Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Goals, Results

Well, my 2012 goals ended up a bit lacking.  2012 turned out to be the year of "just getting by" for the most part.  It was the year I learned first hand what a panic attack is and how big an accomplishment it can be to just keep breathing.  Much of the time I was focused on getting through each day, not looking at anything beyond that.  While I sincerely hope I keep moving past that point, I really think it was a good thing to experience.  I have learned a lot about relieving stress and anxiety and have been able to help my 2 anxious kids with that knowledge, so that makes it worth it even though it was horrible to live through.

It's not really fair to make goals and then not follow-up about them though, so here goes!

1) Focus on the garden and harvest at least 150 pounds of food. Just yesterday, we were eating broccoli and cauliflower we harvested from the garden at the old house.  We ended up with a total of 124.75 pounds, 936 chicken eggs and 2 turkeys.  I'd say we did pretty good.  We could've done better, but the lack of winter last year led to major bug problems.  Working in the garden was relaxing and fun until it became an all out battle with the bugs and then it just got depressing, so I opted to focus on learning a little about macro and photographing the bugs rather than lamenting the lost food.

2) Finish my quilt.  I still haven't finished that dang quilt.  I think it's pretty safe to say it will be a very long time before I ever get the bright idea to hand quilt a king-size quilt again.  I still love that quilt.  I want that quilt on my bed.  I didn't really work on it until this fall, so I've made progress, but it has quite a ways to go.

3) Be more consistent in my parenting. Big fat fail here.  If you're barely keeping your head above water, stellar parenting is one of the first things to go.  There's been a lot of mistakes, followed by a lot of cuddles and apologies.  That's good enough and it's gotten us through the year.  But consistency?  No way.  We found a homeschool set-up that really works well, so that was a big success and helps minimize frustrations with each other throughout the day.  We need more routine though.  While the girls need free time, they have entirely too much of it right now, which leads to rambunctious behavior on their part and frustrated yelling from me.  Less yelling would be a very good thing.  

4) The unofficial goal of organizing the house.  Well, that never happened and then we moved to a new house.  The new place is well on its way to being more organized simply because there is storage space galore.  That makes it easy. 

If you're keeping score, that's 0 for 4.  However, I went from being terrified to leave the house all the way back to running all the errands and even taking a few short road trips again.  It took an unbelievable amount of mental work to figure out how to do that and gain control of myself even though I can't control the world around me.  So, I'm calling 2012 a win anyway.  Sure hope 2013 is a little easier, things are certainly looking up lately!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 In Review

Time to do a 2012 wrap-up!

In January, I wrote about reasons you shouldn't homeschool, and how much it costs to homeschool.

Sierra had her first big part in a play in February.

In March, I completed a half-marathon with a friend, and wrote about why teaching kids to read too early can be a problem.

Sedona lost her nails in April as a result of having had hand, foot and mouth disease in February.  I never would've expected this to be a popular post, but it turns out a LOT of people google to find out information about losing nails after HFMD.  The big girls also gave their first team sport a try, t-ball for Sedona and softball for Sierra.  Last, but not least, I started learning how to handle the anxiety I was having.

In May, Sierra won a couple of "ovies" at her theater's annual Ovation Awards. We watched the implosion of a local building.  We also watched a whole swarm of butterflies in our backyard.

Our June days were filled with canning blueberry jam, and carrot cake jam, and carrots, and pepper relish jam, and pickles, and probably more stuff I'm forgetting.

July brought more canning, Sedona's fifth birthday and a round of walking pneumonia for the whole family.

We went on a vacation to Great Wolf Lodge in August.

In September, I finally figured out a lesson planning/organization system that made our homeschool days run smoothly, so I shared a step-by-step explanation of how I do it.

Sierra turned eight in October.  I also got out the ol' soapbox about never saying the r-word, and eating a big piece of humble pie before saying never.

Secora turned two in November, and we moved to a new house, but we had to say goodbye to our dog, Angel, after 14 years.

In December, I explained how the Duchess of Cambridge did NOT have morning sickness and Sierra DID have migraines in her stomach.  We finished off the year with old and new friends, enjoying another gingerbread house party.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sedona's Pumpkin Brownies

On Christmas Eve, Sedona decided she wanted to make pumpkin brownies for Santa.  This took a little experimenting, but we based it on a cream cheese brownie.

First, we started with a basic brownie recipe.  We used our standard one, but added an extra egg and 4oz of chocolate chips (melted in with the butter and cocoa) to the batter. 

Next, we needed the pumpkin topping.  For that, we mixed together:
4oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 c pumpkin
1 egg yolk
1/4c sugar
1tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground all spice
Slight mistake here.  As you can see, we dumped it all in a bowl and stirred.  The result was too lumpy.  I would suggest mixing the sugar and spices together and then creaming those with the cream cheese, then adding the egg and pumpkin. 
Put dollops of pumpkin mixture on top of the brownie batter
And swirl them together with a knife

Bake at 325 for about 55-60 minutes

These aren't the right brownies for everyone.  The pumpkin is pretty prominent.  If you can imagine pumpkin pie with a chocolate crust, then these are worth trying out.  Santa liked them and it was fun to try something more unique while encouraging Sedona to keep experimenting. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Fun

We spent Christmas at home with just our family and had a really fun and relaxing time.

During the day on Christmas Eve, the girls each made their treats for Santa.  We always let them pick what they want to make and they get to do a half-recipe of it.  Sierra tends to play it safe with tried and true recipes.  This year, it was pumpkin cookies:

Sedona gets a little more adventurous and sometimes needs some guidance to make her initial idea into something that will actually be edible.  This year, she finally settled on brownies because she thinks Santa probably gets tired of cookies and wants something different.

Brownies were still too plain for her though.  After she saw the leftover pumpkin from Sierra's cookies, she decided they should be pumpkin brownies.  I like to encourage her experiments to a certain degree and pumpkin brownies still sounded pretty good, so I let her give it a try.  We improvised a bit and I'll share the recipe we came up with later this week.

We had our big Christmas dinner with extended family a few days ago, so we stuck with pizza for Christmas Eve. The kids loved it and it was easy for us. After dinner, it was time for presents.
Secora was still excited to unwrap things and was most happy to get her own baby doll and more socks (which she promptly ran out of the room to hide before unwrapping more presents)
Sierra was happy to get the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book (and she's almost finished it already)

Sedona only got the paper off one side of this present before she had to stop and hug it.  It's the one present she had really been asking for...a stroller, carseat and baby carrier for her baby doll

Josh and I both put together numerous model cars when we were little, and Josh wanted to get Sierra started on making them too.  He bought her a snap together model to start with and they started putting it together as soon as the little girls went to bed (she finished it today)

Eventually, treats were put out for Santa and all the children were tucked snug in their beds.  Unfortunately, Sedona had been complaining of a sore throat on Christmas Eve and she woke up in the middle of the night not feeling well.  She's definitely sick and has a high fever today.  The excitement of waiting for Christmas will not be diminished by illness though.  Early in the morning, we were all back downstairs to see what Santa left in our stockings.

Lots of fun things like jamba juice gift cards, a yo-yo, training chopsticks, bows and chewing gum.  But, by far, the most excited child was Sedona.  That's because a big green lizard was hanging out of the top of her stocking.  She had been looking over these rubbery, squishy lizards at the toy store a while back and Santa must have been paying attention.  She was SO excited to see that lizard and carried it around all day long.  
She has named it Draco.  The only bad thing is Secora sure wishes it was HER lizard.  We might need to try to happen across one at the store one day so she can get one too.

With all of the presents and stockings opened and new toys spread all over the living room, it was time to put the cinnamon rolls in the oven.  I make them on Christmas Eve and put them in the refrigerator.  In the morning, they just need to be baked and we have ooey gooey fresh cinnamon rolls as a Christmas morning treat.
Hope everyone out there enjoyed the day!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Round 1

At the beginning of December, we always go to the local holiday parade and the girls always write letters to Santa.  When Santa's float comes at the very end, his helpers pick up the letters, and Santa always writes back.  The really cool thing is that even though Secora can't write a letter yet, she always gets one from Santa just because her sisters mention her.

Sierra still believes, but was getting really worried because a letter wasn't coming.  She was very excited to get this particular piece of mail.
You may remember last year, Secora was excited to get her own mail, but once she saw it was just a piece of paper with words, she pulled the perfect "not impressed" face long before McKayla Maroney made being unimpressed cool.
This year I thought she was completely excited.  Then I looked through the pictures on the camera and caught this gem. 
I do believe she's been studying all those "McKayla is not impressed" memes and practicing just for this moment.

We also celebrated Christmas with my parents and brother over the weekend.  It seems like an awful lot of presents, but for 11 people, including 5 kids, I think we did a pretty good job of keeping things under control.
Sedona could barely wait for the presents to be handed out
Secora is old enough to open her own presents and didn't quite understand the game plan.  We always hand out first, then everyone opens at once.  She tore open this one corner and we told her to stop, but she kept tearing it just a little more and asking, "open?  open?" 
Then it really was time to open and it was a frenzy of paper flying everywhere. 
They got some gifts they had really been hoping for.  One of Sierra's favorites was the new Tinkerbell movie
Sedona was beyond thrilled to get a Dream Lites pillow pet.  I wasn't going to get her one, but my sister-in-law got one for each of the big girls.  I'm glad she did, Sedona has carried that thing with her everywhere
Secora was very excited about most of her presents.  She got more socks (which I keep telling people she loves, but they don't seem to believe me), which she was thrilled with.  Then she tried to steal my brother's new socks too.  She took them and hid them in another room and when my dad tried to sneak them back, she caught him and yelled at him.   Here she is opening a whole box of crayons just for her.  She LOVES drawing.

Everyone had a grand time and we were able to exchange a few things (clothes for different sizes and one broken toy for the same thing that wasn't broken) before the customer service lines get insanely long.  I kinda like this early Christmas thing.

Tomorrow Josh has to work, but after dinner we'll do our family Christmas with just us.  Then Santa fills stockings overnight.  We'll probably spend the rest of Christmas day moving the last of our stuff from the old house because Josh and I got our present early...we have a buyer for the old house!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Migraines in Your Stomach?

Quite a while ago, I learned a little about something called cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) by reading another blog.  CVS is a fun little thing that most often affects kids and causes seemingly random vomiting.  An episode will usually last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and consists of frequent vomiting and what some people describe as a "conscious coma" (basically looking and feeling awful).  Then it ends and after some sleep, the person feels completely fine again.  By happenstance, one of my friend's kids started having weird vomiting episodes and I mentioned CVS to her on facebook and it turned out that was what was going on.

Fast forward to mid October.  Sierra had these episodes of pretty severe vomiting and obviously feeling really terrible, followed by complete normalcy later in the day.  No one else in the family ever caught these "stomach bugs" and I was baffled.  Until a friend who had participated in that earlier facebook conversation said, "what about that CVS thing?" Huh.  That's a bit ironic.  After that point, she didn't have vomiting episodes though.

She did start having severe abdominal pain.  It wasn't near her stomach, it was always just above her belly button and she would gesture to the area with her whole hand, not a pin point spot.  She insisted it was just a pain, no burning or stabbing sensation.  She had no GI issues.  She had no fever.  If I palpated her abdomen there was no tenderness around her appendix or anything like that.  However, she was in tears, pale and curled up into a ball for several hours.  Then, just like before, she'd sleep for a while and she was fine again until the next episode.

A little research and a trip to the doctor later, and she was diagnosed with abdominal migraines.  As the name suggests, it's just like a migraine headache, except the pain is in her abdomen instead of her head.  Some people say this and cyclic vomiting are the same thing (CVS comes with vomiting, abdominal migraine does not) and some people say they're different.  I didn't ask for clarification from the doctor because it doesn't matter all that much, but she seemed to imply they are basically the same, or at least very closely related.

It's usually children that are afflicted with CVS or abdominal migraine and they often have a family history of migraine headaches (I don't have migraines, but there is a strong history of them in my family).  Sometimes the children develop migraine headaches instead as time goes on and I've also read meniere's disease (which is also in my family) is also related and can come up later in life.

So after all of this, I asked Sierra if I could write about this and she said she wanted me to be sure and talk about what treatment has been helpful for her in case there are other kids out there with the same thing. 

First of all, we had a discussion with her doctor about her symptoms and when they happened.  Diagnosis is made mostly from patient history, but also by excluding a few other, sometimes serious, possibilities, so don't skip an exam by the doctor.  For medication, we are starting out with zofran, which is an anti-vomiting drug with minimal side effects that's commonly used for hyperemesis and chemo patients.   Even when she's not actually vomiting, the zofran seems to help with the pain.  I suspect feeling so bad makes her tense, so getting rid of the nausea helps her relax and that eases the abdominal pain enough for her to sleep it off.

Second, her trigger is excitement.  She's had one episode triggered by stress/worry (the day we euthanized Angel), but all of the others have been before or after events that she was really excited about.  Trick-or-treating, visiting the new house before we moved, a girl scout activity, the Christmas parade...anything out of the ordinary that she's really looking forward to.  We have chosen to not give her a lot of notice about things when possible because the anticipation seems to lead to very frequent episodes.  If she doesn't have too much time to think about it, she usually has a mild tummy ache before the event, does fine during it, then sometimes crashes afterwards.  The doctor emphasized to her that it's normal to be excited about things and it's okay to be excited about things, which is important, I think.  She has started doing yoga classes with me which has helped her learn to calm herself down a little bit.  She can be excited without being off-the-charts, bouncing off the walls excited.

The third thing we've tried is purely "won't hurt and might help".  I've read about a theory that these episodes may be triggered by mitochondrial insufficiency.  Mitochondria are the parts of your cells that make ATP (the energy your cells use).  Mitochondria also happen to have their own set of DNA that you only inherit from your mother (and migraines are often inherited through the maternal line).  The theory goes that the mitochondria aren't working as well as they should, so they can keep up most of the time, but when more energy is needed (i.e. during bad stress, the good stress of excitement, menstrual periods or illness), they get behind and that triggers an attack.  Part of the recommended solution to that is to have frequent snacks that are high in complex carbs.  That's easy enough to do and isn't going to hurt anything.

Another mitochondrial solution that has shown some promise in studies is taking CoQ10 and/or L-carnitine supplements.  I'm not sure of all the possible interactions or contraindications for those, especially in kids, so we're not getting into that without our pediatrician's approval.   We have talked a little bit about what the next step may be if the zofran doesn't keep things under control and the doctor said migraine prevention meds, but those have side effects, so we don't get into that unless she's having 4-5 attacks a month that the zofran doesn't help and are keeping her from participating in activities.  We're not there yet.  If we get there, I plan to ask her about trying these supplements first if the side effects will be less than with the migraine meds.

Between the zofran and increased snacking on exciting days, we have things pretty under control right now.   She's having about 2 serious attacks (where she's non-functional) a month, but some zofran and sleep takes care of them.  She mentions "my tummy hurts", and then continues on with her day, on a much more frequent basis (again, always the same belly button area pain, not the upper left quadrant pain that might come with stress induced gastritis), so we carry the zofran with us all the time just in case.  We will just have to wait and see if this goes away over time, or if it ramps up as hormones get added to the equation.

If you want more information, the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association has a pretty good website with ideas about dealing with CVS at school, the latest research articles, a hospital packing list (for people with longer episodes that may lead to dehydration and require being admitted), and other resources.  The message boards are helpful for finding ideas about what has helped other people. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

(Not) Losing Christmas

There are a few things I have not uttered at all this holiday season.  One of those is, "naughty list".  Another is, "you better be good or Santa won't come".  I don't say, "Santa is watching".  There is no elf on our shelf.  I don't want to imply it's always been this way, it hasn't.  

But I read an absolutely fabulous blog post entitled, "You Can't Lose Christmas, Ralphie" that has changed my opinion.  (go read it, I'll wait)

Granted, that post is geared towards children who have survived serious trauma that my children have not been subjected to.  Their minds and hearts need healing that I cannot even begin to imagine providing for someone.  But the sentiment hit me in the gut just the same.

First, the easy part.  A parenting lesson I learned long ago and am quite good at sticking to is never make a threat you're not willing to follow through on.  If you tell a 3 year old they will have to leave the park if they throw rocks, then you actually give them four or five reminders not to throw rocks before you leave, you haven't taught them anything.  Aside from discipline, I view this as a trust issue.  I will follow through on what I say, my kids can trust that.  So just as they know I'm serious when I tell them the consequences of their misbehavior, they also know I'm serious when I say that shot will only hurt for a few seconds, then just be sore for a day or two. I'm not actually going to take away Christmas.  I'm just not.  The idea is abhorrent to me.  So it's an empty threat, and therefore it's a bad choice to say it.

But why would I never take away Christmas?  What if my children are just being whiny and cranky and not doing what I ask?  Do they deserve to lose Christmas?  In my opinion, no.

The religious basis of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  The Savior.  The one who gave his life so everyone's sins could be forgiven.  I've got sins much bigger than anything my 2, 5 or 8 year old could have any hope of committing at this stage in their lives.  What message does it send to say "you've done something so terrible, I cannot forgive you"? Is that what celebrating the birth of Jesus is about?  Withholding forgiveness?

The cultural basis of Christmas is to celebrate the Christmas spirit.  To enjoy family and friends.  To show caring and love for those around us.  We love our children.  Even when they drive us crazy, even when they don't listen, even when they make really big mistakes, we still love them.  Love is patient and kind.  It is not proud and not easily angered.   How can I teach my children to show their love to people around them and to believe they are worthy and deserving of that same type of love in return if I am willing to tell them that I cannot forgive their child-like indiscretions and celebrate a holiday with them that I purport to be all about the importance of family and love and kindness?

This is not to say the holiday is all about expensive gifts.  It's not.  But when it's affordable and reasonable, every kid enjoys that day he or she gets a special toy they've been wanting for a long time.  Or maybe something handmade so they have their own keepsake.  In better years, it might be more or more extravagant items.  The gift list might even change based on the child's behavior.  If they've broken an expensive electronic, they've shown they're not ready for that type of gift, even if they really really want it.  But to lose Christmas completely?  Never.  To even lose gifts completely?  Never.  If the day comes when I cannot afford gifts for my girls, I will still find a way to make them quilts or dolls out of scraps.  They will get something tangible that can be a reminder to them that I love them.  Always.  No matter what they do.

There was a time I threatened no presents when I was at my wit's end with "bad" (really only childish) behavior.  I believe I was wrong.  I've made a choice that you cannot lose Christmas here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gingerbread Houses 2012

Despite the moving craziness, I decided to repeat last year's tradition of having a gingerbread house party for our friends.  This year was a lot bigger, so it was split into two groups to keep everything more manageable.  I still made all the houses at the same time, then we held the two parties on the same day, 2 hours apart.  That turned out to be just enough time to get the first group done, clean the icing off the tables, refill the candy bowls and start again.

Here is the before picture.  There were 9 kids at the first party, 11 at the second, and 2 that needed to pick up houses to do at home.  We had folding tables for bigger kids, and a shorter table for kids who couldn't reach the big tables.   I made sure to have some of every candy at each table so the kids would stay put and not wander too much.
As with last year, I started out the party by getting everyone's attention so I could tell them the one and only rule...try really really hard to keep their fingers out of their mouths so they didn't spread germs reaching into the candy bowls.   Beyond that, I just let them know the same candies were at every table and there was more icing and candy, so there was plenty to share.
After a few of the zip top bags I used for icing last year busted at the seams, I decided to play it safe and use decorator bags* this year.   They're disposable, so it's still easy clean up, and I just used a rubber band at the top to keep the bag closed.  I didn't put any tips on the bags, just stacked them on a tray before the party, then snipped off the tip with scissors and handed them out when I was ready for everyone to start.  Worked very well without any icing explosions.
I love this picture of Sedona.  I was walking around the room refilling candy bowls as needed and she suddenly said, "look Momma!! I remembered how you showed me to do icicles!!"  That was a full year ago, and she remembered and did it correctly all by herself.  I was impressed and she was thrilled with herself.
Some of the finished houses from session one.  As you can see, dots are still a favorite.  Last year, I didn't have enough, so I bought more this year.  Still not enough.  Final tally on candy used this year (so I remember what to buy next year!):
9 boxes of dots (7oz)
2 bags of m&ms (19.2oz)
1 bag peppermints (24oz...this one surprised me, they were quite popular)
120 mini candy canes
2 bags marshmallows (10oz)
2 bags gummy bears (24oz)
2 bags chewy sprees
about 1/2 box corn chex

Update 12/16/13: This amount of candy worked out pretty well again for the 2013 party.  I bought 12 boxes of dots and finally had enough.  I bought two packages of sugar wafers (which was not enough) and left out the chex.  

More finished houses.  I think mom was a little embarrassed about the roof of marshmallows, but I thought it was a good idea and marshmallows are cheap!

When session two rolled around, Secora had finally gotten comfortable enough with what was going on to get down and decorate her own house.  I was kind of surprised, she actually decorated.  I thought she'd just eat the candy, or do what Sedona did when she was 2 and lick every piece before she stuck it on.
 If I were going to give out prizes, this would have been in the running for one of my favorite houses this year.  One of our new neighbors did this one.  She's 11 and came up with the idea all on her own and then told us her house was an anachronism....messy on one side:
And neat on the other:
She even came up with the idea to crush some candy canes to put on the messy side.

I also liked this idea that one of the dads added to his kid's house...a chimney!
I didn't realize the picture was all blurry until later, but he built the chimney out of chex and made smoke from marshmallows. I might have to copy that idea some day.

Here are our three girls with their houses.  Secora (who is constantly sneaking candy now):

Sedona, who I told to smile:
And then I told her to act like she was really happy and I got this:
So I just gave up and took Sierra's picture:

A fun time was had by all.  If you want step by step instructions on how to host your own party, including how to make the houses from scratch and how plan your timeline (since there are several "waiting" steps on making the houses), visit the tutorial I posted last year. 

*Affiliate Link


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