Saturday, May 28, 2016

Weariness and marathons

Hello, dear friends~ 

I have no real vision for this post other than to write what's on my heart and push publish.

I feel weary.  So much so that lately it seems like the smallest thing-- bickering between the kids, a child talking back to me, a meal to be made, a task to do... any of those just normal, daily things make me want to run and hide.  And cry.  This past week I ended up on my bed, in tears, several times, just saying, "I can't do this."  To myself, to God, to Mark.  

It all feels like so much sometimes, doesn't it?  I'm wondering why I'm so weary; why do I feel so exhausted?  Maybe it's the fact that this parenting gig is a marathon.  And I'm tired.  Sometimes the constancy of it all makes me feel a little crazy. 

And this homeschooling gig?  Also, a marathon.  I'm tired.  I want to be all done for the year.  Normally we would be but I'm looking ahead at the calendar for the next six weeks thinking, "How can we wrap this up sooner?"  (I think we will.) 

And there's marriage.   (Also a marathon, right?)  There's this man who I love dearly and who is so good to me and works so hard and serves tirelessly when he is home.  But marriage is hard work.  A good marriage requires a lot of intentionality and communication and service and love.  We normally do this pretty well.  (That's because I'm married to pretty much the most patient, kindest man ever.)  But it's hard work when there's just two of you.  Add five kids and communication is scarce and we're feeling disconnected and things can go straight downhill.  So that happened this week (not the five kids.  We've had them.  But the scarce(r) communication and the disconnectedness, combined with everything else you'll read in this post) and it brought with it all sorts of emotion and hurtful words (me to him) and all is well, but thank God for His word and His authority in my life because, well, I need Him so desperately. 

We have also been involved in an ongoing issue with some extended family that has caused great strain on both of us.  A simple conversation, months ago, turned into an uproar and so much anger towards us.  We left befuddled and wounded and have been seeking God and asking Him, "What do we do?"  Every attempt of ours-- and there have been many--  to reconcile has been shut down, and this is hurtful.  These family members are believers, and we see them frequently.  We have been wronged, and it is so difficult for me to find mercy in my hard heart to someone who has hurt me.  I keep asking God to grow me in humility and in mercy.  I am praying these verses:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:2)

But the wisdom that comes from God is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.  (James 3: 17-18)

And I keep having these conversations with the Lord-- or questions, really-- Can I accept never getting the apology I think we deserve?  Can I accept never getting the answers I think we're owed?  Can I-- no, will I-- forgive, show mercy, let go of my record of the wrongs they committed for the sake of peace and unity?  Can I leave it to God to be the judge; to deal with their hearts?  Can I surrender what I think is best?  I must.  But the reality is that it is difficult to be with them in light of the words they spoke and the anger directed at us.  So what does it look like to forgive, to show mercy, to continue on in relationship with someone when they have hurt you?  (Honestly, I generally run the other direction and avoid such people at all costs.  I really do.Can I be gracious, can I be kind, can I be pleasant?  I am asking God what that looks like, asking Him to soften our hearts, and to help us surrender to His ways and for us walk righteously in this.

All that and I realized yesterday that it's been nearly three months since Isaac's symptoms began, and one month since Isaac's scopes and the biopsy results that were clear, and the "All is well!" from the gastroenterologist.  But he is still not well.  He is ending his third month of diarrhea, 4-5 times a day.  I am thanking God that his joint pain is gone, the hives are gone, his appetite seems to be back, and his strength is up, but what remains are his stomach issues, continued mucous in his stools and a sore "snotty" throat.  He is discouraged. 

So that weighs on us.  We've seen the specialists.  Now what?  We don't know what to do other than to pray for his healing and pray that God will make it clear to us what we are to do next. Or perhaps this is due to the viral infection still making its way out of his body? 

So there's that.  We ate gluten-free for a week until Mark stepped in and lovingly, gently, carefully said that it was an awful lot of extra work for me to continue doing this when we don't know if it's helping, we don't know if it's what Isaac needs.  So he took that off my plate.  And I was so relieved.  I hadn't realized how much anxiety that was adding; and how much work it was adding for me, but it really was.  So we're back to somewhat normal-ish eating (though I am trying to be conscientious about lowering our gluten intake.)  But I struggled with that-- both ways.  It was difficult to do it but at least I felt like I was doing something; and while I am relieved not to have to come up with gluten-free menus for all seven of us, I feel like a quitter and suddenly I feel like we're the unhealthiest eaters on the planet.  ;)  Nonetheless, I trust my man.

So there we are.  Tonight I'm headed on a date with my Ella-girl, who always wants to spend one-on-one, heartfelt-conversation time with me and I love that and I adore her but I am sort of feeling like I don't have it in me.  I am praying that God will strengthen me to pour out and into her.  She is a gem.  A beautiful young woman who loves God so much.  I am so thankful.  She's so sweet, too.  Here's an example of a note from my girl, left for us last week:
Daddy and mommy: I just wanted to tell you guys that I love you SO, so much.  I was just thinking about how dear you are to me.  Thank you SO much for being the most sweet, kind, generous, wonderful, fun, great, loving, funny and most amazing parents ever.  I am SO thankful for you.
See?  She gives notes like this all the time.  What grace.

Blessings to you all,

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Photos and a short garden tour

Strawberry bed #1  Waiting for some weeding attention.  ;)

Mark and Ella, working on a puzzle.  I love these two.  

Sourdough bread, the last time I baked it.  But does anyone remember when I was bemoaning my sourdough bread rising problems?  This is that same recipe, right here.  And look at that rise!  I was so proud of myself.  (Now that we're in this trial period of eliminating gluten, I really miss baking bread.  I tried a g-f bread recipe this past week and it was so disappointing. I couldn't even finish one slice.  There's just no comparison.)

Our side yard-- all green and flourishing.  I love this little area, all overgrown with ferns and hosta and bleeding hearts and peonies and other perennials.  One of the reasons I love this area so much is that we did it ourselves (see back to this post), and I remember what a fun family project this was.

Peonies!  Peeking over the picket fence.  These make me so happy.

Tomatoes in the galvanized buckets, strawberries in the planters, a little pot of thyme.
Our strawberries just a week ago, when they were first beginning to ripen.  (For the past few days we've been able to pick a handful of ripe berries per day!)

Strawberry bed #2 (and my toes), as I wonder what happened to that dead section 
in the center of the bed.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Gluten-Free Rhubarb Muffins

Okay.  I've made these muffins twice, and even changed up the recipe a bit the second time around and they were still good.  They are the best gluten-free item I've baked thus far, (and I've baked quite a bit this past week), so I can confidently share this recipe with you!


The How Can it be Gluten Free Cookbook is where I got the recipe for the flour blend I made and used the first time around:
The America's Test Kitchen Gluten-Free Flour Blend (makes 9 1/2 cups)

24 ounces (4 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour 
7 1/2 ounces (1 2/3 cups) brown rice flour
7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) potato starch
3 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca flour/starch
3/4 ounce (3 T) nonfat milk powder

Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl until well combined.  Transfer to airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
I made that and then moved on to their recipe for Blueberry Muffins, but adapted it a bit, so here's my recipe:

Gluten-Free Rhubarb Muffins (makes 12 muffins)

11 ounces (1 3/4 cups plus 2/3 cup) ATK Gluten-Free Flour Blend (see above)
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
8 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rhubarb*
the zest of a lemon
turbinado sugar (optional, for sprinkling on top of the muffins prior to baking) 

*or any other fruit, really.  (We love rhubarb, and have some in our garden, so I used that.  I washed it and diced it, then put it in a pan on the stove on medium heat with a bit of water- maybe 1-2 T, and sprinkled a bit of sugar on top, then cooked down for a few (4-5?) minutes till the rhubarb was soft (but not mushy), and finally drained it in a colander lined with a paper towel.)

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Stir dry ingredients (flour blend, baking powder, salt, and sugar)
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the melted, cooled butter, the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla
4. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and then add the drained rhubarb and the zest of a lemon.
5. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.  (This is important, so the muffins will not have a gritty texture.  The resting time allows the brown rice flour to hydrate and expand, apparently.)
6. Fill 12 greased muffin cups, and bake for 13-15 minutes.
7. Let the muffins cool for about 5 minutes before removing from the pan.
The second time I made them I used my friend Jodi's flour blend of:
3 cups brown rice flour
1/4 cup potato starch
2 tsp xantham gum

I used applesauce in place of about 1/3 of the butter (see applesauce note in this post), and I increased the rhubarb to probably 3 cups, and they were also delicious.  The consistency was slightly different; the muffins produced more peaked tops, more of a biscuit consistency, not rounded like the photo above. I'm not sure if that is due to the flour blend or me subbing out some of the butter, but we all loved them regardless, so it doesn't matter.  Next time I'm going to try to reduce the sugar and add honey or maple syrup in place of it.  But I'm happy for the time being to have a go-to muffin recipe.

Overall, I think we had a pretty good week of gluten free.  I might have cried but for these:

(Which we used several times.  For breakfast burritos, chicken salad wraps, quesadillas and burritos.)  There were two exceptions:
1) I had already pre-planned our meals for the week (without having decided about the g-f thing) and one of the things we were having was stuffed shells (jumbo pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and spinach with marinara and white sauce over the top.)  And though I tried looking for either gluten-free jumbo shells or gluten-free lasagna noodles (that I could wrap), I couldn't.  So we did eat those on Saturday night.
2) Sunday night our two oldest kids went to a BBQ and had hotdogs and cupcakes or cookies and completely forgot about the no-gluten thing.  (Which is fine, I likely would have told them not to worry about it anyway.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

52 Lists | my summer goals

My sweet friend has been doing these weekly lists on her blog and invites others to participate. (I have often wanted to but haven't done so yet.)

Just this morning I was day-dreaming about summertime so I thought this would be a good time to participate.  So, without further adieu, here is my list of summer goals:

~go to the ocean!
 (feel the sand and water between my toes, take long walks along the beach with Mark)
~rest, and give myself permission to relax
~say YES to the kids
~make homemade ice cream
~set up an italian soda bar for the kids
~make sun tea
~make fresh-squeezed lemonade
~make homemade jam: strawberry, raspberry and blackberry (and any combination of the three)
~read books
~paint my toenails and my girls'
~go barefoot
~read my Bible and journal
~read stories to the kids
~spend lots of time in the yard with the kids
~draw and paint
~hang lots of laundry on the line
~make (and eat) salads daily from the lettuce in the garden
~make pesto
~make salsa
~roast tomatoes
~can tomatoes 
~dehydrate tomatoes again (then freeze in jars)
~plan school for the coming year, keeping in mind that less is more
~wear my salt-water sandals
~go to the fair
~go on bike rides with the kids
~go swimming in the lake
~backyard picnics
~keep the freezer stocked with popsicles and otter pops
~weed the garden
~listen to music
~grill burgers and kabobs (well, Mark will grill)
~have people over for meals
~eat watermelon
~eat fresh pineapple
~make and eat pico de gallo
~make fruit leather
~go to the farmer's market and buy big, juicy, ripe peaches (*swoon*)
~walk to the ice cream shop
~laugh a lot
~eat guacamole dip with chips
~go away with Mark to celebrate 19 years of marriage
~take a family vacation
~be spontaneous
~take neighborhood walks
~go to the waterslides
~bake berry pies
~pick blackberries and then make blackberry cobbler

52 lists with Chasing Slow

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Isaac Update (& Eliminating Gluten)

One of the things I've been researching over the past several weeks due to Isaac's health issues- is the whole idea of going gluten-free.

Now, if you've read here for any length of time, you know that I love baking. Breads, scones, muffins, coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, amongst many other things-- are favorites around our home.   So I wasn't keen on that idea. At all.  Anytime it was mentioned I inwardly cringed.  I kept telling Mark that if we were to go that route, I would need an entire WEEK to revamp our pantry and meals.  It's not like that would be a small thing.  Or an easy thing.

I didn't want to venture into that territory at all unless we had to. Right? Why make a lifestyle change when you don't need to?  So, instead I checked out books at the library, found some GF blogs, and have done a lot of reading and researching.

Then the doctor said Isaac doesn't have Celiac Disease-- the scopes showed no sign of inflammation or damage. So I felt like we could put the whole GF idea to rest.  (Whew!)

Toward the end of last week, Isaac began complaining of stomach pain and cramps, and blood started showing up in his stools again.  He still has intermittent joint pain and a sore throat.  He came to me, discouraged one night this past weekend, asking why his stomach-- his first symptom way back at the beginning of March-- is really not much better?  In fact, with the new pain and cramping, it's worse.  He feels nauseous in addition to the sometimes-pain-or-cramping, and like he "always has to go to the bathroom".

I don't know the answers to that.  I'm puzzled because the gastroenterologist gave his stomach and intestines a "clean bill of health!" Yet, his stomach is clearly not normal.  Yesterday he had dark red blood in his stool again and when I texted my friend Michelle about it, she asked if we'd tried any period of time eliminating gluten.  *cringe*

SO.  FINE.  We'll give it a go.  For at least a week.  If eating gluten-free will help my boy feel better, I'm all in.  I don't know that it will help, but it's worth a try, right?  Or maybe I just feel the need to DO something, anything.

Flours for experimentation.  This felt ridiculous.  And ridiculously expensive.
Since I have a stack of GF books and recipes next to my bed, I figured I might as well begin.

So we began.


Tonight's meal marked Meal #4 of our GF-eating.  I am quite proud of us.  And yes, us.  I told the kids if Isaac can't eat gluten, we're all in. (I'm not making two separate meals, nor am I going to eat or serve up homemade bread or baked goodies when he doesn't get to partake.)

Meal #1: Dinner: Peruvian Chicken w/ sweet potatoes, and spinach salad with craisins, honey chevre cheese, sweet and spicy pecans, and balsamic reduction.  Dessert: rice krispie treats.

Meal #2: Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and cereal (rice krispies and multi-grain cheerios) with milk.

Meal #3: Lunch: (Snacky lunch) Corn tortilla wraps with ranch, smoked gouda cheese and ham slices, popcorn and craisins.

Meal #4: Dinner: Baked potatoes with options: chives, bacon, sausage, ranch, sour cream, salsa.  And-- (drum roll, please): my very first baked gf muffins.  LOOK!!!!

I was VERY skeptical about gf baking, and did not have high hopes.  I warned the kids that they might taste terrible.  Or they might look normal but have a weird texture or taste.  I was first impressed that they baked up fine, and rose well.  But then we ate them and we were all pleasantly surprised.  They were really good.  I'll post the recipe if anyone is interested.  I tweaked a blueberry muffin recipe and did Rhubarb Muffins (with lemon zest).

So that's where we're at.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Today: Meals and School

This morning I was up early-- our days go so much better when I am-- and exercised, had a quiet time, and showered.  The girls were arguing because one daughter (lets call her Daughter 1) wanted the little pink shorts for her doll that were being worn by my other daughter's (Daughter 2) doll.  So of course Daughter 1 just took them off and began putting them on her doll.  I instructed her to give the shorts back-- don't take-- and instructed my other girls to please try to find Daughter 1 something she would be happy having her dolly wear.  Then, after that pronouncement and mid-way through my shower, I re-thought that, remembering the verse "It is more blessed to give than to receive" and wondered if I shouldn't have gone the other way and instructed Daughter 2 to just let her have them.  Aagh.  I don't know.  By the time I was out of the shower, Daughter 2 had shared half her doll clothes with Daughter 1 and they were both happy (and Daughter 1 had apologized for taking them), so I guess they worked it out.  I went and commended Daughter 2 for sharing and told her of the verse I'd thought of in the shower; and how happy I was that she had been generous. 

Then I went to prep dinner.  We're having Peruvian Chicken tonight.  Chicken with paprika, cumin, lemons and garlic cloves, with sweet potatoes.  Sounds good, right? Anyway, I had to cut up a whole chicken, which I'm not sure I've ever done before.  Generally I buy them whole and go this route.  As I was cutting into the chicken with my very dull knife, I was muttering about how it's no wonder people don't usually do this, and it might be the very last time I do.  Sheesh.  Thank you, butchers everywhere.

Photo from the cookbook Meals Made Simple, p 116: Peruvian-Style Chicken
(If we like this recipe-- it's a new one; we'll see-- I already plan to revise it and do the whole thing in the crock pot next time around.  I just like to try to follow instructions the first time.)  Anyhow, all those pieces of chicken are currently marinating in a bag in the fridge and it looks to be delicious.

We gathered at the table for breakfast at around 9:15, and the kids ate leftover Rhubarb Pound Cake (sans some lemon zest, and with yogurt and cream cheese and sour cream (in place of *just* the sour cream)), because that's how I roll.  (In that I use what we have on hand, and we were low on sour cream but had some yogurt, but low on yogurt but have cream cheese.)  It was scrumptious.  And they had leftover egg casserole, too.

my oft-used recipe for Rhubarb Pound Cake
Then we started morning time.  We read from the Bible-- about Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim and Jeremiah this morning, read Proverb 16, sang four verses of the hymn There is a Fountain, read our poems (Bilbo's Walking Song and The Cow), and prayed together.

This morning's prayer list:
-Abby's theater performance and upcoming surgery
-our friends who are on a road trip
-another friend who is struggling with several auto-immune diseases and who is going on a strict diet beginning today
-for our Compassion child in Ecuador, her and her family's safety because of the recent earthquake,
-for the presidential election-- (my two littlest girls praying fervently for God to soften the hearts of those running; for them to follow Him.)
-for the refugees

We moved into the living room and did picture study-- our second from Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, where Ella described the painting to the others, who listened, then asked questions.  Then they all got to look and comment.  (While Ella was describing, I was in the kitchen making my breakfast, then I ate it while they were all looking at the painting.)

Then I read-aloud from Peter Duck (#3 in the Swallows & Amazons series) while the kids drew or colored or played quietly.

Mark stopped in for coffee as I was reading aloud, and the kids headed outside shortly afterward for outside time.  After seeing Mark out and making myself a latte, I started writing this post.  And smelling these lovely peonies from the garden that adorn our table:

I called the kids in after about half-hour, and Isaac asked if he could stay outside because he was working on something. He's been whittling with his knife.  [Update: Wow!  He just came in and showed me what he made!  I'm impressed.]

Isaac's knife, carved from a stick.  He just needs to sand the blade to smooth it some more.

The rest of the kids are indoors now and working independently from the list on their clipboards-- math and history and cursive and such things.  I'm amazed I haven't been interrupted twelve times, but alas, I haven't.  So I'll get to publish this post and then make the rounds and check in on everyone, then maybe respond to some emails and clean the kitchen and then it will be time for lunch.

I hope you're all having a wonderful day!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Photos of our yard/garden

Look, photos!  (I just uploaded them straight into blogger (thank you, Tamara, for the idea), so the technical issues with Flickr/Yahoo remain, but I can do photos this way, so I'm thankful:

Garden planted, 2016 | carrots, pole beans, sugar snap peas, sunflowers, tomatoes, swiss chard, romaine, kale, spinach, cucumbers and rhubarb there on the bottom right.
The kids happily playing in the sprinkler while we also water the strawberries (in two raised beds, behind the girls, and in planters along the patio) and raspberries (along the fence).

New-to-them pool for the season.  They love it.