Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dairy Free Whipped Cream Recipe

I was determined to make whipped cream for Thanksgiving.  I googled, looked around on the internet and got an idea of what the recipe would need to include and then went shopping.

At the store I knew that I was looking for "full fat canned coconut milk" but I couldn't find the canned coconut milk among the milk alternatives so I settled for a box of coconut milk and refrigerated it and then opened it, hoping to find cream on the sides and clear liquid to drain off.

Alas it looked like any other milk alternatives with no cream in sight.  And despite my best efforts with the hand held mixer (because I was still kind of hopeful) it wouldn't thicken.

So I sent Paul to a health food store near our house today in search of canned milk (which is much easier to find since he wasn't accompanied by all four of our children).

He returned home with the cans and tonight, after refrigerating them all day, I opened them and made the best whipped cream I've ever tasted.

Not many dairy alternatives are really as good as the real thing, but this, in my opinion, surpasses regular whipped cream (it helps that I like coconut... if you don't like coconut this isn't likely a recipe for you).  And so I thought I'd share the very simple recipe that I came up with.  Other recipes I found had more ingredients, but I threw together just three ingredients and it worked beautifully.

So here is what you need to make wonderful dairy free whipped cream:

4 cans full fat coconut milk (refrigerated for at least eight hours)
1 cup powdered sugar (you can vary this amount based on how sweet you want the cream to be.  1 cup is very sweet!)
1 tsp vanilla

Open the refrigerated milk and drain off the clear liquid.  Spoon the cream from the cans into your mixing bowl and beat the cream until it's smooth. Add the vanilla and mix again until it's combined.  Mix in the powdered sugar until the entire thing is entirely combined.

And that's it!  It's ready to use.  If you need to refrigerate it to use it the next day just remove it a couple of hours before you need it because the cream will thicken when it's cold (although it softens quickly when whipped, so if you use the mixer on it again I'm sure it will pretty immediately be ready to use).

I'm so excited to have a whipped cream that Maggie and Patch (and I!) can have!  I can't wait to see their faces when they taste it!

Why I'm Thankful for C-Sections

James is not impressed.
I have to admit every time I see an article or online conversation talking about the evils of c-sections I find myself feeling increasingly annoyed.

I have a love-hate relationship with my c-sections.  I hate that I had to have them, but I love that I'm alive and that my kids are alive and healthy and if c-sections weren't around none of us would be.

Sadie was born after five hours of pushing (without an epidural).  When I was being wheeled in for my c-section the words "I'm going to die" had been on repeat in my head for the better part of an hour.  And apparently they weren't far wrong.  Doctor after doctor (including our very nature-friendly family doctor) who I saw in the hours and days and weeks after the c-section volunteered the information that neither of us would have survived without the c-section.

Patch was transverse.  He'd been turned twice and was head down when an ultrasound was done while I was laboring in the hospital but sometime before my water broke (naturally) he turned himself around again and went back to his favorite position.  Both of our boys just seemed to love that position while they were in the womb.  Transverse likely wouldn't have ended while for me (or Patch) without a c-section either (even the all natural hypno-babies program that I did for that thirty-something hour trial of labor admits that transverse babies need c-sections).

Gearing up for c-section #4.
So I guess you could say that I have a healthy appreciation of c-sections since I wouldn't be here without them.  Would I have opted for them if I had a choice?  Absolutely not.  But I'm incredibly thankful that the technology exists that make five of the six lives in our house possible because without it Paul would have been widowed after less than two years of marriage.

Right now there's a popular article floating around my Facebook feed about the "cruelty" of c-sections.  They make the claim that c-sections are a form of birth control to prevent women from having more babies.

I find myself... skeptical.  I think that there are plenty of reasons that c-sections are done.  Many are absolutely necessary and lifesaving for the mother or the baby (or both).  Some probably are the result of doctors who are being over cautious because of a fear of lawsuits in the event that something does go wrong that might have been prevented.  I will admit that the c-section rate is very high in our country.  I seriously doubt, however, that many doctors are suggesting that first c-section as a way to discourage women from having more kids.  Is it within the realm of possibility that someone out there has that motivation?  Yes. Does it seem likely that many doctors do?  I just don't buy it.

I know that the motivation behind these articles is to encourage women to avoid c-sections, but I sometimes feel they overestimate the number of women who say "Oh you know what sounds fun?  Having to recover from major abdominal surgery while caring for a newborn!"  And so they come out swinging about the evils of c-sections and I feel that they often do so at the expense of women who have to do have to have them.  

Sadie after that first c-section.
I've known so many women who feel shame about their c-sections, who have lost the joyful realization that bringing a child into the world is beautiful, even when it wasn't the picture perfect birth they might have imagined or written into their birth plan.

When a woman begins to look into birthing she's likely to find a vocal portion of those writing about the subject passionately talking about the benefits of natural birth.  That isn't a bad thing.  I think natural births are amazing.  I desperately wanted one.  They just aren't always possible.

However I have a huge problem with the mindset that says that only one "type" of birth is good is good, only one is beautiful.  Some women even struggle to call their c-sections "giving birth" and I think in large part that's because of the shaming that's done when c-sections come up.  Your choices are suddenly questioned and you may even be told "well you could have done this and this and this" and you "likely wouldn't have needed one then."

I've been told that repeatedly when I've spoken up about the benefits (mainly not dying) of the surgery.

So for those of you out there who've felt doubts about your c-section, who've been questioned and made to feel like less of a mother because of the way in which you're child came into the world, I'd like to say that those who've made you feel that way are so, so very wrong.  Perhaps they are well meaning, but they are also still wrong.  Your birth and whatever way you brought your little one into the world is a hard but beautiful thing.

We are blessed to live in an age when doctors can save mothers and babies far more often than they could in past generations.  I'm reminded of that fact after hearing these claims of the "cruelty of c-sections" every time I look at my little family, which wouldn't exist if it weren't for that technology which so many feel the need to speak out against.  I'm thankful for c-sections and for all those lives that have been saved by the surgery.  Without it my family wouldn't exist.

Our Gluten Free Dairy Free Thanksgiving Stuffing

I came up with this recipe last year (and posted it shortly before Thanksgiving) when I was longing for a gluten free dairy free stuffing that everyone in the family could eat but I couldn't really find anything that I liked.  After some experimenting I came up with this.  This year I'm going to add some gluten free bread crumbs that I'm going to be making with Sadie's favorite gluten free bread (I'll be slicing and toasting the bread today with a little bit of garlic, making this recipe today as is, and then throwing them together and heating them up tomorrow, because this recipe is best made the day before you're going to use it).

4 stalks celery, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 purple onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
10 white mushrooms, diced
1 green apple, diced
1 red apple, diced
1 cup pecans
½ lb ground pork
¾ quart chicken stock
1 tbs Thyme + about 1 tsp
1 tbs Sage + about 1 tsp
1 tbs Rosemary + about 1 tsp
1 tbs Tarragon 
1 tsp Celery Seed
1 tsp Parsley
1 tsp Salt + about 1 tsp
1 tbs Onion Powder + about 1 tsp
1 tbs Garlic Powder + about 1 tsp
½ cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or whatever your baking your turkey at if you do end up making this on Thanksgiving!).

Mix the celery, onions, garlic, mushroom and apples and put them in a baking dish.  Top with the pecans and then drizzle the honey over the pecans. Allow to sit while you cook the pork.

Cook the pork on the stove top, draining off the fat and seasoning it with thyme, sage, rosemary, salt, onion powder and garlic powder (I alloted the "+ about 1 tsp" for this part with the first measurement on the list going into the main recipe, but would suggest doing this part to taste).  When the pork is done combine it with the rest of the ingredients, mixing in the honey covered pecans and adding the rest of the spices and salt (you can vary this! I tend to add a lot of spices to everything that I make!).  Pour in the chicken stock until the dish is not quite covered (I then patted it with a spoon to pack everything down into the stock).

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.  Reheat the next day in the oven before it's time to eat and enjoy!  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Six Weeks: On Siblings and Frowns

I have to admit, when I was pregnant with James, I was a little worried about Patch's reaction to his little brother's arrival.  With Sadie and Mae the adjustment to adding new babies had always gone smoothly and I knew that they would both be over the moon about a new baby, but Patch, I worried, might be a different story.

He was the most possessive of Mommy Time and Mommy Cuddles and while I was sure we would still have our special Patch and Mommy time together I wondered what his reaction would be to a tiny newborn who would spend much of the first months of his life in the wrap strapped to my chest.

Today James is six weeks old and it seems that I need not have worried.

When I bring James into the living room in the morning I feel like I'm introducing a pop star to his fan club.  There's scrambling for the best seat.  Patch usually gets there first, repeating "Buddy! Huggies!" while trying to lift James out of my arms and kiss his face.  While I remind him to be gentle he'll carefully examine James' tiny fingers, touch his cheeks, all the while repeating the nickname that he's come up with over and over again.  An excited chorus of "Buddy!  Buddy!  Buddy!" echoes through our days.

Once James' cheeks have been kissed a dozen or so times, Patch usually goes back to playing.  And then it's Mae's turn.  She'll quickly fill in the space left by her brother and stare at James' tiny face with a huge smile.  She'll touch his cheek and look at me, waiting for me to say cheek.  She'll point to his nose and do the same thing.  She loves for me to label whatever it is she's pointing to, whether it's a doll or her brother's tiny mouth, and we repeat the routine every morning and most afternoons.  She'll gaze at him and say "love, love, love" in a quiet voice.  And just like her brother she'll give him several kisses during each visit before going back to playing.

Yesterday as we were getting the kids out of the car after a trip to the grocery store James let out a scream.  Mae was about to get out of the other side of the van, but she stopped and raced over to look at his face and touch his cheek before reluctantly turning and going back over to where Paul was waiting for her.  He was fine.  She just needed to make sure.

As we expected, Sadie has done well too.  She's the only one big enough (and responsible enough) to hold him on her own and if she hasn't been given a chance in a few days to take advantage of this big sister right, she'll let me know.  And at night after we've cleaned up the house and when Patch and Mae are safely in their beds I'll put him on the floor for tummy time and she'll lay down next to him, with her face close to his for moral support.  He's not a huge fan of tummy time, but it's not so bad when his big sister does it with him.

While Patch calls him "Buddy" and Mae calls him "Ames!!!" in her sweet little sing song chirp, Sadie is trying out "Iggy," "Grumpasaurus" and "Grumpy Cat" on her youngest sibling, who occasionally graces us with a smile, but still seems to spend a good deal of time trying to figure out how he got to this loud, bright world and regarding everything around him with a fair measure of suspicion:

And of course a few of my favorite smiles... Daddy still gets the vast majority of the smiles but once in a while he'll throw on my way too!

Happy six week birthday James!  Time has flown since you joined us and I can't believe that you're outgrowing your three month sleepers already!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Every Year Christmas Crafting Crunch

The doll house wasn't
the best idea.
It happens every single year.  The slow creeping suspicion that I've bitten off more than I can chew when it comes to Christmas present crafting.  

Gradually, as we get closer to Christmas, the suspicion will begin to blossom into something like panic, although usually actual panic is staved of by the fact that I can remain in denial for a ridiculous amount of time, reasoning that if I stay up all night for the next dozen nights I can surely finish everything that needs to be done so that everything that I planned on making gets finished in time for Christmas morning.  

And at the very end I can at least proclaim "Christmas is a season!  It's not just one day!" which implies that that present that was being made on Christmas Eve will be finished before Epiphany, when in reality I probably will collapse on that first night of Christmas exhausted and not pick up that particular project again until the next year when I think "hey this could fit (insert the name of next smallest child here)" and finally finish it, thankful that I had something halfway done.  

I actually wouldn't be worried at all at this point if it weren't for the incredibly grumpy baby, who actually isn't all that grumpy with dairy eliminated from my diet, but who still thinks that the sound of the sewing machine being fired up means it must be Mommy and James time... and who can refuse cuddles like that, even if they do tend to be a little frown filled, because I'm not Daddy and Daddy gets all the smiles.

I'm not even kidding.  Paul picks up James and James beams at him.  Paul says "Oh look!  He's smiling at me for the bazillionth time today at ME!" and I rush over and get this look:

So today I will sit down to make the list of things to be made.  I'm a little behind.  I think usually The List is made in September.  I think James can take credit for the fact that it hasn't been made yet this year, because my to do list in September was heavily focused on what needed to be done before he arrived and so Christmas craft planning took a back seat.  

A more ambitious Christmas
when I sewed Sadie a
Sofia dress and built
that doll house in the
back ground.
Despite all the rush that usually happens at the end, I still love the homemade holidays we've had these last years since Paul started law school.  Because while there has been some stress when I think of getting things done, there's also been, by necessity, a sort of simplification that has helped us focus on the reason we're celebrating.  

Sadie's first Christmas was jam packed with presents.  I'd been shopping for the entire time I was pregnant with her and then through the six months until Christmas.  When I opened the closet and saw how many presents had accumulated, it was ridiculous.  

I love these homemade Christmases.  This year I'm debating whether or not to go with the three presents per kid strategy we've done in the past or the "something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read" strategy, but I guess I'll figure that out when I make the list today!  

Can you relate to the yearly feeling of a Christmas crafting crunch that always seems to sneak up on you, no matter how much you plan ahead of time?  

I sometimes feel that even when I do start sewing and knitting in September I still run out of time before Christmas morning!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Halfway Through the Year: A Homeschooling Update

We started up our homeschool year back at the start of April.  I'd been planning on having some sort of a small "summer" break before we started back up again, but a certain almost-six year old was eager to start first grade and be a first grader and I figured that if she's ready to learn than I'm ready to help her.

Besides, getting through as many months as we could before the new baby arrived seemed like a great idea, just in case I got hit with bed rest at some point in the pregnancy, or had a super high needs baby that required us to take a little extra time off later on.  Once I realized that we were actually going to start in April, I mapped out a plan and then we hit the ground running.

When I first began to research homeschooling, back when Sadie was all of a year old, I read every book I could get my hands on and fell in love with the classical methods that I learned about.  As a result I already knew that we at least wanted to try using the game plan and various suggested curriculum laid out in the The Well-Trained Mind and I wrote about a day in the life of our homeschool when we were nearly two months in back at the end of May.  

I've been meaning to write an update for at least a month about how things were going when we hit the halfway point in our year, but a certain someone has been distracting me from getting very much done around here:

Or at least he's distracted me from sleeping enough to have enough brain power to write a post (which, let's face it, is basically the same thing).  Today I'm hoping to have enough energy to write that post and lay out our plan, a little over a hundred days into our school year.

School has been going wonderfully.  I put James in the Moby and he sleeps through our morning school time and Patch has even started joining us at the table, pointing at colors and shouting "red!"  "blue!"  "yellow!" while Sadie works on spelling (this is his favorite book to point out colors in), until Patch is ready for a nap.

The Planner... Helping me keep track of everything
that's going on in our lives.
Sadie's day now starts with Explode the Code .  After Sadie finished the first book of Spelling Workout (A) I decided to take a break from the program and try Explode the Code to reinforce what she was learning in her reading lessons.  She'd done really well with Spelling Workout, and her test scores when she went in for the learning eval showed she was ahead in spelling, but she was still struggling with reading at that point (since we hadn't figured out the whole midline thing yet) and so I thought I'd give Explode the Code a try, since I'd heard great things about it.  

Explode the Code has been a huge success.  She zipped through the first book in two months (that was probably also aided by the fact that we figured out the whole "crossing the midline"thing at around the same time) and as she neared the end of the workbook she began begging me to buy the second book so that she could start on it as soon as she finished the first one.  

I ordered the second book in the Explode the Code series and introduced the second book of the Spelling Workout program at the same time.  She works on two pages of Explode the Code and after finishing Explode the Code, which goes along so gradually that she basically does it on her own, we work on a Spelling Workout 2 lesson, either reviewing the previous lessons and words, or working on a new lesson.  

Once we're done with Spelling Workout we start the grammar/language portion of the day with First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind.  First Language Lessons for the Well Trained mind has everything from grammar, with the memorization of definitions (memorization is huge at this point in a Classical Education) and identifying basic parts of speech, to occasional narration exercises and poems, and even narrations about what's happening in pieces of artwork.  We finished First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind yesterday and will be moving on to First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2 later in the week.

After we finish our daily lesson from First Language Lessons we move on to copy work and memory work.  Basically every day Sadie copies a poem, or part of a poem or a quote, and then works on reciting something that she's memorizing (usually a poem, but sometimes a new prayer).

Reading is next on our schedule.  We start with The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading.  We've taken this book really slowly.  If the lessons start to get frustrating, we just go back a week or two and I'll have her re-read the stories that seemed hard a short while before.  It's a huge confidence boost as she realizes that letter combinations and words she was struggling with have become easy and by the time we get back to the lessons that were difficult they've become easy too.

The second half of our reading practice involves her reading a book she's chosen like A Tale of Two Sisters or The Christmas Party (her favorite story of the moment).

Next it's time for math.  We're about a quarter of the way through the second Singapore Math Book for first graders.  I'm really amazed at how much she's learned and how well the program has matched the pace at which she learns.  It's the one part of curriculum that looks like it will perfectly match our school year and the way the program builds on past lessons has been excellent for the way Sadie learns.

After math we move on to our religion class.  We recently completed the Faith and Life books (there's a textbook and a workbook).  Next year I think we'll continue with the Faith and Life series, but for the rest of the year I'm planning on using the Dominican Sister's Virtues in Practice (which can be downloaded for free if you follow the link).  Some days we go back and read one of the books from the Catholic Children's Treasure Box  or we'll read a few stories from the Picture Book of Saints (we've also read this Bible at least twice through and are planning on moving on to this one next).

What comes next varies from day to day.  Some days we do history using The Story of the World or science using the outline set out in the Well Trained Mind (for first grade it involves a part of the year learning about animals, a portion spent learning about the human body and a part of the year learning about plants).  Most days we do some sort of art.  Sometimes she knits or plays reading games on her Kindle once she's finished all her other work.

In the afternoons, when all the therapies are finished and it's just me and the kids we cuddle on the couch and read together. Right now we're reading Little House in the Big Woods (for the second time).

This year I've also managed to balance the schedule to fit in extra activities (it took a little bit of time getting the hang of managing it all, but I think I'm starting to manage getting out more effectively... most of the time at least!  Being given the all clear to lift more than 12 lbs will be a huge relief and that's still a few weeks away.).  Sadie has ballet one night a week and karate one night a week and she has American Heritage Girls every other week (and we found a brand new group starting at a nearby Catholic Church and joined!  It's been a much better fit!).  Throw in OT and Speech one to two times a week, which will be starting in the near future and occasional field trips (which are more frequent when the temperature isn't spending most of its time below freezing) and we're definitely keeping busy!

That's my summary of the first half (plus a month or two) or first grade.  This year has just flown by!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Near Disaster: When Non-Dairy Doesn't Mean Non-Dairy

I love Meijer.  I feel like I need to start by saying that, before I get down to the meat of this post.

After living in California and Florida and now in Michigan and having driven back and forth across the country several times during those moves, we've gotten to test out quite a few different grocery chains and Meijer is my favorite.  After all, what other store has Sandy the horse (along with just about every other thing that we could possibly want or need), who the kids can ride for a penny.

Sandy makes Meijer a favorite for two out of the three kids that are old enough to sit up in our family (I've convinced Mae to pet Sandy, but she refuses to go for a ride):

I had to start with that before I go on to make my next point.

I'm writing this post because when I was starting out as a parent of with kids with newly diagnosed food allergies I had no idea how tricky identifying allergens could be... and our trip to Meijer this week, where I made a major error by trusting a misleading label, is a perfect example of how mistakes can happen.

If you haven't been to the blog before. or haven't been around long enough to know the whole allergy story, we have three (and it looks like now four) kids with food allergies.  One is allergic to dairy.  I carry an epi-pen and Benadryl with me everywhere for that little guy.  One is allergic to wheat.  And one can't have wheat or dairy.

Our newest little guy, who is five weeks old today, is miserable for days if I eat dairy, so it looks like he's set to follow in his big brother's footsteps.

As you can probably guess, I spend a lot of time reading food labels.  And when I go shopping I often have a six year old who follows me around and says "Does that have wheat in it?  Are you sure?" Every single time I pick something up off the shelf, because she's old enough to understand how sick wheat makes her and she's hyper vigilant about every single thing that passes her lips because she doesn't want to feel like that ever again.

Earlier in the week when I was shopping I was in a hurry.  Paul had all three kids in one of those nifty shopping carts with enough seats for three kids and my goal was to make it through the store before anyone started screaming.  I had James strapped to my chest and we were making our way through the store as fast as we could, when I spotted this:

I'll admit I thought "Hmmmm... I wonder what's in that?  Petroleum by-product perhaps?"  and then "I wonder if it tastes like the real thing?" and finally "It'll be a special treat!  I mean there are so many things that we can't have..."

With Thanksgiving coming we could even have it on the pumpkin pie!

That night I tried it on our dairy free ice cream.  It didn't really taste like whip cream at all.  I wouldn't buy it again based on flavor (but let's face it, few dairy free things really taste like their dairy counterparts.  They might not be bad... but they seldom taste like the real thing.).  But I ate it, because it was on top of my ice cream, and went on with my night.

In the early morning hours, James was miserable.  He spent the next day looking at me like this (when he wasn't crying and throwing up):

I didn't think much of it.  He's been fussy for weeks.  Maybe the dairy wasn't totally out of my system yet.  It was a possibility.  And within a couple of days he was feeling much, much better.

A few days later I made gluten free dairy free waffles for the kids.  I had blueberries in the refrigerator... and the thought of whipped cream topped blueberry covered waffles sounded really, really delicious.  I went to the refrigerator and grabbed the "non-dairy dessert topping" and was about to add it to the waffles when I thought of Sadie saying "does that have wheat in it" every time I pick something up in the grocery store.

The bottle said dairy free but was it gluten free?  I couldn't imagine whipped cream having gluten but still, it was best to check.  I didn't want the girls to get sick.

I turned to bottle over in my hand and was shocked by what I saw:

Contains Milk.  I turned the bottle over and read the words again.  "Non-Dairy."  I flipped it back over and read the allergen disclaimer again.  "Contains: Milk."

Below it an explanation was provided.  "Sodium Caseinate is not a source of lactose."


That means it's okay for people who are lactose intolerant.  People who are lactose intolerant don't have enough of the lactase enzyme to break lactose down into simpler sugars.  People who can't tolerate lactose might have stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea if they have something (like milk) that has lactose in it).  Lactose intolerance isn't life threatening.  It isn't an allergic reaction.  For kids that are allergic to milk proteins (Patch) or who have a casein sensitivity (Mae) lactose isn't the problem.  Here's a more complete explanation:
"Milk allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance. A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein. When the food protein is ingested, in can trigger an allergic reaction that may include a range of symptoms from mild symptoms (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) to severe symptoms (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). A food allergy can be potentially fatal."  Source 
Sodium Caseinate is casein.  It's the thing that I have spent the last year avoiding at all costs for Mae.  The idea of it in her system makes me feel like hyperventilating.

I had taken Non-Dairy to mean that the product didn't contain Dairy not that it didn't contain lactose.  A much more accurate (and less dangerous) label would have been to label it lactose free like all those other products that contain dairy but don't contain lactose for people who are lactose intolerant.
I'm taking this as an important reminder.  Labels aren't always accurate.  As a parent of a kid with food allergies I have to be vigilant and look past the front label and then hope that I catch everything on the back label so that I don't end up with a sick kid, or worse yet, end up needing that epi-pen (and frighteningly, there are even worse case scenarios because allergies can be fatal).

And I hope that Meijer takes steps to change the label to make it less confusing.  With that big "Non-Dairy" label on the front of the product there are people out there who are bound to think that it's actually free of dairy... and with a serious food allergy making that mistake could be fatal.

Ideas for Winterizing the Home!

I'm enjoying the cold...
and hoping it doesn't get this cold...
or at least that we don't have any ice storms this year!
We're in the middle of getting the house ready for another Michigan winter.  Paul has begun covering the windows with plastic and I've been raiding my heavy fabrics to come up with thick fleece curtains to plaster over the windows.  

Layers have been big around here.  So far the plastic and then felt and then fleece layered rooms do seem significantly warmer, and I think that will be even more true once the ancient downstairs windows are covered, some of which have cracks and holes in the glass (that were here when we moved in and that I imagine will be here when we move out... I'm not hopeful that they'll be replaced anytime soon).  

We did manage to get the entirely missing window in the basement replaced this summer and that (along with the cat) has helped us see a major disappearance of mice from the entire house.  Paul has also replaced the weather stripping on the front door, which also seems to be making a huge difference.  

I'll admit I'm hoping for a winter not at all like last winter.  I mean, I like winter and snow, just not the kind of winter where it hurts to breath outside for like six months (okay that's a slight exaggeration on how long it was cold-cold but still... only slight).  Our first winter in Michigan felt mild... and our second winter... well... at least I was reassured by long time Michigan residents that they hadn't experienced anything like it in the last fifty years (so it wasn't just my wimpiness). 

Do you have any old house weather proofing tips that you'd like to share.  Since it's not our house we won't be replacing the windows or doing anything majorly structural, but indoor tips for helping keep the gas bill down this winter are greatly appreciated!  I'm trying to think of everything that I possibly can to keep it warm and keep the cost of heating this place from going through the roof.  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Goodbye Grumpy Face?

We'll have to wait and see but it kind of looks like the instances of grumpiness of this house have been vastly reduced by cutting dairy out of my diet.

It was pretty easy to guess the likely culprit this time, since two out of the other three kids can't have dairy.  I'd figured that if dairy didn't have an effect on James' reflux and discomfort I'd try wheat next (since two out of three also can't have wheat) but it looks like dairy is the culprit.  James has been sleeping much, much more soundly and has been spitting up maybe once or twice a day instead of twenty times a day... after cutting dairy out of my diet for a grand total of two days.

When I took Patch to the allergist this last week I mentioned that the kids primary pediatrician doesn't believe that babies can have allergies and asked how young he had seen allergies in babies.  He said that his father, who works in the same practice, had seen a baby at one day old with food allergies and that food allergies were really possible at any age.  With our family history we think it's pretty likely.

Thankfully, despite all the spitting up, James is still growing and was in the 97th percentile for height at 22 1/2 inches at his one month appointment and the 75th percentile for weight at 10 lbs 10 ounces.  And hopefully he'll be a lot more comfortable now that we've (hopefully) figured out why his little tummy was hurting so much!

Friday, November 14, 2014

What Having Kids has Taught Me About Being a Pack Rat...

I've realized more and more lately that one of the greatest gifts that my kids have given me, particularly my sensory seeking kids (and of those two especially a certain four year old with a propensity for breaking things completely accidentally and without malice) is a growing detachment from the "stuff" that has accumulated in our house over the years.

It wasn't always this way.  By nature I'm kind of a pack rat.  I feel bad for each and every one of my college roommates who had to put up with my natural affinity towards hoarding.  I have a tendency to think that I might need something someday and so I really shouldn't get rid of it.  My love of sewing and crafting doesn't help the problem, because when I see an old outdated piece of clothing a dozen different possibilities for what I could make it into zip through my mind, quickly pushing aside the fact that it's unlikely that I'll actually have the time in the next decade or two to make those ideas into a reality.

Having kids has changed all of that.

Mae rarely intentionally breaks something.  The most destructive thing I can think of that I've seen her intentionally do is tear a piece of paper when she was frustrated.  But unintentionally?  Well, it doesn't happen all that often any more, but that's mostly because most of what could be broken has been.

The metal space heater?  She thought it would make a perfect stand and while using it to climb somehow snapped one of its legs.  The little table and chairs  that were mine when I was tiny?  It lasted almost three decades with me, but after a couple of years with my girls the sides snapped cleanly in two, leaving it in three pieces.

Even items (and large pieces of furniture) that have withstood breaking are dented or ripped and patched or just battered by the constant jumping, spinning and crashing that goes on in our house on a daily basis.

And it has been really, really good for me.  The experience has put our belongings and their place in our lives in perspective.  It's helped me stand back and realize what we need and what don't... and my main wish these days is that I had a solid week that I could devote to purging our house of all the extra things that get in the way.

A couple of weeks ago as we walked out to the van to do our weekly errands Paul announced that after work the previous night he'd gotten back to our car and found a huge dent running down the back half of the passenger side of the vehicle.

I stopped and shook my head at the sight and then started to laugh and pointed out how grateful I was that we had a van where it doesn't really matter if another dent or scratch or ding is added here or there, because it sort of adds character. Besides, people seem to be less likely to cut you off when your car is ringed with scraps of paint in the wrong color and dents decorating the sides.  Our car had quite a lot of "character" when we bought it... but after a couple years parked in parking lots as we've traveled across the country it has even more.

These days when things break, the way they do on an almost daily basis around here, I find myself almost cheerful.  That's one more thing that can make its way out to the curb, one less thing to contribute to clutter at the end of the day as I realize that we really need less and less than I ever imagined and that the best toys seem to be had with cardboard boxes that of course, hardly ever survive more than a day inside these four walls.

I usually leave the major yearly purging of everything we don't need for Lent, but this year I think I might make it part of Advent, or even begin a bit ahead of Advent as I try, with the help of the insight given to me by these kids and their clumsy, crashing tendencies, to put things in perspective and cut out things that we don't need, putting aside as much as possible those things that get in the way as we begin to prepare our hearts for the coming Christmas season.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

One Month: Our Little Grumpasaurus

Today James is one month old and so I thought I'd start the day by looking back over the next month... and it turns out that it's a review in James' mastery of looking as grumpy as he possibly can in almost every picture.  Here are the highlights:

When James was born and we were spending a rather lengthy afternoon in recovery, I remember noticing the way his little mouth was formed in a perfect little frown.  He hadn't yet begun perfecting the look of grumpy suspicion that he aims at the world around him, but already the beginnings of it were there that first day in the shape of his little mouth as I encouraged him to nurse:

The next day when the photographer from the hospital came to snap pictures, it was still there... only maybe a little grumpier this time:

By the time we got home James was mastering the art of looking perpetually grumpy.  Even when his sister brought him a flower.

In his sleep he was grumpy (okay, this one is one of his less grumpy pictures but still I can see that slightly furrowed brow and down turned lips!):

And especially upon waking:

At the doctor's office to discuss possible allergies and reflux he turned the grumpy look on me while we waited for the doctor (I think the grumpiness might have quite a bit to do with the reflux... I'm hoping saying goodbye to dairy makes him feel less grumpy, although I'll be a little sad if he stops making grumpy faces at me altogether because he looks so cute when he makes them!):

And at home while cuddling he took a break from nursing to let me know that he was still feeling pretty grumpy about the world:

More and more I can't help but thinking of him as my little Grumpasaurus Rex... who looks like he's ready to be turned into a meme...

Even when the house is quiet and his siblings are in bed... grumpy:

In his bassinet in the kitchen, helping me cook... still grumpy:

I've seen a little smile flicker across his face in his sleep, so I think those social smiles are on their way... but when he's awake it's not quite there yet (unless your Daddy.  Daddy claims to have gotten several smiles... and I know he's smiled at least once at Sadie!).  

Happy one month birthday to our little Grumpasaurus!