that is heat safe and deep, but check to make sure it will fit down into your pot while the pot lid is on.  Okay, now line that bowl with foil, leaving long flaps of excess foil hanging over (I make a giant foil X and press it down into the bowl).  Pour the batter into the foil lined bowl, and then lay a new sheet of foil across the top (are you lost yet?  Hang in there, not long now!).  Press the foil down onto the surface of the batter and then roll up the flaps of foil around the top rim of the bowl.  The final result will be what looks like a foil pie of sorts.  With one more sheet of foil, top the bowl off without pushing the foil down into the cavity, like you would if you were putting away leftovers.

Whew!  Okay, last step!  Set the bowl into the pot, resting on the rings, and fill the pot with water until the bowl is at least halfway submerged.  Do not allow water to be closer than 1 inch from the top of the bowl.  Put on the lid and simmer for (ahem...) four hours.  Yep.  You heard that right.  You will need to refill the water a few times, so check every 45 minutes or so.  I set a timer to remind myself to check.  Boiling it dry won't kill the pudding but your pot will suffer.

Serve warm with "Hard Sauce" or whipped cream (or both, right?  I mean, who are we kidding?  We eat dessert for breakfast).

Hard Sauce 
(sorry, this version is booze-free.  Not so hard after all!)
Mix: 4 eggs lightly beaten, 1 cube melted butter,  2 cups sugar and a splash of vanilla  (a splash is a very technical and precise cooking measurement, somewhere between a drizzle and a glub).  Steam over a double boiler stirring constantly until it becomes syrupy and foamy on top.  So yum.  

See you this summer, guys.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dumbo Feathers

Tessa, buried into my sweater, refusing to even look at Santa.

She started up again.  "I'm nervous mommy."

"There is nothing to be worried about.  It's just a church party.  We will be in the church with all of our friends and we will eat dinner."

"But what if I get sick?!"

This has been the template of every conversation we have had with Tessa for as long as recent history permits me to remember.  You see, up until a few months ago we had Tess on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet because our own home experiments showed that she responded well to the elimination of those two food types from her diet.  Naturally, we decided she was allergic to them.

Tessa is not allergic to gluten.  Or dairy.  

WHAT?!?!  Are you kidding me?!?! No, I'm not, and don't call me Shirley (Sorry, bad Office humor, not a misquote from Airplane).

It is important that I write about this because what we have learned in the last 6 months could change the lives of others.  Please understand, I am a firm believer that food intolerances exist and can destroy the functional life of a person.  It just happens that Tessa doesn't actually have them.

If you are just joining this story, let me go back a bit.  At about age 5, Tessa began to complain that her tummy hurt.  Complaints went from once a week to once a day to aaaaaall daaaaaay loooooong, every day.  It was exhausting and heartbreaking to see her suffer, and nothing seemed to help.  A doctor suggested it was IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), something I was diagnosed with 22 years ago, and well known to me and the rest of the civilized world as code for I Be Stressed.  I refused the hasty diagnosis and began studying her symptoms and trying things to help her.  We made the bold move to take her off gluten to see if she would improve.  We bought her lots of replacement foods that were gluten-free, and taught her how to read labels and look for code words -food starch, barley, soy sauce - for things that had gluten in them.  She began to improve that very first day.  Each day got better, and while she did have an occasional bad day, we assumed that she must have gotten some gluten-contaminated food.  We became more diligent, having containers of PB, mayo and jam that were solely for her use to avoid gluten contamination.  It helped, but after about a year, we heard the familiar refrain of "my tummy hurts" more and more often.  I decided to re-examine her diet, and this time removed another common offender; dairy.  Again, Tessa responded instantly and very well, but this time in only six months she began complaining of pain, irregularity and diarrhea. Feeling helpless, I returned with her to the doctor, desiring more thorough testing.  The pediatrician said she would have to refer us to a gastro specialist, but that first we would have to go to an IBS "class". 

I have unhappily been subjected to my health insurance's "classes" before, but this was the only door to the specialist, so we opened it.  During the first session Guy and I sat and listened as total skeptics, knowing that THIS was not OUR child.  The room was filled with parents and their possibly moody, certainly streesed-out teenagers.  We clearly didn't belong.  Stress management?  What could Tessa have to be stressed about?  "Let's see, Chex or Corn Pops?  Polka dots or stripes?  Hello Kitty or Strawberry Shortcake? Oh, the humanity!"  

But then close to the end of that first hour a number popped out of the blah-blah-blah.  One year.  That people with IBS are particularly receptive to the placebo effect, and even show great temporary improvement after treatments as extreme as gal bladder surgery, but that after about one year, symptoms usually return.  

Uh-oh.  Guy and I did that raised eyebrow thingy at each other.  The more they talked, the more this was starting to sound like our child.  A few studies and statistics later and we were more than a little convinced that we should try a few suggestions, the first being accepting the possibility that Tessa might have IBS.

We decided to find out.  If she was truly dairy- and gluten-intolerant, there was a surefire way to find out.  One big lie and a bowl of run-o-th'-mill ice cream later and we had our answer  ("This is the best dairy free ice cream ever, mom!  We have to buy this again!").  We fed her dairy for three days with no ill effects, and then we decided to tell her.

She looked worried.

It was like we had taken her coat away and sent her out in the cold.  She was confused and insecure.  We tried to celebrate, to tell her all of the cool things she could now enjoy.  Then we told her that next we could test gluten!  Wouldn't it be cool if she wasn't really allergic?  How awesome would it be to go to a party and just eat?!?!

She started crying.  "No!  I'm gonna get sick!"  She fell completely apart.  She kept herself on her dairy free diet for several more days, all on her own.

We decided to just keep her on her gluten free diet for a while.  She asked often if we were tricking her, if there was gluten in her food.  About 3 weeks later I made her favorite gluten-free brownies, and loaded them with wheat flour.  


I tested for several more days before telling her.  When we did, she protested and said I was wrong, that gluten makes her sick.  We all assured her that she had eaten gluten every day for half the week without a reaction.  She got a worried look, and then shrugged her shoulders and said, "So can I have a snickerdoodle then?"

I wish that were the end of this little story.  It's not.  You know how Dumbo thought he needed to have that feather in his trunk to make him fly?  Well, believing that she had some control over what was happening in her body by controlling her diet made Tessa feel safe and protected.  When Guy and I cooked for her and provided special items from expensive little stores, her stress was reduced because she felt well cared for.  

Her Dumbo feather is gone now.

Had I known what it would do to her to take away her belief that she had total control, I would have kept her on the gluten and dairy free diet forever.  Her stress has shot up.  She worries about things that are coming, good or bad.  She panicked as Christmas got closer and closer, and she couldn't even say why.  "Because it's coming and I'm worried but I don't know why,"  She said.

It is going to be a process to teach Tessa how to deal with her stress.  Her tummy troubles have increased ten fold.  She cries a lot more now, and isn't able to do some of the things she used to do, like visiting with Santa.  We try to strike a balance between offering compassion and telling her, "You're fine, suck it up."  Of course I would never actually say that (okay, maybe under my breath from the other room), but I also don't want to show undue attention to the problem, reinforcing her belief that indeed there is something to be worried about.  Still, a natural born worrier myself, I know that sometimes what I need to hear most is simply, "It's okay, you're going to be okay."

And eventually, I'm sure it will be.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Angel Gabriel

It in the spirit of catching up, there is a story that needs telling.  Though it is not mine to tell, I will do my best.  It’s not mine to tell, because it’s Ruth’s, but every story needs a storyteller, and humbly, I take on the task.

And each story has a hero, or in this case, a heroine.  This story has Ruth.

Ruth and I met about six years ago after she had a cesarean for the breech birth of her son Nate.  Our bond grew closer over the years with 5 pregnancies each, but only two live births a peace, and the grief that we supported each other through.  For her part, Ruth had deeply desired a drug free, natural, normal birth as much for herself as for women in the future to whom she would tend as a doula.  How can you encourage a woman through her epidural- and pain medication-free birth if you have no idea how she really feels?  You can, but it’s hard to do it without feeling like a hypocrite.  She had been successful at a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC), but having learned in early labor with her 4th full term pregnancy that her baby Rhys’s tiny heart had stopped beating, she did exactly what most of us, certainly I, would have done; she accepted relief for her physical pain, an epidural.  Surely it would do nothing to touch the pain that the weeks, months and years to come would hold.

She became pregnant again, and little Autumn was born, of necessity, by cesarean.  Her heart had begun to show irregularities, and after losing Rhys, no chances were being taken.  A cord wound twice around her neck in the womb showed the wisdom of her mode of birth.  Still, needed as it had been, and thrilled as she was to have her healthy girl safe in her arms, Ruth’s heart still had a door that had never been unlocked.  It seemed she might never know what it could be to consciously birth.

Fast forward to mid November just two months ago, as Ruth awaited the birth of a baby boy.  His name already chosen, all tests showed baby Gabriel to be healthy.  But signs began to indicate that his placenta was aging too rapidly; he needed to be born soon.  Ruth had asked me to attend her birth, which I agreed to do though it would break all my own rules.  I had a small nursling, little Natalie, only five months old.  And I had yet to regain my own health and strength after our year of trials.  But this was Ruth, one of my dearest friends.  Of course, I agreed.

Ruth called one afternoon to let me know an induction was to begin that day, a Friday.  Because of the two cesareans quite literally under her belt, care would need to be taken to prevent a rupture.  Induction drugs would be used, but at only very low doses.

Friday became Saturday, and though true labor had not really begun, Ruth needed me to come, so I did.  I knew I would have to bring Natalie, but Ruth’s sweet papa took her easily and cared for her at times so that I could tend to Ruth.  We struggled through the day and night, and yet another day.  Emotions ran high for Ruth, and frustration was constant because of the reluctance of her body to "kick in".  I packed Natalie on my back when needed, and we worked into that third night with labor at last in full swing.  It was Adam’s birthday, and my heart ached to miss it.  It is the dilemma of everyone who tends to mothers in birth; when the needs of the mother collide with those of our own children.

Ruth’s mama and daughter came, and Ruth worked as only a mother who has labored in full feeling can begin to understand.  Steve, her sweetie, tended her heart and whispered support gently in her ear.  Slow and steady progress having been made throughout that third night, Ruth finally went into transition, and in a sudden and surprising turn of events, her body sprinted the last lap, her baby coming in a rush of just a few minutes.

Gabriel Alexander was born November 25th, at 2:51AM, weighing a hefty 9 lbs 14 oz. Just as she had hoped she would, Ruth welcomed her baby into the world fully present in body and heart.  Though she had delivered a live baby, Autumn, after her stillborn, baby Gabriel was still a “rainbow baby”.  He fulfilled a longtime dream for her, being born into her arms without anything to dampen or muffle her experience.  He was her fifth living, sixth born child from her ninth pregnancy, but the first baby she actually felt being born.  Her body performed its task beautifully, and the ripples in the pond of her heart, having had this experience, will continue on and on as she takes both what she learned, and the healing and confidence it has given her, to use for a blessing in the births of every woman she will tend to for the rest of her life.

Welcome Baby Gabriel. 

It was a privilege seeing you take your first breath, and a greater one still to witness the courage of your amazing mama.

(and you also broke my record for longest birth attended...41 hours!)

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Giving my arms a break for a quick shower,
Natalie snoozes with the worlds best snoozer -
 face blurred to conceal his identity!

Poor Na-no-nee is sickNot just a little bit sick, she is cough-up-your-lungs, throw-up-your-medicine, hang-on-your-mama sick.  At night we wrestle for hours as she tries to get comfortable, fussing with a squawk that resembles a newborn kitten eeking out a scratchy mew.  After each cough, she winces in pain, and her cries are quiet hisses; open mouthed and soundless, with the most pitiful look on her face and giant tumbling tears on her cheeks.  She has gotten wise to my attempts at snot-control, and though she weighs a scant 15 pounds, with ninja-stealth she whaps the tissue away, every time.

I took her to the doctor just to check her ears and lungs, as this has gone on for over a week.  I don't think I have ever had a baby this sick, and for this long.  All good.  “She just has a really bad cold,” the doctor said.

No kidding, Dr. Obvious.

But you know, as miserable and sick as she is, she settles down when we go outside, or even change scenery in the house by walking room to room.  And with a little effort she can be made to smile.  All it takes is for one of her favorite people to walk in the room and she seems to perk up.

She doesn’t want to be put down, so she is napping on my chest.  It’s a paradox; I love holding my baby, but I hate seeing her sick, but I hold her more when she is sick, and when she is well and happy in healthier times, I tend to put her down more.  Yah, I don’t get me either.  But while she naps I have single-handedly (as in literally, one handed) polished off a few computer projects that have been neglected.  Still, my heart breaks for her and I want her well.

Sick baby thought for the new year: When you’re feeling rotten, change your point of view.  If that doesn't work, seek out one of your favorite people.  If all else fails. Take a nap!

Construction Zone

Warning:  Here is where my lameness really shines.  It's 3AM and I have been working for hours on a great new look for the Great New Year.  Alas, the picture you see above is only a small portion of a cool collage that I made.  It refuses to be "resized" at the moment, so this is what you get.  I am not even sure I like the new colors and background and all, so after I have had a chance to sleep on it, and write a hate-email to Picasa Photo Editor, I will hopefully have resolved the big scary photo problem.  In the mean time, if you would like to copy and print it you will have a lovely poster-sized wall hanging.

Good night.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Calling all opinions!

"My pyder haves free mowf-ses" (My spider has three mouths) by Jonah

Hi Friends.

Because, let's face it, if you are willing to put up with my many flaws, tangents and type-os, you are, indeed, my friends.  It has been suggested many times that I write a book.  While I love that idea on a thousand levels, I thought I would start with a baby step, and publish a collection of my "Best" (or "Most Ridiculous" or "Completely Obnoxious"...) posts as a Kindle book.  I am happy to report that my first Kindle book is doing well enough to pay for Ethan's weekly boxing classes.  My next goal is to earn enough to fix some of the horrors in this dilapidated box we call home.

Here's where you come in!  Will you, please, pretty please, tell me what your personal favorite posts have been?  If you can't remember the title, just tell me what it was about.  If you are really feeling helpful, I invite you to go back to the beginning and read posts that you missed.

The post that started it all:

If you help me, I will list you as one of my editors!  Now how cool is that?  Seriously.  I will.  And maybe I can make you lunch.

Thank you!!!!

Eenie, Meenie, Mynie, Mo

I took Jonah to redeem his "Ice Cream with Mommy" coupon that I gave him for Christmas.  He was certain that he wanted BEYUE flavor.  Did you know BLUE is a flavor?  It is when you are three.  When we got to the shop, we pretty much had the joint to ourselves, being as it's winter and a crisp 70 degrees out.  Jonah surveyed the 31 choices and pointed to a tag that had blue lettering on it.  "That's just blue words, honey.  The ice cream is white with cookies in it."  After a while I coaxed him into trying GREEN.  I didn't tell him it was mint chocolate chip, because he calls mint "too picey", and I wanted him to give it a chance.  One tiny sample on a little pink spoon and the boy was hooked.

Two cones and a stack of napkins later and we were seated by the window enjoying our treat.  I had taken my time looking at my choices, too, feeling free to be open minded, but I settled on my almost-usual, chocolate peanut butter.  Even though technically there are 31 choices, to me, there are REALLY only 4 or 5.  Sugar free? Heck no.  Sherbet, or -bert?  If I wanted frozen fruit I'd grind up the strawberries in my freezer that have been there since last summer.  Nothing with "Nut" in the title.  Vanilla is a good choice when the only choice is vanilla.  And please don't throw a bunch of junk into the vanilla and rename it; Ballpark, Quarterback, Jubilee?  Who are we trying to fool here folks?  It's vanilla.

Let's just be honest, if there is something chocolate, with chunks of chocolate or chocolate ribbons running through it, then it's simply a matter of one scoop or two.  Give me five choices of chocolate, and I don't care how many other choices there are.

Jonah was thrilled with his new choice.  His horizon has expanded!  Not only did he eat GREEN, he tried "spicey" ice cream with no permanent damage done.  As we sat smiling and eating, I got to thinking (you saw it coming, didn't you?), how often do I have an idea so stuck in my head that I can't even see that there are other options for how I can behave or respond?  How often is what I am choosing not even related to the question at hand, like Jonah insisting on BLUE flavor, and settling for GREEN, never considering the actual flavor at all?

Tiny-pink-spoon thought for the new year: Try a little something different, even if it is BLUE (or far, or new, or scary, or potentially embarrassing...)

Wow, I think I just gave myself and ice cream headache.