Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oreo Brownies and Making Everyday Recipes Gluten and Dairy Free

I have a tendency to be sucked in by those delicious looking cooking videos that are constantly popping up on my Facebook screen and as often as not, they're so tasty that I share them to my wall so that I can find them later.  

As a result, and because most of my friends know that most of the kids in the house have some kind of food allergy that wouldn't work with 99% of those recipes, I have a lot of people who have asked, or commented about how funny it is that I pin these recipes when most of the people in the house can't even eat them (and don't feel bad if you've asked!  So many people have been curious about why I save all these recipes, so I wanted to share!).

The truth is though, that 9 out of 10 times I'm not filing them away to whip them up as they appear in the videos (that tenth time I totally am and I actually am planning on baking and making the sugary monstrosity when the kids are already tucked into their little beds).    

Most of the time I'm saving the video for ideas, because over the past three and a half years since we became an allergy family and I began desperately searching for gluten free and casein free recipes, I've learned a few tricks so that I don't pull out my specialty cookbooks all that often anymore.  I'm far more likely to take a regular recipe and substitute things that I know are gf/cf and adjust things so that it works out.

At the moment I'm far less into baking "from scratch" than I was three years ago (let's blame the baby bump that forces me to sit down more and more often for breaks) and so I appreciate mixes far more than I did when I first started out.  And since I've discovered Aldi and their Live Gfree products (although always double check if you're dairy free, because not all the Gfree products are...) making many of these recipes has become even more affordable and fun (and no I'm not being sponsored by Aldi to say that... I'm just grateful that they've cut my grocery bill by more than 50% since I started shopping there last year).  

This particular recipe was a brownie Oreo concoction.  The only thing I didn't already have to the recipe in my cupboards were GF Oreos, so I made a note to pick them up at the store.  And then I had everything that I needed.

After greasing the pan with olive oil I put in a layer of the brownie mix.  I prepared it according to the directions on the box:

Next came a layer of those GF cookies:

More brownie mix:

This is where I made a mistake.  I should have added the remaining crushed oreos first.  Instead I heated up the frosting for a bit to make it pour-able and put it on top of the mix.  I'd suggest crumbling the cookies as I'll do in a few photo first and mixing them in so that you don't have to add the frosting twice:

Here's what the oreos look like before you mix them in:

And here's where I realize I made a miscalculation with the frosting:

So I added a bit more frosting.

And I baked per the boxes instructions.

Okay, so maybe I should have left the frosting out altogether.  Either way it was clear by then that the finished product would be warmly received by the kids:

I topped it with coconut milk whipped cream (the solid part from canned coconut milk, whipped with a bit of vanilla and powdered sugar):

And since the kids were clamoring for brownies I didn't get the best photo of the finished result, but I think this photo says it all:

These brownies were definitely a hit!

I think the one thing I've learned over these last few years of baking is not to be afraid to experiment and try to substitute in gluten free and casein free options for regular cooking supplies.  There are certainly some misses (or at least recipes that aren't as pretty as the ones in the photos) but there have been many hits as well.

So if you are cooking for those with allergies and you want to try something knew, remember that inspiration can come from more traditional sources!

And if you know me I'm not just being mean baking things my kids can't eat!  It's allergy baking inspiration!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter 2016

Easter arrived yesterday and I found myself doing a last minute search for baskets in the basement.  I quickly realized that I'd done something different last year (maybe used the baskets they got for Halloween, which were now also missing) and apparently baby James did not have an Easter Basket.  

So I grabbed Maggie's bubble guppies bucket and got down to work.  

It can be difficult to fill Easter Baskets when you have dairy and wheat allergies in the house.  Patch appears to have outgrown his dairy allergy, and James is allergy free, but Maggie presents a challenge.  It means that our baskets aren't filled with candy anymore.

This year I did, however, find a giant gummy bunny that Maggie could have, which meant the other kids could have chocolate bunnies.  In addition each of the kids found a religious book, a book about one of their favorite characters, a Shining Light Saint Doll and a large egg (which were thankfully safe!  I was on cloud 9 when I found those and the bunnies!), with some sidewalk chalk in their baskets.  

I'd also used Easter as a chance to expand the family game night collection with a couple of games that I know Maggie loves from speech therapy.  

In the morning there was a stampede down the stairs.  Patch wanted to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.  We talked again about why we were celebrating.  And the kids managed to devour their weight in candy, despite having candy lite baskets.

James is a fan of peeps.  Especially peeps skewered on a stick.

After washing faces and hands and bathing those children so covered in candy that nothing less would do, I managed to wrangle everyone into nice, clean church clothes.

Paul and I were rather nervous about how exactly they would behave.  They were pretty wild at home.  On the way to Mass, Patch excitedly chattered about "having fun" and "going to see Jesus!"  I was especially nervous since the little kids and I hardly went to Mass during Lent.  I was in the hospital for two weekends, and pretty sick, either with the viruses/kidney things or with the still lingering morning sickness for the rest of Lent.

They surprised us, by all having an exceptionally good day.  Patch may have asked if we were done about a dozen times (mostly between the 70 minute and 90 minute mark...) but he also hollered "Goodbye Jesus!  Goodbye!  Goodbye!" when Mass ended and it was time to go.

Which was when this little guy, who'd spent the first half of Mass kissing two Shining Light Mary dolls, and a picture of Jesus with a crown of thorns from a brochure (that he cried when I attempted to put down) woke up.  Hard:

He was not ready for his nap to end.  He let me know.  Dramatically.

I told him he could sleep longer, but apparently that wasn't the answer either.

Patch and Puppy had a blast.  Although it quickly became clear that it's time for Puppy's bi-monthly bath.

After Mass there was much playing.

Paul snapped a picture of the last day of week 25.

I had struggled to come up with an Easter outfit that fit.  I ended up wearing a bridesmaid dress from my pregnancy with Patch, with the cardigan I was confirmed in almost nine years ago and a scarf.  Oh and some boots because heels just weren't happening.

Sadie saw my outfit and said "That's what you're wearing?!?!?!" in a horrified tone (apparently it doesn't pass the seven year old test).  Maggie saw it, noticed the crucifix, squealed "Jesus!" and hugged me.

Things were better on the ground:

 After a quick lunch we headed to a park, which was thankfully empty, and I scattered eggs everywhere and then we let the kids descend on the park for an Easter Egg Hunt.  They were pretty serious about finding as many eggs as they possibly could.  Even James got the idea.  In a matter of minutes it was over.


I hope you had a Blessed Easter!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Updates: Pregnancy, Puppy, Migraine Meds, and Maggie's Words

25 weeks arrives tomorrow (which basically means it took me three days to write this since as I hit publish I'm at 25+1) and I have been meaning to add another update for all of week 24, which ends in all of two hours (if I manage to finish this post tonight). 

I went to my doctor's appointment last week and discovered that my doctor learned about my repeated calls the entire week between the hospitalizations, after he readmitted me to the hospital the second time.  You see, after I came in sobbing and was re-hospitalized with a kidney infection, he went back and looked in my chart and was surprised to see I'd been calling all week long complaining of being in terrible pain.  

So when I brought up my concerns about being afraid of not being listened to if I called in, as had happened all week, he explained that it had been discussed and that the people involved knew that I had ended up back in the hospital as a result of what had happened.  

And then I explained a little more about how the conversations had... unfolded... (like when I said I was in terrible pain and I was told "well you sound better, so that's what I'll be telling the doctor." except apparently no one was telling my doctor anything at all.).  

However at the moment it seems that both the flu and the kidney infection are behind us (I hope!  I really, really hope!).  

The kidney pain is slowly getting better and better, but it's flared up a couple times (like this morning!  Stairs are harder on kidneys than one would imagine when they're healthy) with enough intensity that I was willing to agree to the every day antibiotics for the rest of the pregnancy to prevent it from coming back again.  

About a week into the four times a day antibiotics the pain came back pretty sharply, and we narrowly missed having to head back to the hospital, and so I'm pretty set on avoiding that happening again if it's at all possible.  

Still at 0 lbs weight gain from all the sickness...
hopefully with the medicine I finally asked for to take care of the morning sickness
that will change.

Patch is talking up a storm.  I'm pretty sure that at the end of the year he won't need an IEP anymore, or speech.  He tells us exactly what is on his mind all day long.  

His goals in life right now, include carrying Puppy (who he finally told us is actually named Bubble Puppy) absolutely everywhere, no matter what he's doing, and moving into a farm.  Preferably a farm with a big red barn like this one:

Every time he sees a farm he starts yelling "Home!  Home!" out the car window.

In other news, a certain someone is thriving since starting a daily migraine medicine.  

After trying a few other things (magnesium...) and tracking Maggie's migraines since fall, I agreed with her neurologist when he suggested that something preventative was in order.  

During the whole of January and the first half of February she was having about 15 instances a month of her pupils being dramatically different sizes, and besides that she seemed to be having obvious headache symptoms at least once a week, so I went to the pharmacy and picked up the bottle of tiny pills.  

After two days I asked Paul if he was seeing what I was seeing, but he wasn't quite sure.  By the end of the first week there was no doubt, and he was seeing it too.  

She was calmer and more social at home.  Instead of going upstairs and laying down in her bed and pulling the covers up over her head (a definite clue on headache days) she would stay downstairs and play.  She's less likely to cry if her sister coughs.  And she's just all around happier.  

We seem to have found something that's working and I'm hoping that as I continue to track the differences in her pupils we see a dramatic reduction there as well (I've been watching and I think it is less, although it still happens occasionally... three times this month so far, instead of around fifteen).  

We did have one major meltdown this week.  

It involved going on a shopping trip.  Everything was going well but the boys were fussy, so in between stores we decided to swing by a park that was nearby.

The park happens to be at the converted school/autism center where Maggie goes for speech therapy once a week.  We've gone here before just to play and it's been fine, but this time I didn't talk about how we were just going to play before hand.  Big, big mistake.  

We arrived and Maggie got out of the car and bolted towards the front doors (which were locked because it was the weekend).  

I realized my mistake.  I took her hand and led her towards the playground, explaining that there was no school today, we were just there to play at one of their three awesome play grounds.  

She could not be convinced.  She kept telling me "Homework! Homework!" (I'm not even sure how she knows that word) and trying to go back to the doors.  Tears followed.  

Finally, after a very long five minutes, she found a pile of leaves near one of the doors on the playground side and decided to play with Baby Mermaid over in it.  Her siblings all joined her, ignoring the play structure.  

Happiness was restored.

She was especially thrilled when James crawled all the way over to play with her:

And she finally got to go to speech yesterday, where she spent a great deal of energy trying to sneak over and move the items on her visual schedule from the To Do column to the Finished column, even though they were among her favorite activities.  Like swinging:

On a final note we had a major victory yesterday.  It took the form of a tiny conversation.

As we were walking to the car for speech, with Maggie's little hand clasped in mine, I heard her tiny voice say "My tummy hurts me!"

I stopped and stared at her.  A sentence?  With two pronouns that were actually correct?  And that were telling me something?

"Did you just say 'my tummy hurts me'?"  I asked.

"Yeah." She said and then climbed into her car seat and waited for me to buckle her up.

And suddenly I had information that I could use to help her, information that with our tough little girl, I never would have been able to figure out on my own.

I may get a few dozen fragments about mermaids a day, but that sentence is a huge deal around here!
And that is the latest as we embark upon these last days until Easter!  This Lent has been a unique challenge this year, but we're in the home stretch!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

3 Trips to the Hospital and Sorting Through These Feelings

It's been a hectic few weeks and I've been processing them slowly and thinking about writing everything down for the last few days, but wrangling the house back into shape after three trips to the hospital has taken all of my energy and I'm still battling the mountain of laundry that grew exponentially during my time away.

This is a little lengthy, but I need to get it all down in one place to process everything that's happened.  I'm kind of sad. I'm kind of angry.  And after slowly becoming more confident in the type of care I'd receive if something went wrong, I'm kind of back where I was in August 2011.  Or October 2011.

I'll also start by saying that throughout all this baby has been doing good and moving lots! I'm incredibly thankful for that!

Trip #2...
It started the last Thursday in February when I was suddenly in excruciating pain.  I hadn't, at that moment, had a UTI in over a decade, but this was that familiar old pain amped up on steroids.  I'd heard that UTIs could be worse during pregnancy (and easier to acquire) but this was nothing like I'd imagined.

I called my doctor's office and found that if I'd called first thing in the morning they could have gotten me in, but it was 1 pm and Clinicals were over and there wasn't a doctor in the office, but they could pencil me in for tomorrow afternoon.  Fighting back tears I said I'd try urgent care because I didn't think it could wait.

Before I could walk upstairs to grab my purse the back pain hit hard.  And it gave me pause.  I called back, this time crying because the pain level had gone from high to very, very high, and was sent straight over to Labor and Delivery at Sparrow Hospital.

They took me straight back to a room, and I made about fifty trips back and forth between my triage room and the bathroom before the conclusion was reached that I had a UTI.  I still hadn't taken anything more than Tylenol at this point, and the pain level was still excruciating.

Still when they pounded on my back the pain didn't get worse, and so, I was told, it probably wasn't a kidney infection and I was sent on my way with a five day supply of Keflex and a checklist of reasons to come back.  The resident I saw stressed the importance of coming back.  "I had a woman with pyelo in the ICU last week."  He said.  "I don't think you have a kidney infection yet, but if it gets worse, come back."

The pain had begun to ease up by the next morning, but by Saturday I was really sick.  I was on day three of a horrible headache that had begun around the same time as the UTI, and sometimes when I laid back tiny fireflies would dart across my vision for up to five minutes, which isn't one of my normal migraine symptoms.

Admission #1...
On Sunday I sent Paul to the store to get a replacement for our broken thermometer (those things don't last long in this house) and found that I had a fever well over the 100.3 that was supposed to send me back to Labor and Delivery.  I realized, as I glanced at the checklist, that I'd had a few of the symptoms for at least two days.  By then it hurt to breath and to move.

I headed back to the hospital.

The only thing I hate more than going in to Labor and Delivery when I'm not in labor is going to the ER for any reason whatsoever, but it was Sunday and it was getting harder and harder to breath and everything hurt.

I explained why I was there to a resident with plenty of attitude who repeatedly asked "why'd you come in today?" in a tone that made it clear that she didn't think I should be there and patiently explained that they had given me a checklist with five reasons to come back, and that upon looking at it I had realized I had three of those five reasons, and so I'd returned.

Finally the resident from the first day came in.  He was far more worried.  He ordered tests.  He listened to my lungs and said he couldn't hear any air moving through my right lung.  And he ordered a flu test.

Within a few hours I had been admitted and was shuffled up to a large room at the top of the hospital for observation, because I was only 21 weeks and 6 days and I'd need to be 24 weeks to be admitted to the Special OB unit.  By midnight the nurse had come in to tell me that I did in fact have Influenza A and that every person who came in my room would need to have their faces covered in a mask and their clothes draped in gauzy yellow paper.

Monday dawned and I felt worse.  A resident came up and listened to the baby.  Another came up and did an exam and told me I'd need to stay for at least another day so that they could continue to watch my lungs.

I asked if someone could tell my OB's office that I was there and the resident responded:  "If you get sick enough that we need to bother an attending and let them know what's going on, then we will."

I rolled my eyes, waited until she'd left the room and called my doctor's office to let them know that I was in the hospital in case my doctor happened to be over doing rounds.

This, I would later come to realize, was a mistake.

A few hours later another OB came up and listened to my lungs.  My oxygen levels were fine, but breathing was hard.  I'd asked for an inhaler (my asthma is super mild when I'm not pregnant and has been mild during this pregnancy) and was told that because I'd been tachycardic the whole time I'd been there that they couldn't let me use an inhaler.  "You're going to need to stay overnight so we can keep an eye on your lungs," she repeated before she left the room.

In the afternoon another person in a white coat walked into my room.  She told me she'd come from my doctor's office and wasn't I feeling better?  A little, I said, mostly out of politeness.  I mean if the pain level had been at 9 when I'd come in it was hovering around 8 now.  After 20 hours the codeine cough syrup had finally arrived.  That was something.

She listened to my lungs.  I needed to work on taking better breaths or I'd have pneumonia soon.

But didn't I want to be back in my bed at home?

Of course I did. I mean, who wants to be in the hospital unless they have to be?  I wasn't having fun hauling that IV pole around to go to the bathroom every half hour.

I'll be getting your paper work together and discharging you, she said as she turned and walked out.

I was stunned.  I still.hurt.  Everything still hurt.  Breathing hurt.  I felt panicked at the idea of going home in that much pain.  I've felt that way one other time.  And I ended up being really, really sick.

Glancing at the prescriptions she'd set down on my table I read her name and saw that it was followed by CNM.

It took a second to commute.  Certified Nurse Midwife.  Two OBs had examined me and said I needed to stay.  A midwife had come in and was readying my discharge papers.

When she came back I explained that while I wanted to go home I really, really felt like I shouldn't be going home.  The pain was excruciating.  I'd be up running around taking care of four kids with the flu.

That wouldn't really be so bad, she told me.  Go home and snuggle with your kids in bed.  I started to cry.  She gave me a look of absolute pity and stood up and walked out the room.

I pleaded with the nurses.  They thought I could stay, but couldn't do anything.  Two OBs had said I needed to stay.  Could I see one of them?  Could I see anyone?

They were apologetic, but I'd been discharged.

After wheezing across the parking garage and sobbing in the car for ten minutes I drove myself home.

When I got there I laid in bed, burning up, despite the many medications I'd been given before I left.  I took my temperature.  100.5.  I called my doctor's office where a sympathetic nurse told me she'd tell my doctor right away and call me back.

I took my temperature again. 101.1.

She called, but it was immediately clear that her entire manner had changed.  "I talked to the doctor and to B (the CNM) and so I've heard what's going on.  You just need to get through this.  There's nothing we can do."

"I haven't been able to keep down solid food in four days."  I sobbed.  "I have a fever of 101.1.  I've had the most excruciating headache for five days now."

"We've made our decision and you just need to get through this.  I'll call you tomorrow and check in."

That night was long.  I was burning up, but so were the kids.  While Paul was up with Patch, I stayed up with James.

The next day she called back.  "How are you feeling?" She asked.  "Terrible."  I said.  "Any better?"  She replied.  "Not at all."  I wheezed.  "Well you sound better.  So that's what I'll be telling the doctor.  I'll call to check on you tomorrow." "Ask him when I should worry that I haven't been able to keep down food in five days."  "You haven't been able to keep down food in that long?"  "I told you that yesterday."  "Well, you just need to get through this.  I'll call tomorrow."

She didn't call.  An amazing pediatrician from the kids' office did, because Paul had taken the girls in after a week of the flu, and she was extremely worried that I'd been sent home.  But my OB's office never picked up the phone.

Paul wanted me to go back to the hospital.  He told me I needed to go in every day.  "But what would that do?"  I'd sob.  "They'll just send me home.  My doctor's office sent me home.  I'll get some obnoxious brand new resident who'll let me know I'm wasting their time coming in like last time. They say I just need to toughen up and get through it."

I asked him not to call the office.  It wouldn't do any good. No one was listening.

The next day, midway through the day, the pain was through the roof.  And this time it was unmistakable.  I'd completed the antibiotics but the UTI was back.  I couldn't keep food down. I'd been sick four times and knew I was getting dehydrated, but I had an OB's appointment in the morning.  If I could just get in and see my doctor, who had up until this week been an amazing doctor, things would be okay.

That afternoon the nurse called back.  She was much, much nicer and was almost apologetic.  "You're seeing the doctor tomorrow?" she asked.  I wondered how much that played into her new tone.  I told her the UTI was back, that I was throwing up more than ever, but I thought I would be okay until morning.

I was wrong.

Friday morning arrived after a long, painful night.  My appointment was at 9:15, but I couldn't wait.  Walking down the steps to the laundry room was excruciating.  Every step I took felt like I was being punched in the back.  The pain wrapped around my abdomen.  I had Paul drop me off at my doctor's office at 8.  I had a feeling I wouldn't be home soon.

Limping down the hallway to my doctor's office I fought back tears.  At the front desk I sobbed that I was there early, but it just hurt so much, I couldn't wait.

They immediately brought me back and within ten minutes my OB was telling me that I was going to go straight to triage to be checked into the Special OB unit.  It seemed that the UTI had turned into a kidney infection and I'd need IV antibiotics for at least a couple of days.  He also thought that in addition to the flu, I had a gastro virus that was going around town.  

I limped across the Sky Walk and got lost trying to find my way to Labor and Delivery from the different entrance.  A woman in scrubs saw me and rushed over and asked if I needed a wheel chair and then guided me to L&D triage, where I passed on the message that I was supposed to be admitted.

And I waited.  And waited.  A tough looking young man pacing the halls stopped and asked if I was sure I was okay.  A very pregnant woman asked how far along I was, and admitted that she'd thought I was in labor because I was obviously in so much pain.  A timely coughing fit brought the receptionist out and she brought me to the Special OB unit room herself, since they hadn't made their way over yet to get me, and an amazing nurse took over.

I should not be in that much pain, she said.  We need to get it under control.  After eight days of Tylenol and agony it was nice to hear.

The photo I snapped while FaceTiming with them.
A grey haired woman showed up to transport me to get a sonogram.  The number of children I had was asked and the most uncomfortable conversation of the hospital stay followed.  "Why?" She said, stunned.  "Why would you have that many children?"  After a cheerful answer about how much we love them and how fun they are, she launched into a tirade about how annoying children are, how they whine and fight and are always saying "That's mine."  She had a friend with two children and they were horrible.  Always bickering.  "Better you than me." was the sentiment expressed repeatedly before we made it down to the ground floor.

I was extremely relieved when a different man appeared to transport me back to my room once the sonogram was over.

Back in the room the IV was started.  Dilaudid began to numb the pain.  When it came roaring back within an hour Norco was thrown in. In between restless naps I began to wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been admitted when I was.  If I was in this much pain as the Norco and Dilaudid wore off, what would I have felt like without it?

Rocephin arrived in a little bag.  The tiny bag of antibiotic would battle the infection.

A woman arrived to draw blood.  "How many children do you have?" She asked. "This is number five?  Why?  Why? Why? Why?"

I was getting tired of that question.  Extremely tired.

In the morning I could finally refuse the Dilaudid.  By the second day of antibiotics the painkillers were no longer necessary.

Still down about 5 lbs from my pre-pregnancy weight...
hoping that changes soon.
And on the third day my doctor visited and told me that I could go home as soon as the sensitivity test on the culture was completed.  I'd be on antibiotics for another 10 days, and then I'd be taking something to prevent the infection from coming back, every day for the rest of the pregnancy.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

This time I was ready to go home.  The panic that deep down something was still wrong was gone.

Once I was discharged it quickly became clear that being up and about wasn't quite the same as being in a hospital bed.  I couldn't stand up for more than three minutes without feeling like someone was punching me in the kidneys.  And driving anywhere, with the many, many potholes in Michigan roads, was pretty unpleasant.

But now, on Thursday, I'm starting to feel more like myself.  We went to the park yesterday.  I have an alarm set to tell me to take the antibiotic every six hours.

But I have to admit I have considerably less faith in both my doctor's office and Sparrow Hospital than I did two weeks ago.  And I'm just praying we get through the rest of this pregnancy as uneventfully as possible.  Because I have no faith that anyone will listen to me if something goes wrong.