Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trust Me: You Want My Kids to Taste Your Food

Dear Costco,
   I love you. But sometimes love hurts. Back when I lived in New York, there were no Costco stores in reasonable driving distance, so I just reveled in the stories of your awesomeness, awaiting the day I could trade in my memberships at BJ's Wholesale and Sam's Club for what was always proclaimed to be the ultimate of wholesale club stores.
   Then we moved here to Virginia, and you were just two minutes down the road from the rest of my regular grocery stops. The day toward the end of our Sam's Club membership that we strolled in your doors to see if things were all they were cracked up to be(thus warranting the switch), you did not disappoint. We made the switch and it was love. Deep, true love. You have the usual conveniences, random odds and ends on killer sales, extra perks, obscenely large stuffed bears at the holidays that make my kids scream with delight, and the $1,200 tree house on display that gave my kids the audacity to ask their grandparents on a Skype session if they have the money to buy them a tree house for Christmas, because Mama and Daddy said we do not. You also have the largest assortment of wholesome, organic, American-produced, high end food products in mass quantity of any store I've been to. You're my kind of place, Costco. You make my mom-of-many hippy heart sing.... and spend at least $600 inside your walls every month.

   Until you made it cry. Well, maybe not cry. Cringe? Bite my tongue to bleeding? See here's the thing. I'll eat anything. Even if it tastes awful, I can choke something down if I know it's good for me. My husband and our plethora of children, though? They lack this gift of dietary discernment. They need their tongues delighted- or at the very least compromised with- to get things down the hatch. Going to Costco every other Friday is an adventure for them. Lucky for you, I homeschool so we're there bright and early, the whole lot of us, for our biweekly grocery trips(and often one or two extra throughout the month as well), so you get us all, sans the husband who works his tail of to feed this herd of cuties. They love all the cool new things they're sure to see, and they love putting enormous packages of their favorite things like dried nori(seaweed), clementine oranges, buckets of unsalted cashews, and my go-to convenience grabs like organic veggie potstickers and spinach ravioli into our piled-up cart. The added bonus is when we're running a little behind our typical 'soon's the doors be open' schedule, and ya'll have had a chance to set up some of the sample kiosks. I cannot tell you how many times we've been suckered in to buying things that never would have ordinarily made it to our list simply because ya'll gave me and the nuggets some nibbles and they approved. Like the $15 pack of salmon burgers that are now a staple on our list. Our crowd of seven marched up to your sample counter, we each tried a bite, and now there's always a bag in the freezer. Never would I have thought to try them, the half-gallons of organic salsa we buy multiples of, or the Asiago cheese we now love and buy by the huge brick, and many others that are now mainstays in our cupboards unless we'd had a taste at your fine establishment.
   I also wouldn't have spent $14 on a box of chocolates without trying one when we were there yesterday. Speaking of yesterday, Yeah. Ouch. Did ya'll change your sample policy recently? We saw no sign- we would've noticed. We're homeschoolers. Ahead of the curve. Even our infants can read. Half joking... - but when my passel o' kidlets approached the lady with the tiny, halved macaroons in the cooler section yesterday, she looked my kids over with such obvious disdain in her face, and with a voice dripping with literal disgust said, "Are these ALL yours?!" I get rude comments about my family size often, though rarely with such nastiness, so I responded with my usual broad smile and friendly, "They sure are!" Disgusted Woman then looked down at my 8-year-old who was staring into the cups. He has Autism. Weird things trigger him. No doubt he looks 100% "normal" to others, but see, he can't eat the color green. Not joking. So he stood on his tippy toes, hands by his sides, and looked over the edge of each paper cup until he came to a pink one, and chose that. The woman quickly barked at him, "YOU TAKE THE FIRST ONE!" I recoiled, grabbed my babies(10 years or 7 months, doesn't matter. They're all my babies) closest to her by the shoulders, and we hurried away with our piled-high cart before my kiddo with Autism was triggered into a sensory tantrum by the nasty treatment at such a volume. Yes, Ma'am, I'm sure those three halves of a cookie we took before running away from you broke Costco's bank. I see why you're so defensive of your sample cups.
   Several aisles over we passed a woman sampling spinach ravioli. I wasn't going to stop, but my kids asked if they could try this kind to see if they liked it better than the brand we currently get from Costco each trip. I agreed. Immediately, when I reached for a cup, my offspring crowded around me and my cart, the woman glared at them and snapped at me, "Are they all with you?" OH MY GRAVY, WHAT GIVES, YA'LL?! Again, I gave my reply, though it was admittedly less dripping-with-sweetness than minutes earlier when I gave it. She continued to stare down my children and I, so I pointedly stood in front of her display and used a tiny fork-ish thing to split one ravioli between myself and the four children who want to taste it. They loved it, and declared it was better than the usual brand we get there! Sadly, we didn't buy any. I'd had enough of the nasties from your sample ladies for one day, Costco. I got out as fast as I could. I came home and told my husband about the adventure, and he promptly pulled up all our Costco transactions from the last year on our bank account. $6,500, Costco. That's how much just our one family has spent inside your walls this past year. My husband also pointed out that our cards give us 5% cash back on all purchases at wholesale stores.... Oh, except yours. You don't participate. We have the money to spend and more, but because we are wise with our money almost every way possible in order to keep this large family financially secure, 5% makes Sam's and BJ's look better and better. When we're treated badly in an establishment over the size of our family, it makes your glorious offerings quite tarnished and no longer look worth it. My family comes first, and my budget feeds us. We're but one family. Families our size and larger spend so much more at your stores nationwide, and are what keep you in business! Cooking for my crowd is tough, so when my kids taste your food samples and approve, you've made a consumer for life. Or at least the next 18 years. So maybe think about that when you're training your sample ladies. Or maybe just tell them to be decent human beings to every customer, regardless of age or family size.

12-5-16 Edit: After requesting my contact in response to posting this(yes, it was a real letter I sent to corporate Costco!), I received a telephone call from Bill, the assistant General Manager at the location where I shopped. He firstly thanked me for writing about my experience and apologized for the negativity, and secondly, he agreed that every person of every age should be trying the samples. That's the point! Try it and buy it! Thirdly, he confirmed what a friend told me: The ladies handing out samples are not in fact Costco employees, but contractors from Club Demonstration Services, or CDS. He said he forwarded all the information to Reggie, their on-site CDS manager, and was going to make sure that the demo personnel were all on the same page as Costco: Everyone of all ages should be treated respectfully, and everyone deserves a sample regardless of age. High-five for following up on even the little things, Costco, and being so responsive to your customers. Now about that 5% cash back thing.... 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Cup of Tea

   Yesterday I taught my oldest how to make a cup of tea. She's almost ten. She's very much in the thick of 'tween-ness.' This terrifies me. Full on insta-anxiety tightening my throat. I can't screw this up. She is my first child. So impressionable. Full of grace. The kind of child I can count on one hand the number of times a year she needs discipline beyond a firm word of reprimand. Being her mother has been a blessing from the moment she was born. A lesson in gentleness, because even a harsh word breaks her heart. And I don't want to break her. I want to strengthen her. Empower her. Teach her. Help her grow in goodness, love, patience, compassion, knowledge, character, wisdom, and strength. Help her figure out who she is as a person, discover her passions and talents, and encourage her in them. I cannot screw this up.
   Several months ago we realized she would go through days at a time where she was, in her own way, raging. Mean to her siblings, impatient and snippy with my husband and me, and would just burst out roaring at anyone over the slightest trigger. We had long talks about a lot of things, and determined she was okay, she hadn't been hurt by some one, she was just dealing with natural physiological development. No one tells you mood swings start before puberty sets in, but when I asked about it on a private parenting forum, all the moms were, 'Oooooh yes, it's AWFUL!' So here's your warning: It's a thing. It happens, and way before you'd expect it. Tweens turn into angry toddlers for a few days at a time. Brace yourself. Fill yourself with patience and grace. It's coming. I was at a loss as to how to help her, so I just reminded her to take a deep breath and find a new way to say or do that. It was really a reminder to both of us as I dealt with this new creature my child was becoming. She continued to have her raging days, so one day we sat down together one afternoon while everyone else was napping,  and looked up a handful of Bible verses on how to handle our anger and frustration. We copied them down with colorful markers until we'd fill an entire page, and talked about what they literally meant, what these things would actually look like in our common frustrating situations while we decorated the page. She hung hers by her bed when we were done. When she has her bad days now, sometimes she'll go to her room, read the verses, and talk about how those things would literally look in the situations making her angry that day.
   In addition to having such a sensitive heart toward reprimand, my girl also has a sensitive heart toward outside influences. One day, she and her siblings watched Spiderwick Chronicles on Amazon. They all seemed to love it, but that night she couldn't sleep. An hour after everyone was asleep and I was heading to bed myself, she came downstairs in tears. Every time she closed her eyes she saw scary things from the movie, and she was now scared to close her eyes. I was annoyed. It wasn't a scary movie in the first place, and I was exhausted. I wanted to sleep so badly. but thankfully a voice in my head boomed that this was a crossroad. I could tell my daughter she was fine, remind her how she knew it was just a movie and none of that was possible in real life, and she needed to go back to bed. That's what I wanted to do so badly. It's what I'd done in many instances before. But that voice wouldn't stop, so I made a change. I snuggled her into the couch with me, we got out our Bibles, and we talked about fear. Irrational or not, she was afraid, and she was coming to me with it. I could shut her out and poo-poo her feelings, reminding her of logic and require that she accept it, or I could meet her where she was and connect. I chose the latter. For more than an hour, we sat and talked, looked at what God said about these things, discussed how that would literally look in our lives, and ended up turning on our favorite music and singing along. Right there, in the living room, at midnight, my almost-10-year-old and I were worshiping together.
   For the next few weeks, at least once a week she would have trouble sleeping because something was heavy on her heart, and she'd come down just as I was about to turn in, and it would mean at least an hour of connecting with her. It was exhausting. But I knew it was worth it. It was what needed to be done. If I commanded obedience, requiring that she put feelings aside, think logically(like an adult), and assimilate in accordance with our family rules of lights out and did not validate her feelings, see her as the amazing individual she was, and respect her enough to make time for her I would be failing mightily. It was tempting. So tempting. I was tired. Every one of those nights I was exhausted, fought impatience, and ignored my own brain screaming about all I needed to do the next day, the sleep I was missing, and counting down the minutes until I knew the baby would be awake to eat again. But my daughter needed me, and she is worthy of me and my time.
   Last night my husband and I talked about how terrifying the thought of parenting a teen is. We've been doing infancy through childhood for the last decade, and for the decade before that I was babysitting, nannying, and teaching. We know how to work our way through that part. But this turning-toward-teen stuff. It's like toddlerhood all over again, but the problems are a lot stickier. A lot more involved. A lot more grown up. It all feels so imperative that we get it right.  Yesterday our girl looked whooped. Dark circles around her eyes, low energy, and a bit snippy in personality. She even fell asleep at rest time, which is usually just an hour of reading time she enjoys while the younger kids nap. When she woke up she looked wrecked. I gently probed a bit to see if she was feeling symptoms of illness, or if she had some hurt feelings or something else she was dealing with, but came up empty. Something in me saw her through different eyes. I saw myself. Whooped. Nothing to give, and a short fuse. What do I, an adult want, when I'm feeling that way(aside from a 12-hour nap)? Coffee. A nice, hot cup of coffee. Well, I'm not giving her coffee, but I could do tea. So I coaxed her into the kitchen and told her I was going to teach her how to make a cup of tea. She was confused at first, tired and reluctant, but she went along with it. As I walked her through safely getting the kettle to boil, choosing her mug and tea bag, she started to perk up. After I explained how to leave the tea to steep, then told her that as long as she followed those steps each time she could make herself a cup of tea any time she wanted, her face glowed. She asked if she could add a spoonful of honey when it had steeped, and I told her of course, then left the kitchen. Ten minutes later I returned to the kitchen for something else, and she was sitting alone, at the big, empty table, hands wrapped around her cup of tea, inhaling the steam, and sipping, with a great, big smile on her face. That smidge of grown-up-ness in her own cup of herbal tea, the freedom to be able to make a cup herself any time. It seemed like nothing, but it filled her little growing-up heart so full that she was bursting. She's made herself three more cups in the last 18 hours since then, and she's yet to melt anything or burn the house down. A cup or ten of tea and a few late nights are worth it. Over and over again, they're worth it while we all grow, learn, and change. My daughter's worth it. She's not a minion to be screamed at, required obedience without question, demanded respect from without first showing her what respect looks like. She's worthy just by being her.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Notice Goodness

   The past few months have been emotionally hard for me. I've always been very closed. Very cautious, with a minuscule circle of those I know I can trust because it's been proven. About a year ago I tried opening up. Thrust myself out on a big, scary limb of friendship and putting myself out there. I have been met with love and connection from precious people put in my path. I've also been met with deep hurt, manipulation, back-stabbing, and been used for what I have to offer then cast aside- all by seemingly wonderful people.
   Why is it that the hurt resounds the loudest? A friend made us a huge, delicious meal this week. I was blown away with her love and kindness. Another friend offered to come to me when I'd forgotten my wallet and found myself 40 minutes from home without my wallet, and pay for my groceries so I didn't have to drive all the way home to get the forgotten wallet. In response to a Facebook post about my son's struggles, he has received more than 40 birthday cards and messages this past week, encouraging him and loving on him. Yet as I lay in bed sick all weekend, alternating between sleeping and scrolling Facebook and Instagram on my phone to keep me awake long enough to feed the baby, I was overcome with the pain of rejection as numerous friends posted pictures of themselves and their children at each other's birthday parties and fall get-togethers, none of which we were invited to, despite all being friends with the same connections and children the same age, or mamas going on the "wine and art" nights together- all of which I know, am connected to the same way- and yet I've never once been invited to such a thing. I've even been UNinvited from things by receiving an email telling me I was welcome at a later gathering, but not the soonest one- Oh, but if we happen to need to use you for your very specific skill set as it relates to this social gathering, we will let you know(no, I'm not kidding. That was seriously said)- with absolutely no explanation and the person has completely avoided me since. What's wrong with me? Why didn't I enter their mind to invite? What terrible thing did I do to be UNinvited from a women's prayer meeting, of all things? Admittedly, this realm of "friendships with lots of people" is new to me. I am not kidding when I say that I have always been very, very closed with my heart, and I've always had many acquaintances- people I know but there's no relationship there- but very few friends. I had a little pity party among my tissues and hot tea in my bed, then I picked up my book to read. This was the very first line on my bookmarked page in Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst:
It's time to stop the lies and devastating hurt stemming from this kind of circumstantial identity[in human relationships]. 
Wow. That was exactly what I needed to hear. I often get hung up on the hurt. Dwell on the meanness from others, succumbing to rejection, allowing it to control my mind.  I started reading this book when it was recommended to me because of the hurts I've been struggling to deal with, and it has had so many zingers that have hit my soul just right.

The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or breaking of my identity.
That. Right there. Yes, people make mistakes. Yes, even lovely, well-meaning, generally wonderful people can do very ugly things. And they hurt. But I don't need to be consumed by them. I can take a deep breath, process it, acknowledging my feelings rather than stuffing them and not being honest with myself, then choose to focus on the right things. Hurt will still exist, but I can choose where my focus lies. I can focus on the good, the lovely, and the true, and let the rejection, the ugliness, and the hurt fall away. I don't need to let it break my identity and who I know I am. Friends and relationship- real relationship, not just people I know and whom make nice with me and my family when we're in the same place- totally exist in my life, and I need to cherish them, not focus on the hurt and rejection. There is so much good. Deal with the bad, the hurtful as it comes, but focus on the good. It is everywhere.

Oh, and if you haven't ever heard of it, check out Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst. SUCH a good book about relationships.

Friday, October 21, 2016

"I Don't Know How You Do It"

   I hear this all. The. Time. That's a fact, not tooting my own horn. My answer is always the same, regardless of what the statement pertains to: I do it because I have to. Aside from knitting and reading books, there's really just about nothing on my plate that isn't a necessity, so I just summon the will and throw myself through- hopefully with a smile. For today, that pertains to exercise.
   I explained to a friend on Sunday that there's little I've done to make a huge change in my life without first having an "Aha!" moment in the form of a real, life-altering experience which spurred me to the change. In the area of self-care, that was the pregnancy and birth of my youngest. My sixth baby, my rainbow, my Peaceful Light From God. Aside from varying degrees of awful morning sickness, I have always loved being pregnant. My body just does pregnancy and childbirth very well, with no credit to me. My body just does it, and I am so grateful. Things started to change, though, when I had my second. After my first, I found an odd 'hole' around my belly button, but mama friends said it was normal. My second was a massive 10.5 lbs and my bump showed it. I was left with pretty severe Diastasis Recti(A separation of the abdominal muscles that your internal organs can and often do herniate through)- or DR. I tried so hard to get back into shape after he was born- running 5k's and doing pilates and ab workouts by the hundreds- but my body wasn't having it. I had no idea what DR was, nor how it was affecting my body. With my third, that core instability led to very painful  Symphasis Pubis Dysfunction(trouble with the ligaments and alignment in the pelvis and hips), which thankfully did not complicate delivery, and resolved itself after her birth. I walked with my babies in the huge stroller, and crunch-crunch-crunched to try and re-strengthen my core. I had no idea why it was not getting better. With my fourth, aside from severe morning sickness for 25 weeks in the form of serious Hyperemesis Gravidarum and a resulting scare with IUGR, the pregnancy went well, but after an 18-hour posterior labor and delivery(hard work, extra painful, but in the realm of "normal" and safe) because my stubborn nugget wouldn't turn, That extra work and hard pushing combined with my already unstable and weak core resulted in my internal organs settling a bit lower than ideal, because I lacked the tone in a very specific set of muscles to hold things in place. The technical term for that is Pelvic Organ Prolapse- POP. Exercise experts basically all had the same message: No more high-impact exercise again. Walk. Walk until your feet bleed. Because anything more jarring can worsen the POP and require surgical repair. Oh- an Diastasis Recti? All those crunches by the thousands and hours of Pilates and ab work to strengthen my core? It was making the DR worse. Nothing but surgical repair for that.
   I resigned myself to being out of shape. In conversations on the matter I'd say, "Well, I have a pretty serious Diastasis and only surgery will fix it so I'll always look 5 months pregnant until I'm officially done having kids and get that all fixed." I walked with my kids whenever possible, but my "postpartum/extra lumpy transition" wardrobe became my wardrobe. Then I lost Asher, and his surgical birth made the POP I'd been dealing with for years instantly exponentially worse. At a post-op appointment in April that year, my midwife recommended a program called Hab-It Pelvic Floor Exercises, which is a physical therapy program created by a PT specialist in pelvic floor issues, Tasha Mulligan. I bought the DVD on Amazon and set to work. I was amazed at how 20 minutes a day 4 days a week started to make changes on my body. I even started to notice that my DR was improving. Could it be? No one had ever mentioned a correlation between DR and POP to me. I was supposed to work hard at the PT program for 3 months, and(unless I was having trouble with ANYTHING else sooner) come back in 12 weeks. Well, the 12 weeks came and I wasn't feeling well(it was nearing Asher's original due date and I was very emotional) so I put it off. Three weeks later:

No, four tests is not overkill. It's necessary.
   So back to the midwife I headed for an entirely different reason. I was a higher weight than I had ever started a pregnancy, so I continued my PT program, walking-walking-walking, and a rigidly healthy, clean(preservative-free) diet throughout the pregnancy, but still my body revolted. High blood pressure for seemingly no reason, physical pain from head to toe, months of no weight gain, then 10 lbs spike in a week with no change in my diet or exercise. I was a bit of a mess. Then came my guy's delivery- my first in an actual hospital setting(I had placenta previa that had moved but was still close so I risked out of a birth center or homebirth). There were emotions at play, a malpositioned little(or 9.5-lb) guy, a lot of extra amniotic fluid, and a very intense fear-tension-pain cycle I let overpower me, and I ended up with a 13-hour battle that ended with an epidural so I could shut my brain off and go to sleep until he literally slid out just after I woke up with a "weird feeling."
   That pregnancy and delivery- the struggles, the way my always-capable, strong body just couldn't do it anymore- was my wake-up call. I needed to do SOMETHING. I started research DR more. The very experienced, trained EMT turned aromatherapist-herbalist-holistic health adviser who is the woman behind Blessed Mama Services(No, no relation to my Blessed Journey Birth Services. See What's In A Name for my Why) said she was doing an online info session on Diastasis Recti and related issues. It was during that discussion that I heard about Fit2B. Supposedly this program was made for moms. Supposedly she could help heal all these core and pelvic floor issues by helping you strengthen the right muscles. Supposedly once you're healed and know how to move properly for your body you can do anything. I say supposedly because I was told this was only ever repairable by surgery, and that my POP would prevent me from ever running again. Plus it cost money and I don't part with money easily. Everybody asking for money has some ulterior motive besides the good of the buyer: money. I "liked" their Facebook page, followed along with the information that was posted there. Then, the day before my 8-week postpartum check up with my midwife, they posted that they had a free 30-day trial. I read it over, three times, searching for the loop holes. Nothing? Really? Alright. When my midwife released me for light activity as I felt well enough, I went home and ordered the free trial. I figured I'd give it a go for 30 days. Workouts and such were all completely digital- either through their website, streaming on your phone, or on their own app on Roku. For 30 days I'd give it a try to see if it hurt like my other workouts did due to POP and DR, if it fit in my life with short chunks as I had a moment without a baby in my arms and kids asleep, and if it actually did anything positive for my body. It was free(actually, $1 card processing fee. but I can do $1), so I had nothing to lose(except the dollar). This was the picture I took of myself, nuzzling my "tiny" guy, before my postpartum checkup: 

That's good posture, standing upright, holding my belly in, 8 weeks postpartum. That day, I started 20 minutes of exercise daily, however I could fit it in. I alternated my Hab-It DVD and workouts(15-30 minutes) from Fit2B. This is me three weeks later:

I was down 3 pounds. THREE! That's not significant weight loss for the way my waistline was shrinking. I was so impressed by Fit2B. Beth(the founder, trained in physical therapy and an exercise
professional) asked everyone to start with their Foundational Five. Let me tell you- you THINK you have good posture, you THINK the chiro is what keeps you properly aligned(I LOVE my chiro- no dings there!), you THINK you're bending, reaching, babywearing, etc, properly, until you do the F5 for a couple weeks and learn how to engage certain muscles to move differently- more healthily for your body. Oh. My. I was stronger every day, moving differently in things as simple as bending to unload the dishwasher or change a diaper, or SQUATTING, things I'd been doing for a decade in wys that didn't support my body or strengthen my core. AND IT DIDN'T HURT! None of it hurt. At all. Ever. Throughout Beth's videos, she is teaching, talking as she moves, giving you "bone cues" on what you should be feeling to properly engage a muscle, reach a tiny muscle group, and more. She is sweet, happy, encouraging, and teaching you how to move, live, and care for your body in the long run of life. She's not creating a dependent consumer, she's educating, strengthening, and healing you so you can move on stronger and healthier for life! There's the added bonus of an online member forum(Facebook group) where Beth herself and other trusted "wise women" and professionals in their own fields answer questions, and all the members chat, talk life, encourage one another, and work through challenges together.
   Now before you get all, "Workouts at home and online 'groups'? Sounds like Beachbody, etc, etc," on me, let me tell you: in case you haven't figured it out already from my description, this is NOTHING like Beachbody or anything I've ever found. This is real life, real women who have lives, families, jobs, and more who just want to help you heal and life healthy. They don't live to workout and post their selfies on Instagram. They live life on their own terms and are getting healthy on their own terms. That's not to say Fit2B is only a beginners game. There are simple programs like F5, but it goes so much further, so much harder- as hard as you want to take it. Just this week Beth did a workout routine in Weightlifting 101 to help mamas discover the health benefits of lifting so they can keep getting stronger and building muscle mass(if that's the direction they want to go), while protecting a healed or healing DR and more. Very few of these workouts require special equipment and all can be done right in your living room.
   When my 30 days expired I GLADLY signed up for a monthly subscription- and that's saying something if you know how much I dislike spending money on non-essentials besides yarn and fabric. But this was obviously essential. $14.99/month is very affordable for most(a yearly subscription breaks down to less per month, but I haven't saved up for the lump sum yet), and so worth it. I'm not dropping pounds like crazy- I'm breastfeeding and I don't like to lose more than a pound a week until they're over a year- but I am getting so strong, more energetic, and losing inches purely due to long-ago damaged and neglected muscles healing and toning up. Remember those pics above(I know, this has gotten long)? This is me now, after 10 more weeks of Fit2B and Hab-It:

   I have not been this flat in a decade. Literally. The other milestone: I'm running again. I haven't been able to run without pain in my midsection due to DR and POP for 8 years, but here I am running, pain-free, stronger than ever despite being 50 lbs more than I was when I was last running. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do 20-30 minutes of Fit2B at some point during the day, whether that's 5:30am before everyone else is up, during nap time, or after the kids are tucked in, and a Hab-It workout(12-18 minutes) before bed. Tuesdays and Thursdays I get up at 4:45am to meet a mama friend at the local high school so we can run for 30-45 minutes and get back home by 6am when everyone else is waking so I can quickly shower then start our day as usual. Before No. 6 was born, I would never have spent money on me, nor made time for me like this during my insanely busy days, but that pregnancy was my body screaming for intervention, and his delivery was my body declaring its mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Duly noted, bag o' bones. I'm worth being healthy. I'm worth feeling good about myself. Surgery isn't the only option. And for the first time in 7 years, I signed up for a 5k. The Saturday after Thanksgiving. I'm not even dreading it. I'm excited. Because I am strong. I am capable. I am healing. I am worth it. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

We Still Have Work To Do

   As many have heard, October is pregnancy and infant awareness month. Even more specifically, October 15th is International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. People all over the world took part in remembrance events. Personally, my Facebook feed was flooded with people honoring and remembering babies gone too soon. I was so proud. Can I say proud when it involves babies who've died? Well, I was. So many families were breaking the stigma of silence surrounding their babies gone too soon. I was happy for them, that they felt that freedom. Happy to know the names, birth months, the very existence of so many tiny lives. Proud that so many in the terrible bereaved parents club I am a part of had the courage to thrust their grief into the open and say, 'Here! My baby lived! My baby is missed. My baby existed whether anyone else saw him or her.' It can be such a tough thing to do, and that's why so many still hold back.
   As I scrolled while I nursed throughout the day, both on Instagram and Facebook, I developed a misconception. For a fleeting moment I thought 'Awareness' was a bit of a silly word for this day. I mean, just look at all these people, huge crowds gathered in Colorado at the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Rememberance Walk and in Missouri at The Hearts Release at the Gateway Arch, and so many other local events across the world. A search of hashtags showed my candle photo on Instagram in honor of my son was just a tiny flicker in the sea of candles posted as part of the International Wave of Light at 7pm on October 15th in all time zones across the world. Surely people are aware. Aware of the pain. Aware of the prevalence. Aware that statistically at least one out of every four women they knew was the mother of a dead baby. How could they not be?
   Then it all became clear.

We still have work to do.

   My foolishness vanished into a sea of head-swirling nausea when, in the days since, I have seen a screenshot of a woman's Facebook post of her stillborn son's headstone mocked and called a ploy for sympathy and attention. That is never okay.  To be clear: The headstone of a dead baby is a physical sign of a child's death. To acknowledge that death- ESPECIALLY on the International Day of Remembrance is not a ploy for sympathy or attention.

We Still have work to do.

   When it is ever okay for women we know and respect to look at another woman's loss and pick apart how it is believed the mother caused that death, and call her grief, "Disgusting," and relish in the fact that she had no familial support burying her child because of it, there has been a massive break-down in understanding loss. That is never okay. To be clear: even a woman who has had an elective abortion is still the mother of a dead baby, and is allowed to grieve her loss.

We still have work to do.

   When the manner in which a baby is laid to rest is up for criticism and debate when a family did what was both legal and in their finances, we have a major problem. To make fun of a handmade coffin and sparsely attended funeral for a baby, calling it embarrassing is a sick, sick shame indeed. That is never okay. To be clear: Caskets are expensive. Funerals are expensive. We're talking tens of thousands expensive in many areas. If a family is dealing with financial hardship on top of the loss of their child and they must completely "DIY" their precious child's service, their anguish should not be added to by the disdain and hate from others.

We still have work to do.

   When people rejoice over the death of an unborn child because a family is deemed by society to already be "too large," we should be sickened. That is never okay. To be clear: The death of a child is the death of a child, no matter if it is the first or the 21st in the family.

We Still have work to do.

   When the value of a child's life depends solely on the mother's desire to parent and makes the entire difference between a precious child to be mourned and disposable products of conception,


Until every family has the support they need in the space where birth and death meet,

Until every woman has the support she needs to choose life,

Until every person is recognized as an irreplaceable, real, human being,

Until life is sacred and all have the societal 'right' to grieve its loss no matter the situation,

Until we see them again

We still have work to do. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fantasy Land

  I have so many amazing intentions. In my ideal world, my alarm goes off at 4:45am, and I get up, nurse the baby, chug some water, take my vitamin d and probiotic, get dressed, and then exercise. Reality: My alarm goes off at 4:45, I shut it off and go back to sleep until the baby needs me or my husband's alarm goes off. Except for the two days a week I meet my running partner. Then somebody else is relying on me and my commitment to them gets me up and at 'em with bells on. Maybe the key is having some one waiting in the living room to exercise with me on my non-running days? Now to get my brain to realize that ME- the one needing attention, strength, and health- is waiting in the living room Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
   The next steps in my days are meals. Let's pretend my family gets amazing breakfasts each morning. Something I've planned and have prepared for them with love. Reality: When I drag myself out of bed(or chipperly skip out of the shower on my running days), I stare into the fridge and figure out what goes together as a cohesive meal in the time I have before Husband leaves for work. I try to make it a before-bed practice of writing on my small white board the meal plan for the next day. That helps, but I only remember MAYBE two days a week. Coincidentally(or not), those days are my running days. Hmmm.
   Follow up breakfast with chores- kids cleaning, me cleaning, pets all groomed and cared for, then we're on to school work. So far this year (so far) we've been great there, but hey- we're only 3 weeks into the school year. There's plenty of time for monotony to take over and failure to enter. Reading, writing, and 'rithmetic(plus art, ASL, music, then Bible co-op class in town once a week) later, and it's usually lunch and a repeat of the breakfast method.
   After lunch, we clean up, play, do any errands or skipped chores, then it's rest time. I try my hardest to get all five kids sleeping at once. On running days, I nap. On all the other days I try to exercise then. It's the getting all five kids to sleep that's key. Well, it's actually getting the baby to nap that's key. When he doesn't, I spend that 1.5 hours in the glider rocking, singing, or nursing, while reading, scrolling social media, and/or answering emails instead.
   Dinner time is usually more thought-out than the prior meals because I have had all day of playing the "stare into the fridge" game for things to have jumped out at me and given me ideas. Husband comes home and we relish his presence, have family dinner, then begin our end-the-day routines. Some nights he has commitments outside the home. Every once in a while I have a commitment. But usually him. Because when do I ever get asked to leave the house without the kids? Ha! Never, save for one sweet friend who notices my rising angst when it gets so bad it shows, and can relate as a fellow homeschooling mom who loves her kids dearly but also needs some mom time when she can get it. Then begins the slow tick-down to bed time. Then it's final chores like picking up toys, showers or baths for whomever needs them, putting away any laundry I've managed to fold throughout the day, hugs, kisses, and lights out for the older four. After that, it's just a matter of time(and rocking, singing, nursing, and swaddling those chubby little arms down so he stops waking himself back up by swinging them) before Little Mister is asleep and in his bed as well. If that's an early night(and not a running day the next morning) I am able to stay up and accomplish things- detail cleaning, connecting with friends who have been put on my heart, lesson planning, meal planning(theoretically), and catch-up from the day. If I'm on my game there, I can knit or sew until I'm ready for bed. The time for bed is rather arbitrary. It's when my eyes no longer stay open or I cannot see through the frequent yawns. Those latter occasions are so rare. I sometimes catch myself on Ravelry(a knitting community online) or Craftsy(likewise, but for all crafts) or Instagram ogling crafting supplies, fabric, yarn, patterns, or the finished projects others have completed, and I remember how it used to be. I had a very successful online business knitting and sewing clothes and things for babies and children. I loved it. It not only supplemented our income, but it gave me a creative outlet that filled me with joy, kept my brain active, and lessened my stress and anxiety. It also helped fill my kids' closets and drawers with clothes. Now my kids' clothes are largely clearance grabs from Old Navy, Gymboree, and Target, and they're lucky if they have a single handmade garment in their wardrobe at any given time. The younger kids have more because they have hand-me-downs. It's wonderfully, completely thrifty and adequate, but it makes me sad to not only not be able to put the love and effort into the garments, but to not see my children enjoying it all so much. Most weekends when my husband is home all day with us, I am able to spend a few hours in my sewing room because we are able to make teamwork out of running the house. It fills my heart so much! But is that it? Am I limited to just a little time on the weekends until my kids are grown? If so, I will accept it as a season with other great joys, but it will be hard to swallow.
   In my fantasy world, I have time and energy to exercise each morning before the house is awake regardless of who waits for me, my family is fed well and it doesn't stress me out, I have the daily quiet time I crave that us not dependent on what else is going on when I need to nurse the baby, my house is maintained(I don't aim for perfection, just function and clean), everyone has clean underpants, and I still have time for my creative outlets. I love my life and those in it. I don't want to sound ungrateful. I am so grateful for every bit of it. I'm just struggling with balance. To care for and nurture my husband and my children is utmost. I am a close second, yet I neglect myself greatly. I'm seeking out what wastes my time each day, and how I can change those habits to change how my time is used. Perhaps if I excise all the time-wasters I can work back in the other things that bring me such joy but have been dropped by the road side along the way. I don't want to be the mom who does everything. I don't want to have it all. I just want to have joy, peace, friendships, health, and fulfillment, and I'm trying to figure out if that is a matter of changing my attitude or changing my routines and commitments.

Monday, August 29, 2016

School Years Flashback

   I love a new school year. The smell of new school supplies, lesson pages fresh and crisp, and little people eager to start a new grade all thrill me. I know. I'm not normal. Or maybe I'm just a teacher through and through.
   I never intended to homeschool. Did I ever mention that? It's true. I was homeschooled to 8th grade and didn't particularly like it, but going to public school from 8th through graduation was a whole other level of awful. I was an excellent student that never left the high honor roll, played basketball year round and was a starter all five years(and would end up going to college on a basketball scholarship), but for an introvert to go from homeschooling to public school was culture shock and produced massive anxiety, which added to my other struggles. Fast forward to college. I really enjoyed it far more than high school. People largely left you alone, you could choose your friends yourself because you weren't shoved into the same peer group for multiple classes every day, and there was far more freedom to come and go as you pleased. I studied education(and American Sign Language), because I had always just wanted to be a mom so I figured that until I was a mom I would nurture other peoples' kids. It worked out well! Before I had kids, I loved teaching. My classes were my pseudo-children, and I doted on them, taking a deeply personal interest in their experience which made teaching so fun and engaging. Then I had my oldest. I went back to teaching when she was 6 weeks old because we could not afford for me to take more time off. From that point forward, I was a horrible teacher. I was just so miserable, fighting Postpartum Depression and just wanting desperately to be home with my baby. I cried all day. During class, while I pumped on my breaks, and I did not have much patience. It was awful. I put in my resignation within weeks.
PreK and 1.5 years
   When my oldest was 3, she and her 1-year-old brother would sit at the front window and watch the school bus go by twice every day, picking up and dropping off neighbor kids. She begged to go to school. I looked into local nursery schools, but none would take her because her late December birthday was after the cut-off for 3-year-olds. She persisted, so I decided to do preschool work with her at home. Nothing intensive, just some fun flashcards, and I found the awesome free resource for PreK(and up) curriculum online at Brightly Beaming Resources called Letter of the Week. One letter, shape, number, and color every week was the focus, and it was learned through free printables, and a fun list of kid songs, library books, nursery rhymes, and games. PreK was a hit.
Kindergarten, 2.5 years, and 10 months

   The next year she was 4, and try as I might to keep her busy with more preK work, she was bored-bored-bored. Because of her age, I was worried to start kindergarten lest it be too much, but eventually we took the plunge. She did amazingly well. It surprised me how well she did, but I was so grateful for the validation that we were on the right track.
   An added bonus to our little bit of structured schooling every day was to be able to connect with her. She was a sweet, calm kiddo, and was easily overshadowed by the demands of her special needs brother and his therapy several times a week, and her infant sister who just needed loads of attention on-demand because she was an infant. School was a time I could set aside for us. There were distractions and interruptions galore, but schoolwork gave us time to work together, hear and be heard, and I learned so much more about her developing personality, strengths, and struggles, by working with her.
   In first grade, her younger brother was doing better(his amazing Occupational Therapist saved our family. That's in no way an exaggeration.) and moving into preK using the same Letter of the Week program we used for our first, her younger sister was interactive and enjoyed sitting at the table and coloring with them to pretend to do schoolwork. It was a lot of fun, most days. I was pregnant with #4 and had severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum, but we pushed through.
   It was in first grade that we considered putting her in public school. She had some real struggles with learning to read and I was so sick I thought I couldn't do her justice. Unfortunately, if we had sent her to school at 5(not turning 6 until half-way through their year), they'd have insisted she be in kindergarten and both my husband and I felt this would be to her detriment since she so clearly already had a great grasp on the first grade work we were going through. So we continued. Eventually, we figured out what helped the reading struggles and #4 was born so I stopped being so sick all the time. My first year homeschooling more than one student was largely a success.
   Our 2013-2014 school year was full of change. #1 was in second grade and had spent the whole summer reading constantly(her choice!), so she was completely caught up and beyond. #2 was doing very well on his third year of twice-weekly OT, and was moving on to kindergarten. #3 could not be fooled by coloring books any longer, so we moved her up to preK, and #4 was a rolly-polly menace of distraction. Just like that, I had three little pupils, all while I was packing our house and preparing to move to southern Virginia from Upstate New York(think the shores of lake Ontario and Canadian neighbors, people. Not the Hudson Valley.). We moved in November. It was a trying year. Lots of struggles and behavior-based issues from the huge changes. So much adjustment for everyone.
   The 2014-2015 school year was also really difficult. Shortly after the school year began, I started having heart problems that needed medical attention, and that tipped us into a slide of epic proportions into unexpected medical issues, like my husband being hospitalized for cellulitis in his eye socket, the heartbreaking surgical second trimester miscarriage of our fifth child, a bad car accident that left my husband with life-long spinal injuries, and more. It was... hard. But I had a 3rd grader, 1st grader, and kindergartner as well as a toddler, so we kept trucking. My husband also started back to school working on his Masters.
   This was our first full year homeschooling in Virginia, and I really appreciated the differences in the state's demands on homeschoolers compared to New York. I wrote a bit about the differences in one of last fall's posts, The Trap of Imaginary Enemies.
   Our 2015-2016 school year started off with more change. We'd just bought and moved into our new house, brought our awesome Aussie, Cooper, into the family, and had just found out we were expecting our rainbow, baby #6. Additionally, I went back to school myself, studying to be a birth and bereavement doula through Stillbirthday. #1 was in fourth grade and reading every spare second she could. #2 was in second grade and teaching me how to be a more creative teacher while learning to incorporate dragons into any and every aspect of teaching in order to make it interesting to him and keep his attention. #3 was in what we called kindergarten-and-a-half. She wasn't quite grasping a couple of key kindergarten concepts, which was fine because she was just turning 5. For her that year, we did a kindy-first hybrid. #4 was still just doing his best to distract everyone and wreck havoc at everything with Cooper, his partner in crime. The school year ended in the end of April, the day our rainbow was born. Perfect timing, Little One.
   That brings us to the present: the 2016-2017 school year. Hooray! We're off on another great adventure, and this year I am just beside myself. I have an incredibly sweet, intelligent, fast-maturing fifth grader. HOW THE HECK DID THAT HAPPEN?! My wild child is amazing, challenging, precocious, and insanely distractable. My work is cut out for me here. My third is in full-on first grade and about to have her 6th birthday. She's very excited to work her pony, Buttercup, into everything possible. #4 is cute, wild, 3.5-years-old, and desperate to be a big kid like the rest so we're starting Letter of the Week pre-k with him, too. #6 and Cooper are my Master Distractors, and already on day one doing a superb job at throwing a wrench in everything they can. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blessed Journey- What's In A Name?

   I first mentioned my new venture back in December, in, "Hey Again, and REAL Clean Eating for 6 On A Budget." I really expressed more of my heart, though, in "The Last Year." If you haven't read it, please do. It's so much my heart on this journey. And finally, after much studying, reading, re-reading, writing, re-writing, tears of both joy and anguish, phone calls, meetings, mentoring, and experiences(and still more I'm positive I have missed), I am a trained Stillbirthday Birth and Bereavement Doula. This makes my heart feel so super-happy.
   Long before I knew this thing existed, my heart was being molded for it. You see, I'm a rainbow. The term "rainbow baby" is becoming more and more understood as the topic of pregnancy and infant loss becomes less and less taboo. A rainbow baby is a subsequent child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss in a family. In weather, a rainbow often comes after the most intense storms, and are historically the symbol of hope, that a trial was borne and you survived. Symbolically, a rainbow baby is one that comes after the intense life journey of bereavement has begun. I have always had a very sensitive soul toward pregnancy, infant, and child loss. I have always been a nurturer, and I truly believe that comes from the spiritual connection I share with my brother, Gabriel, who was two days old when he died, 16 months before I was born.
   Over my years as an adult, I have watched multiple friends begin to walk this path of loss before my own, and I have felt especially grieved and broken, especially connected to them. I have always wanted to be a mother, but before I did that I was a teacher, so I could nurture little loves until I had my own. When I became a mother, I felt so blessed and in awe. This is my dream. This is what my soul was made for. As I've continued this journey, I have taken on various roles that I have enjoyed to various extents, but when I discovered Stillbirthday last year, it was like my soul cried out, "YES! THIS IS THE MISSION I WAS MEANT FOR!" Teaching is wonderful and something I still enjoy, motherhood is intense and wonderful and my heart's desire, and I now know that being an SBD doula is a powerful role God has intended for me to serve. I am so excited about it.
   Now about the name. During my training, the business side of things was also discussed, and it was often asked what name people had chosen for their doula role/business. I pondered things, hesitated, then one day asked my husband via Gmail messenger, "What about Blessed Journey? Because this journey will never end, but whether it's as a birth doula, a bereavement doula, a speaker, or just in life, I'm so blessed to be on the way. The journey." He liked it. I ran it by two of my oldest and most trusted lady friends. They loved it. I felt validated but still not totally sure when I went to bed that night. Then I had a dream. I don't remember the detail, but I remember "Blessed and Happy" kept reverberating in my head. Blessed and Happy. That's what Asher means. Asher is who put me on this path. Asher's precious, short, yet profoundly changing and meaningful life put me on this journey. A Blessed Journey. It stuck. That's the name. God knew. He put Blessed Journey in my head before I even knew why, then confirmed it in my heart with a dream. Blessed Journey Birth Services, born from the irreplaceable role of a little boy the size of my palm who never took a breath outside the womb. I'm blessed to be his mama. I'm blessed to be a doula. I'm blessed to be so expertly and uniquely trained to come along side ALL families as they give birth in any trimester, no matter the outcome. A Blessed Journey indeed.

Want to follow my Blessed Journey page on Facebook? The link is HERE. I'm just getting it up and running and my full website is still in editing, but would love for you to come on the journey with me. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Homemade Fruit and Nut Bars

   Snacks. Pretty much a staple of successful parenthood, right? I'm one of those mean moms who hates snacks. Honestly, they're all but banned here. Here's why: Most snacks are easy things you can throw at your kid to get them to quit whining at you. In our family, though, snacks are a bad habit. That's because either A- you didn't eat a decent meal or you wouldn't be hungry again, or B- we're about to eat and yes, you're obviously hungry. I don't like giving my kids snacks because it turns into a self-perpetuating cycle of poor eating habits. Not eating a good meal at meal time = eat a snack between meals = not hungry enough to eat a good meal at meal time = legitimately hungry between meals and need a snack = ...... You see what I mean? So we just don't do. Most of the time. I pay close attention to nutrients and work hard, cooking everything from scratch, and make sure my kids are getting wholesome meals, jam-packed with the nutrients they need every day for growth and good health. Snacks? They're more of, "Look. There's a banana on the counter. Eat it and stop whining, please." Potassium =  good. Constipation =  bad. Sometimes, though, snacks are necessary for various reasons, so I have a few key items I like to make for easy and nutrient-rich quick-grabs. One of our favorites: fruit and nut bars. They're like make-at-home LARA bars. We've tried these with all sorts of recipes, variations on nuts, fruits, and proportions. In the end, here's what we prefer(and it's all organic and inexpensive at our local bulk foods store or Costco):

Unsalted Cashews(seeds like sunflower and pumpkin can be added or substituted as well. We've tried almonds, too. They're alright, but a lot harder and drier)
Dried fruit(apricots and blueberries are our favorites)

Using equal parts of each ingredient, start with the cashews in the food processor. Pulse a couple times until they're in smaller pieces, then turn it on constant for a minute as they get smaller(but not to powder). While it's still going, add the dates to the food processor. When it's clear there are no longer large chunks of dates whipping around in there, add the dried fruit. If you have a drier fruit like blueberries, you will want to add a little water, a tablespoon at a time to get the right texture. After adding the fruit, it shouldn't take long- maybe 1 to 2 minutes- to get the right texture. The mixture will be wet enough that as it pushes up the walls it will collapse on itself, or it might even turn into a moist ball spinning around inside the food processor. Dump the mixture into an ungreased 9x9 casserole dish, and press it out into an even layer. It will be moist, but it shouldn't be too sticky. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes to let it firm up.
   You can leave it in the dish, covered, for as long as you like, or for convenience's sake(as I do especially for trips in the car and husband's lunch box) you can cut it into even squares and wrap them in saran wrap. They're perfectly shelf stable(they are made with all dry, shelf-stable ingredients, after all), but we keep them in the fridge just to keep them nice and fresh. Make it in a pie dish for novel triangles to teach your toddler more hands-on shapes, or double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan for eight good size bars. Whatever you want to do. Make it work for you. Just watch out for the vultures. They smell it when you're slicing these up, and come begging for a snack even when they devoured two dozen pancakes and half dozen eggs an hour prior.

...And just because he's too stinkin' adorable while he watches me cut and wrap:

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Good Gummies

   I'm not keen on daily vitamins or supplements. Too much filler, too many synthetic forms of natural substances that are hard on the body- sometimes even toxic in the long term. There are few exceptions to my reservations aside from short-term herbs and other remedies for issues, and those are really high quality, filler-free, no-gimmick, high potency probiotics, and food-based supplements. When we utilize the nutrients from foods to purposefully supplement our diet, we're taking the nutrients at their most natural, readily-absorbed state so they do the best good for the body.
   One of my favorite food-based daily supplements for my family's health is elderberry syrup(This is my favorite recipe, but I use an organic cinnamon stick and a 1" chunk of raw ginger instead of the dry forms). September through March, I always have a quart jar of it in the fridge, and try to remember to give them a dose every day. When some is feeling low, a fever starts somewhere, some one vomits, sniffles, or seems in any way sick, we triple up the syrup dosage for everyone. It's a great immune-boosting remedy that keeps us healthier and helps shorten the duration of illness when we do catch something. One way to improve the odds I'll remember to give the kiddos their daily dose and increase the immune-boosting nutrient value is to make them gummies. Ever seen the benefits of organic, flavor-free, grass-fed beef gelatin? Check it out HERE. I love THIS kind. I've tried lots of different recipes, tweaked to our liking, and settled on our version(recipe's coming! Hold your horses!).
   Another way to boost our immunities with food-based supplements is vitamin C. ALSO IN GUMMY FORM! Who woulda' guessed? I have always been a die-hard Emergen-C drinker, but am increasingly disenchanted by the highly processed ascorbic acid form of vitamin C and large amount of sugar it contains. The vitamin C gummy we're hooked on now is far superior in absorbable nutrients and wholesome ingredients. I choose to use Alive! purely food-based vitamin C powder. One of these a day is a great vitamin C supplement, and increasing it to three times daily helps fight illness when you catch something.
   Wait.... it's not September yet. And yet we have strep and scarlet fever. Getting on my regiment early this year, because my people clearly need a better boost already. Stupid germy playgrounds.

   So here's how we make them:

1.5 cups pineapple/orange juice(or elderberry syrup)
4 Tbsp unflavored grass-fed beef gelatin(5 Tbsp for the Vitamin C gummies)
2 Tbsp raw honey(for the Vitamin C gummies only!)
2 Tbsp food-based vitamin C powder(for the Vitamin C gummies only!)

Pour 1/2 cup of the juice/syrup into a small sauce pan. Add the gelatin, and gently whisk it until there are no more white clumps visible. Let the mixture stand for 5-7 minute while the gelatin 'blooms.' This is vital! Don't skip it! Once the gelatin blooms, the mixture will feel almost firm.

Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat, and warm it just until the mixture becomes liquid.

For the Vitamin C gummies only- while the gelatin  mixture melts, mix the honey, vitamin C powder, and remaining juice, and whisk until it's all combined.

Once the gelatin mixture has melted, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the remaining juice(juice mixture for Vit C gummies) into the pan, and whisk gently to combine it all. 

Pour the liquid into silicone candy molds(I have THESE and love them) and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes until they're soft but firm. If you don't have silicone molds, pour the mixture into a glass 9x13 pan. Once it's firm, cut into squares instead. 

Once finished, these will keep fresh in a sealed package in the refrigerator for 2 or so weeks. They may very well keep longer. They've never lasted longer in ours because people gobble them up. 

Elderberry syrup gummies

Vitamin C gummies

Forgive the disjointed manner of this post. We've been dealing with sickness for our whole family all week. Hence the mass gummy-making in our house, which prompted the 100+, "Oooh, can I have the recipe?!" posts to my facebook and Instagram. My. Brain. Is. FRIED. But now you have the recipes. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Banana Chia Muffins

   It has come to my attention that despite being called "Muffins Fest and KCW Day 1," I said nothing in my last post about muffins. Whoops. What can I say? I'm easily distracted. So this morning I woke up and, when mulling over breakfast options, I spotted the brown bananas in the produce basket and thought, "Aha! Banana Muffins!" And set to work.
   When it comes to me and cooking, it pretty much goes without saying that I make things up as I go. When I find a recipe that looks intriguing, I try it once, alter if we need to for allergy issues, but otherwise make it as-written. Unless it is savory and calls for only 1 or 2 cloves of garlic. Seriously? Triple it, at least. Because garlic. Then I start to change. And change and change and change. In the end, I usually have a really different recipe that started with the bones of something else. My go-to banana bread recipe of almost a decade now was from Allrecipes originally, and called The Very Best Banana Bread. Intriguing, right? Now you know why I tried it to begin with. Now it looks like this, is egg-free, dairy-free(vegan by default), meets our allergy needs, and makes 3 dozen standard size muffins.

1/4 cup Chia seeds
1 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1 cup coconut oil(or butter if you aren't dairy-free)
1 Tbsp real vanilla extract
3.5 cups(approx. 7-8) brown bananas
4 cups flour
1/2 Tbsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix the water and chia seeds in a large mixing bowl, and let them stand for 5-10 minutes while you gather the remaining ingredients. Add the coconut oil and sugar, and whip on high(the whisk attachment on my stand mixer is great for this) for about 2 minutes until the mixture is white and 'fluffed.' Add the vanilla and bananas, and combine thoroughly. Add the flour and baking soda, stirring just until combined. Fill greased muffin tins(or paper cups) 3/4's full, and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the tops of the muffins are no longer 'gooey.' Eat 'em up.
   If your people are anything like my people, there won't be much left in a hurry. I have to repeatedly scold my kids to keep them away from the muffins so they have sufficient time to cool and my people aren't screaming about burned mouths while continuing to eat. Skin on my tongue, or a banana muffin? Hmmm. Touch choice, clearly. You can add 1 cup walnuts if that's your thing, too. It's actually my thing, but not my husband's, so not walnuts unless he's traveling for work. The kid get no say. I'm cruel like that.
   I'd love to show you lots of pretty pictures like I usually do for my recipe/cooking posts, but alas all I have for you is this:

People eating while watching Jurassic Park. Yes, at 7am.

Then this:

Oh, the romance of empty paper muffin cups. On the bright side, it means the seven of us(mostly the four big kids) demolished three dozen faster than I could take pictures. So try it. See if yours transform into a pile of garbage, too. 

Muffin Fest and KCW Day 1

   Ever since he hit 3 months old a couple weeks ago, my Smooshy has decided he doesn't sleep. Correction: He sleeps only when he wants to. Every once in a while he sleeps GREAT! He naps well, falls asleep for the night at a decent hour, and only wakes 3-4 times in a night to eat. Usually he would rather spend hours every day screaming and flailing to keep himself from falling asleep, biting me when I try to nurse him to sleep because he's smart enough to know what I know: The moment he latches on he will fall asleep, and he just cannot have that on those days. I am so sore. SO sore. By night he's usually so exhausted from fighting it that he falls asleep early, but wakes 7-8 times to eat during the night. Not exaggerating. 7-8. On those days I have spent most of the day holding and rocking a screaming baby, so as soon as he's asleep for the night I set to work with my mountain of work, and end up going to bed very late. OF COURSE those are always the nights he's up almost hourly, too. It's just a bad-bad-bad mix. But I cannot even be annoyed. He's so sweet! He doesn't cry during the night. He nurses, he smiles, he coos, he plays with my hair, strokes my face, grabs my cheeks with both chubby hands and kisses all over my face in the dark. So I am exhausted- so very exhausted- but so blessed, and so loved by this little source of exhaustion.
   Last night was a night I stayed up late to get stuff done. Midnight, to be exact. Because I'd been busy with him all day, and really just needed to do something I enjoyed. I love my children desperately, and I am so blessed I have the honor of being a WAHM, but I still need to do things for me. I still need "mama things." I need my cup filled. A couple weeks ago a sweet friend asked me to Target for a 'walk around drinking Starbucks and looking for all the red stickers kid-free' date after church, and while we walked she said that she could tell being Mama had been rough for me lately, so she was glad she was able to get me out of the house for a little break. I so love sweet friends like this. But I digress. Yesterday was the first day of the summer edition Kids Clothes Week! The gist of KCW: crafty mamas spend so much time making things for others, that during KCW we purpose to set side one hour every day for one week to sew for our own children. There's a fun theme, encouraging and inspirational blog posts leading up to and during each KCW, and we post our projects to try and encourage and inspire one another. It's run every season, and a fun thing I try to allow myself a couple times a year. Last night I decided to start with my oldest. She is about to turn 10, and fast becoming a 'tween.' She appreciates everything I knit and sew for her, but on the rare occasion that we stop by shops with such goods, she is increasingly drawn to the more grown-up styles than the sparkles and ruffles she's liked since toddlerhood. I looked through my fabrics and decided to go with something that, to me, said, "I'm a teenager," in a fun way. I had no idea if she'd like it or if the fabric combination would even look good, but I set to work with high hopes, enjoying the silence of five sleeping children for an extended period of time. I used the size 12 of the BIMAA pattern by Lou Bee Clothing on Etsy, with the hoody option, and extended the sleeve cuffs by twice as much as the pattern called for. My girl has long arms like her mama. I put it in her room when I was finished so she'd see it in the morning. When I came out of my bedroom this morning, bleary-eyed and covered in white curdles of dried baby vomit, she stood in the living room wearing the hoody, beaming from ear to ear. SUCCESS! She said she felt so grown up. Her 7-year-old brother said she looked way older than 9. He thought she looked like an adult. That made her smile bigger, if that was even possible.

It's perfect. The black and purple polka dots fabric is Doodles cotton interlock from JoAnn's, and the lime chevron is a thin cotton/lycra blend I bought from a fellow WAHM who was destashing some fabrics she wasn't using. SO glad I made the sleeve cuffs longer, or it'd be too short for a long, lanky girl. Now everyone else is begging for a BIMAA. Not sure I can handle three more all-nighters like Smooshy and I pulled last night, but I'll try.